Ducks Welcomed (Back) to Campus with Student Experience Enhancements
Thousands of students flocked to Stevens to begin the fall semester on September 1, including the Class of 2027, the university’s newest undergraduates. While traditional orientation and move-in events have long provided a warm welcome to first-year students, this year introduced additional resources, all designed to promote a sense of belonging for both new and returning members of the community.
Launch of First-Year Experience Course Pilot
Just launched this fall is the new First-Year Experience course — a semester-long seminar offering support and encouragement for the transition into college. And a small group of Stevens’ newest ducks were invited to participate in the pilot program.
“Offering a first-year experience course is a best practice in higher education and can serve as a phenomenal tool to enhance student success and satisfaction,” says Sara Klein, vice president for Student Affairs, who developed the course in partnership with David Zeng, vice provost for Academic Innovation and Faculty Affairs, along with a committee of faculty and staff.
The course encompasses a range of crucial college success skills, including leadership, cultural competence, ethical decision-making, academic and career development, financial literacy, personal wellness and how to access campus resources. It fosters peers, faculty and staff dialogue within small groups, enabling students to explore their identity within the Stevens community. Each section’s staff facilitator transforms into participants’ Student Success Coach, offering ongoing support throughout the undergraduate journey.
Klein and Zeng co-facilitate the pilot section this fall. At the end of the semester, students will evaluate the course and provide feedback ahead of its full rollout to all first-year students in fall 2024. To ensure small class sizes, more than 50 sections will be offered to accommodate the incoming class.
The First-Year Experience course is a component of the forthcoming Stevens Undergraduate Core Curriculum: Essential Skills for Success (SUCCESS), a new signature curriculum geared toward equipping students for success in 21st-century society and the digital economy. These initiatives align closely with the university’s strategic plan, Stevens 2032: Inspired by Humanity, Powered by Technology, emphasizing the enhancement of undergraduate education and experience.
A holistic approach has been essential to developing a best-in-class student experience. “In recent years, there has been a major enhancement of collaboration between academic and student affairs,” says Zeng, who points to notable achievements like an astounding 90% six-year graduation rate and rising student satisfaction scores. Klein agrees, “A student doesn’t compartmentalize their existence into academic experiences and then life outside the classroom, so the university can’t function that way, either... we work very closely together to support student needs across all aspects of the Stevens experience.”
Duck Support Network
Student well-being and safety remains Stevens’ highest priority. In addition to the existing mental health resources offered through Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS), the newly established Duck Support Network trained approximately 65 student, staff and faculty volunteers in Mental Health First Aid.
“For years we’ve had members of our community who are passionate about supporting student mental health and express a desire for in-depth training to learn how to support a student in distress,” says Eric Rose, executive director of wellness and director of CAPS. Mental Health First Aid — an eight-hour training course that teaches participants how to identify, understand and respond to signs of mental illnesses and substance use disorders — has become the gold standard, explains Rose. He says that following the training, members of the Duck Support Network have greater confidence in their ability to spot and support a struggling student. "In that way, it is very empowering.”
In addition, Stevens has significantly expanded point-of-care testing available in Student Health Services and has added staff in all wellness offices to better meet increased student demand. The State of New Jersey also generously provided free teletherapy to all New Jersey college students through Uwill.
Stevens community members who wish to receive Mental Health First Aid training and join the Duck Support Network should email [email protected]
Five New Living-Learning Communities
Five new Living-Learning Communities (LLCs), residential communities that connect students with faculty and staff around a common theme, launched this semester. Here, residents engage in academic and social activities related to their chosen theme throughout the year. In addition to the LLCs established in previous years — The Lore-El Center for Women’s Leadership, First Generation Scholars (1GS) and Women in Math, Science and Engineering (WiMSE) — three new communities for first-year students debuted this year, including The Arts, Service and Leadership and Scholars House, the latter of which is a place for Pinnacle Scholars to live and learn together.
Returning students were invited to develop a concept for Ducks by Design, student-designed themed residential communities in the UCC Residential Towers. Two communities were formed for the 2023-2024 school year: Stevens Chefs, a culinary community in the Harries Tower, and What’s Next, a second-year experience community focused on career and personal development, in the South Tower.