First-year student experience focus of research

The transition from high school to first-year university can be a real challenge, but two professors in the Department of Child and Youth Studies are hoping to find ways to make it easier.

Associate professors Shauna Pomerantz and Dawn Zinga are among this year’s recipients of the Chancellor’s Chair for Excellence in Teaching, an award that recognizes individuals who have demonstrated exceptional promise of outstanding contributions to post-secondary teaching, learning and/or educational technology.

Pomerantz and Zinga have long been working on improving the experience of their first-year majors by experimenting with different technologies, innovative assignments and creative approaches to student support in CHYS 1F90, a full-year introductory class that usually houses more than 700 students per year.

With the financial support provided by this award, they now have funding to implement a complete project to study the experience — collecting data from a large sample that will be of value to others at Brock and in the wider teaching community.

We care deeply about the first-year experience, and want to ensure that our teaching is not only about content, but also about developing skills in our students that will last a lifetime.

Their research project will examine factors that help students adjust to university expectations, and determine how well students adapt to learning technologies like Isaak/Sakai.

The project will also take a closer look at structures and teaching strategies in CHYS 1F90, such as help clinics that give students additional opportunities to go over material with teaching assistants.

This year, the department introduced a new initiative, a day-long “boot camp” that provided struggling students with workshops on essay writing, time management, stress management and general advice from senior students and faculty members. Pomerantz and Zinga are members of the boot camp committee, chaired by Fran Owen, and plan to use the financial support provided by this award to help fund future boot camps, as well as study its effectiveness for first-year success.

The results of the first boot camp were promising.

“Academic boot camp provides enormous support for those struggling and in need of real advice and help,” explains Pomerantz. “We care deeply about the first-year experience, and want to ensure that our teaching is not only about content, but also about developing skills in our students that will last a lifetime.”

Zinga is thrilled to have additional opportunities to enhance students’ transition from high school to university.

“While retention and outreach are a major impetus for this research, since teaching CHYS 1F90, we have both come to understand just how much students struggle to survive their first year,” says Zinga.

“The impact of this transition cannot be underestimated in their lives. This population needs support and we are grateful to be able to offer what we can.”


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One comment on “First-year student experience focus of research”

  1. Carleigh Sanderson says:

    Very meaningful work by two amazing Profs 🙂 Well done!