Faculty uses program to help large 1st year class

Adam Wright and Adam Wright

Normally when the fall semester rolls around, administrators at the University do not mind that they will be bogged down with questions and concerns from overwhelmed freshmen and their parents.

But when enrollment records showed there would be an increase of almost 300 more new students this year than last, University faculty scrambled to plan for the imminent influx.

Vice provost and professor Al Gonzalez said, “We needed a proposal to prepare for the large number of fall students” .

Created in July, the Fall Transition Program helps new students who have extraordinary questions or problems. They are referred to the program by administrators who can then help more students with less difficult issues and minimize their own strain in the process.

“We’re not expecting more problems or think the offices can’t help,” Gonzalez, who co-chairs the program, said. “With more students, we wanted to be prepared for things that are unexpected.”

Within the program, a Ready Response Team, made up of faculty from various departments, is on call from 8a.m. to 5 p.m. to assist students or their parents. Only one of the five members that comprise the team is available during the nine-hour shift, but all are instructed that their team job takes priority over other tasks, according to team member Jill Carr.

The team communicates with all offices on campus, including Financial Aid and Registration and Records, so that it can help with almost any dilemma.

Since it only deals with extreme issues, only a few students and parents have been referred to the team. Their problems were mostly concerned with personal or financial matters, according to Connie Ruhl-Smith, who sits on the steering committee for the program.

Earlier this week, everyone on campus was able to benefit from the team’s unique services. Golf carts with bold, orange “Ask Me” signs pasted to them strolled around the major thoroughfares on campus to help with directions and a wide variety of questions.

“The students were all wide-eyed and excited,” said Conrad McRoberts, the senior research associate in the Office of Institutional Research, who drove a cart on Monday and Tuesday. “We received lots of positive responses.”

Although the carts only served the campus on the first two days of the semester, talk of extending the mobile kiosks next fall has already begun because of the enormous reaction the innovative plan has received. “Ask Me” drivers received inquiries from an average of 50 misguided students — and some new faculty members– during each of their four-hour shifts.

The rest of the program is set to run until Sept. 10. Depending on the response the team receives from administrators, students and parents, it could be extended for next year.