The University Record, September 25, 1995

New office aims to bring coherence to students’ first year

By Jane R. Elgass

Establishment of an office that will be a central point for first-year students to receive information about the University has been announced by Lester P. Monts, vice provost for academic and multicultural affairs.

The Office of New Student Programs —which will incorporate the University Mentorship Program, the Office of Orientation and some elements of Welcome to Michigan activities—is being headed on an interim basis by Penni Reed, who has been director of the Mentorship Program.

“For a great number of new students, the University of Michigan can be a foreboding place,” Monts says. “We learned that many exist here for several months with the notion that they will never be able to navigate the complexities of a large university. By combining these offices and following the recommendations from the first-year experience task force report, we hope to change those perceptions.”

The Office of New Student Programs also will be a referral point for students, directing them to support services that are not administered by the three units.

“To the benefit of students,” Monts adds, “we will build strong networks with Financial Aid, Housing, Admissions and the Registrar, and will have very strong connections with Student Affairs units and the schools and colleges.

“Maureen [Hartford] has a great deal of experience in this area and her advice has been important in the development of this office.”

Establishment of such an office is one of several recommendations carried in “Restructuring the First-Year Experience,” a report released earlier this year by three working groups, each concentrating on a different period of time in the life of first-year students.

Monts says the new office “is part of an evolving process” with the new Visitors Center, the Campus Information Centers and Student Affairs units all coming into play.

“Each of the three offices has worked very well in the past. What we have set out to do is enhance these programs to make students’ first year at Michigan a rich and rewarding experience. We owe it to them to provide the best the University has to offer.”

He’s also encouraged by the support shown by the administration for the development of programs and activities “that will help the University do a better job of serving first-year students.”

“We hope to strengthen the academic focus of our first-year programs by including more faculty on our advisory committees as well as directly involving them in program activities,” Monts says. “We also will provide more substantive information on academic activities, such as the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program, the Freshman Seminars, the Women in Science and Engineering Program, and the living/learning programs.”

Reed envisions the office as “a resource for new students to access the entire University.”

“We take our students, do something to them such as admit them, drop them for awhile, then do something and drop them again. There are no bridges between these activities. I hope this office will provide a sense of order to these events, a sense of momentum and logic from their admittance through their first year—bridges between these major events in their lives here.

“I want us to be able to respond to the student as a person,” Reed says, adding that there will be “some exciting changes in Orientation next year.”

Reed also sees the Office of New Student Programs helping transfer students who, she feels, could be served better, “who have different needs than 18-year-olds and tend to fall through the cracks sometimes. I hope the office will increase awareness of these needs within the University community.”

“We’ve been talking for a year about the new student getting more attention,” Reed adds. “The University is ready for this, wants it and is supportive. There are lots of challenges, but I’m excited about the possibilities and opportunities.”

Reed’s experience with the mentorship program will come in handy in meeting another recommendation of the working groups—more involvement of faculty in the orientation and welcoming of students. “It sends a clear message when faculty are absent from the beginning of the academic lives of the students,” the report states.

The University Mentorship Program currently involves about 300 volunteer mentors, the majority of them faculty, and expansion of mentoring activities is another recommendation contained in the report.

“We have a large pool for the mentorship program, but some people are unable to commit to service for a long period of time. We will need short-term help with orientation and welcoming activities, and I hope to be able to draw on that pool even as we work to expand it.”

The new office is located in Room 3011, Student Activities Building, which serves as home to four other student-oriented units—University Housing, the Office of Financial Aid, the Office of Undergraduate Admissions and the Career Planning and Placement Office. The Visitors Center, under construction, will be on the north side of the building.