As the pilot year of the Second-Year Transformational Experience Program at Ohio State comes to a close, some students and faculty involved acknowledged the challenges and benefits experienced in the program’s first year.
STEP was designed to encourage sophomores to live on campus by providing them with the resources necessary to make the most of their educational experience, as well as bringing faculty and students together outside of the classroom, said David Stetson, faculty director of the program and a professor in the Department of Evolution, Ecology and Organismal Biology.
”No other institution ever has done something of this scale to bring faculty and students together in this kind of way,” Stetson said. “There’s no model out there. We are the model.”
The idea for STEP was based on research that showed that second-year success was heavily influenced by participation in campus events, living on campus, peer interaction, institutional commitment and interaction with faculty. All of these things, Stetson said, can help improve graduation and retention rates.
The pilot program officially launched in August 2013 with 53 faculty mentors and 1,000 students, meeting the 20:1 student-to-faculty ratio the university had planned to achieve.
The students were organized into clusters and cohorts: clusters had a ratio of about 100 students to five or six faculty members, and cohorts set up about 20 students with one faculty member each.
But the beginning of STEP proved to be a challenge for some of the participants and mentors, many of whom had an unclear understanding of how to navigate this newly designed program, Stetson said.
For that reason, recruiting faculty members to mentor students in the program was no easy task, Stetson said, but those who agreed to participate were offered a small amount of money for a discretionary fund, meal blocks to use at dining halls with students and the chance to interact with students studying in other departments.
“To say yes to this means you have to be happy about engaging students,” Stetson said. “It has to be something you want to do, and that’s the kind of people we got.”
Roger Crawfis, a faculty mentor and an associate professor of computer science and engineering, said STEP provided him with the opportunity to offer students advice, which was part of why he wanted to get involved.
“It sounded like a good way to reach out to students and help them on their career paths,” Crawfis said.
Thomas Greenhalgh-Miller, a second-year in engineering and mathematics who participated in STEP, said the first semester of the program in particular didn’t go so smoothly.
“I would say it was fairly poorly run and it was very confusing, especially for the first semester because no one really knew what was going on or what was expected of them,” Greenhalgh-Miller said. “They need to make sure all of the advisers know what’s happening, as well as a somewhat laid out idea of what they want and what they want to accomplish.”
He added, though, some things were done well in that first semester.
“They did a good job of making sure everyone met with their adviser and talking and showing you different outlooks such as research and internships and opportunities at OSU,” he said.
Another advantage of the program for participating students, Stetson said, is the ability to apply for a $2,000 fellowship to fund an experience or project they want to pursue.
Stetson said, though, the expense of providing and distributing that money will likely become an issue for OSU as the program continues to grow.
“We’re not simply giving $2,000 to students. We’re saying you can write a proposal in which you propose to spend up to $2,000 in a project, and of course in that situation, students will do everything they can to spend at least $2,000. They won’t say ‘well, I can get by with $400.’ No, they’ll figure out ways to spend $2,000,” Stetson said. “Simply the expense of providing those moneys to the students to do those projects is a concern and the budget situation here is not very good.”
Greenhalgh-Miller’s first proposal did not get approved and he hasn’t yet heard back about his second submitted proposal.
“I’m less than pleased with the program,” Greenhalgh-Miller said.
Another challenge experienced thus far is that some students have chosen to drop out of the program, Stetson said, adding he thinks that they might have found the responsibilities of STEP to be more than they bargained for.
As the pilot year comes to a close, Stetson said the “experimental” year of STEP certainly had its challenges that he hopes will continue to be resolved as OSU prepares to fully launch the program in Autumn 2016 when OSU’s new requirement for second-years to live on-campus is set to officially begin.
The program is still scheduled to run before the full launch during the 2014-15 and 2015-16 academic years.
Crawfis, who plans to continue serving as a faculty mentor for STEP, said the program should be explained clearly to those involved.
“Keep it simple,” he said.
With future improvements in mind, Stetson said he would like to see more students want to participate in the developing program.
“My No. 1 goal is to have all second-year students choose to be a part of STEP,” Stetson said. “I want STEP to be so compelling that students flock to it. I want to bring sort of the small Ivy League-college feel to this campus by improving the relationship between faculty and students.”