Clark University has launched a new First-Year Experience (FYE) program designed to introduce incoming students to the rich academic and social life at Clark and help support them during their critical first semester of college.
All first-year students are participating in Clark Navigator, which through various activities introduces students to the full array of campus facilities, academic resources, social and co-curricular life, and events at Clark and the Worcester area. During the fall semester, each first-year student meets weekly with a cohort of 10 to 15 fellow students and a peer mentor — an upperclass student dedicated to guiding them through their first months of college.
“The Navigator is designed to provide students with a foundation of support and resources, while encouraging them to explore their own questions and areas of interest,” says Evan Wilson ’06, M.A. ’07, interim director of First-Year Experience.
Students begin the program during Orientation and continue meeting with their assigned group throughout the semester. They are expected to complete two activities per month — one extracurricular and one educational — and can choose how they’d like to engage with the campus. This could mean attending a campus event, joining an affinity space, or visiting a professor’s office hours, among other options.
While COVID-19 has forced many events online, in-person activities will be held that follow the Healthy Clark guidelines. Students might choose to explore the Hadwen Arboretum or attend a group fitness class outside, for example. Online activities are available for students to review through Clark Engage, the undergraduate platform for student-run clubs and organizations, or through targeted outreach through their Navigator class.
“Originally, we expected students to participate in more activities each month, but due to the pandemic, decided to focus on quality over quantity,” Wilson says. “Considering that students are typically very active on campus when it comes to attending or participating in events and symposiums, we envisioned the Navigator Explorations as an opportunity for students to reflect on their engagement on campus as a learning opportunity, specifically as a way to learn more about the resources for personal, professional, and academic growth.”
In weekly Navigator group meetings, students learn about campus resources and discuss the activities in which they’re involved. They also attend monthly “share out sessions” led by a peer mentor to talk about their activities. During these workshops, peer mentors will offer strategies in areas such as academic exploration, study skills, wellness, community engagement, and career development.
“Each session is designed to be a two-way street, with peer mentors offering resources and strategies to support student success, while also creating time for students to ask questions and discuss the topic at hand,” Wilson says.
Students will receive academic credit toward their Clark degree by fully engaging with the course.
Clark Navigator was built upon the University’s previous First-Year Experience program, which was piloted over the past two years in connection with the First-Year Intensive (FYI) curriculum. After evaluating the program’s strengths and potential areas of improvement, Associate Provost and Dean of the College Betsy Huang reimagined a more robust FYE this fall and renamed it Clark Navigator.
“I wanted to give it a name that says what it does — it helps new Clark students navigate our campus and community,” says Huang. “It’s a set of tools and resources, and offers solid, comprehensive support from the LEEP Student Success Network.”
The First-Year Experience program was first launched in 2018 by Matt Malsky, former dean of the college, with support from Cherilyn Bonin, director of academic support, and Adam Keyes, senior associate dean of students.
Huang and Wilson say the Navigator will have an especially important role this academic year as students across campus work to create a “new normal,” following Healthy Clark guidelines and limiting in-person gatherings and events. The program will help acclimate students to campus, provide them with skills and resources, and support them through this unprecedented transition.
“My philosophy with the First-Year Experience program is that new students shouldn’t worry about how they can belong at Clark, but rather how Clark can belong to them,” Huang says. “I want students to feel a sense of ownership over this place, to feel a sense of responsibility to themselves and others, and to practice good citizenship as Clark provides them with what they came here for — a solid education and a rich campus life.”