First-generation students began their college experience in the great outdoors last month as part of the Discover Fairmont State program.
Eight students toured the New River Gorge with two faculty members from Fairmont State University and two current students to gain a support system and also learn what to expect from their first year at FSU.
“The purpose was to provide students an opportunity to experience some of West Virginia’s most beloved areas while working with current students, faculty and staff,” said Carol Tannous, director of destination education at Fairmont State.
The group was in the New River Gorge for four days and went on a zip-lining treetop canopy tour, took a day-long whitewater rafting trip and camped overnight along the New River.
“While we did that, we had campfire discussions that focused on the challenges that go along with being anew college student, and what we will be doing then is meeting with the group numerous times throughout the fall semester to check in with them and provide support as they go through their first term here at Fairmont State,” Tannous said.
The trip was free and was funded by a grant from the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission, which approached FSU to create a program targeting incoming freshmen.
Discover Fairmont State will continue into the students’ freshman year with informal meetings that will teach them about academic support services, midterms and how to prepare for classes based on course requirements and their professors’ expectations.
Additionally, the grant will provide a book stipend for the eight students for the spring term, as long as they continue to attend meetings throughout their first semester.
“It really is meant as a way of intentionally walking the students through their first semester and their first year so that they have support as they try something new in the whole college experience,” said Tannous.
Faculty and staff at Fairmont State are aware of the large number of first-generation college students in the state, said Kaye Widney, vice president for Student Services, and Discover Fairmont State is a way for those students to begin to connect with the school and meet their peers in a small, informal setting.
“Many of the things that those of us in higher education take for granted, a lot of these students are not familiar with — the terms that we use, the concepts, what it means to declare a major, what it means to go through school and obtain a degree in 120 hours,” she said. “It’s just an opportunity to begin to help them understand a little more about higher education.”
Tannous believes students’ success in college is increased by having someone with them who can accompany them through their journey, which was the idea behind the camping trip last month.
“It’s similar to going to college, because when you go to college you know that there are things that are going to come up that feel uncomfortable to you, that are new to you ...
“Part of what happens with going on a trip like the one we created is that students, No. 1, get to very quickly surround themselves with a support source ... I think part of the biggest challenge is stepping off into an experience in the woods with a bunch of people that you don’t know,” she said. “That kind of helps them start to make decisions about reaching through uncomfortable situations.”
Now that the eight students have returned from their experience, they will start their time at Fairmont State knowing people on campus who can help them through the challenges that come with higher education, Widney said.
“Fairmont State, we pride ourselves in our small classroom, our personal connection with students, and I think this is going to begin to reinforce that,” she said.
This story, which originally appeared in the Times West Virginian, is posted here with permission. E-mail reporter Chelsi Baker at cbaker@ timeswv.com or follow her on Twitter @cbakerTWV.