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Freshmen Students Pleased with First Year Experience

PLATTSBURGH, NY __ Going away to college for the first time can be an overwhelming experience. Leaving family and friends, meeting new people, finding your way around a campus and learning about yourself can feel like a lonely process. Because of these universal feelings that freshmen in college experience, the State University of New York College at Plattsburgh developed a unique way to help improve the first year experience. 

In its inaugural year, the Whiteface Initiative for Student Engagement (WISE) is drawing praises from students, faculty and staff as the program strives to help students become more self-aware, self-empowered and engaged on campus. 

According to Peter Luguri, assistant vice president for Student Affairs and director of First-Year Programs and Retention Efforts, the early feedback is positive.

"We're very encouraged by the response in the inaugural semester," said Luguri. "If the feedback continues this way, the WISE program may be expanded into another residence hall so that we can begin to serve half of the incoming class. If it continues to be successful, the program may some day be expanded so that all first-year students are able to take advantage of these resources."

Currently, a quarter of the incoming freshmen class, or 240 first-year students, live together in Whiteface Residence Hall. This is the first time an entire residence hall has been dedicated solely to first-year students. 

The students are split into groups of 30 and are assigned a "Connection Team," which consists of a resident assistant, two resident mentors and a faculty mentor advisor. The team provides support for the first-year students in every aspect of their academic and social lives while they work their way through their first year at college. 

The resident assistants live alongside the students in Whiteface Hall and are responsible for keeping students safe and helping them adjust to their new surroundings.

"The point of the program is to increase the quality of life at Plattsburgh State," said Kim Garrison, a resident assistant in Whiteface Hall. "Working as a team, the resident advisors, resident mentors and faculty advisors help keep each other informed. This way we can keep any of the students from falling through the cracks. Because of this, we can better help them adjust to college life and make their freshman year as positive as possible."

As a sophomore and anthropology major from Canajoharie, N.Y., Garrison is an active member of the campus community and believes in student engagement. 

The students participating in the WISE program are also in agreement with Garrison about becoming active members of the campus community. 

"The residents assistants and mentors are constantly reminding us that every student in Whiteface is going through his or her freshman year with the same feelings and that we are all trying to adjust to," said Ashley Mancuso, a freshman sociology major and Peru, N.Y., native.  "We are encouraged to participate in the programs, which definitely involves us with other students our age and gives us a great opportunity. They are also there to help us get through registering and give us tips for the right classes."

"WISE is a great way for students to experience their freshman year," said Rachel Bark, a resident mentor in Whiteface Hall and a junior majoring in childhood special education from Perry, N.Y. "Having three upper level classmen to help guide them is definitely a great resource that is now available to them."

Resident mentors are upper level students who serve as role models for the first-year students.

The faculty mentor advisors help students take the right path academically by helping them choose their classes and decide on their majors.

"My primary objective is to create an environment that, at the same time, makes the students feel connected and comfortable here while also challenging them to grow and succeed academically and personally," said Dr. Edward Miller, professor of chemistry and a faculty mentor. "The first semester has gone well. It has been a learning experience trying to determine the right mix of challenging and advising as well as creating the best opportunities for effective interaction with the students."

Dr. Jon Chatlos, assistant professor of English and also a faculty mentor, added, "The first semester is going very well. The program is well organized. Enthusiasm is high. Our students in Whiteface are bonding effectively with the College and community."

The advisors are also responsible for the Friday night events that are designed to bring the first-year students together and give them an alternative to off campus activities.

The Friday night events hosted by the WISE staff have offered many activities for the students. Kicking off the year with a successful "Capture the Flag" game, they then hosted a Carnival that was attended by more than 100 students. Before the end of the semester, more events are planned to engage students including community service opportunities.

"The Friday night events are great," said Jessica Godbot, a freshman business major from Littleton, N.H. "The events are a great alternative to the usual things that students do on the weekends. The resident mentors and resident assistants are also a great help."

Luguri said that the success of the program in its inaugural semester is due in large part to the residence hall staff.

"I'd like to praise Bryan Hartman (director of residence life) and the residence life staff for their leadership in this effort," said Luguri. "Their hard work and dedication has had a tremendous impact on the program's first semester."

For more information on the WISE Program, contact Luguri at 518-564-2280.

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