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Academic Foundations Gives Students Confidence to Succeed

Submitted by on February 1, 2013 – 10:05 amNo Comment

The Academic Foundations department (from front left) David Zoerb, Cheryl John, (back) Ellen Thornton, and Elizabeth Andrews. Not pictured: James Lembo.

When incoming SFSC students need a little extra academic support, the SFSC Academic Foundations department is there to help them reach their college goals.

Formed in 2012, Academic Foundations incorporates developmental reading, writing, and math classes, as well as the First Year Experience (FYE) seminar and Master Student course into one department. “Previously, preparatory math classes were run through the math department and preparatory reading and writing through the humanities department, but we felt we needed to centralize resources for developmental students,” said Elizabeth Andrews, department chair, Academic Foundations. “As a department, we now have our own unit action plans and full-time instructors.”

The department also has its own office area on the second floor of Building B where it can provide small group and individual instruction and holds a small computer lab. Because full-time Academic Foundation instructors share the office space together, it also provides open communication among instructors so they can collaborate about specific student’s needs.

Developmental students are identified by the Postsecondary Education Readiness Test (PERT), a college placement test that measures student skills in mathematics, reading, and writing. If students score in one of two below-college levels, they enter the program. Students that place in level two spend one semester in Academic Foundations classes. Students that place in level one spend two semesters in the classes.

SFSC’s Academic Foundation classes are designed differently from others. Students spend three hours a week in lecture and two hours a week in lab for each class. They must pass these courses with a grade of C or higher. “Our purpose is to get students whose skills are below college level at and above college level,” Andrews said.

“Developmental students often have so many things going on that they need more overall support, not just academically,” Andrews said. “They need help assimilating to college. First Year Experience and Master Student are two courses that assist these students in navigating their way through.”

The FYE course is an eight-week, one-credit hour course required for students that have fewer than 15 college hours. The course familiarizes students with the college and its services to prepare them for college life. The course covers time management, student diversity, communication with other students and instructors, and SFSC’s student services including advising and counseling and financial aid. “They also learn how to write a resume and a cover letter, and most importantly, they identify what their own learning styles are, which helps them immensely in the classroom,” Andrews said. The Master Student course is similar to FYE but offers a more intensive 16-week, three-credit-hour course.

“Another benefit to students in our program is that they tend to create their own informal learning communities,” Andrews said. “They bond with each other outside of the classroom and support each other inside the classroom. Our nontraditional students also bring a lot to the program. Many have been out in the world working or serving in the military, so they offer life experiences and have a greater appreciation for college. They motivate, assist, and engage our traditional students.”

Academic Foundations has five full-time instructors: Cheryl John, James Lembo, and David Zoerb, who teach math; Ellen Thornton, who teaches reading; and Andrews, who teaches writing. Recently, Andrews and Lembo attended the Kellogg Institute offered by the National Center for Developmental Education at Appalachian State College in North Carolina. “The institute is a month-long intensive program followed by a one-year practicum,” Andrews said. “We were able to bring back some techniques and best practices used in other colleges to see if and how we can implement them here. Cheryl John is also investigating a course redesign in prep math in which students will work at individual paces. We hope to pilot it in fall 2013. We are also putting some reading and writing courses online to help attract and meet the needs of more students.”

“We want developmental students to gain confidence in their skills,” Andrews said. “They need to fill in some potholes in their learning, but they know so much more than they think they do. We don’t want them to just be able to pass their classes; we want them to pass with flying colors.”

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