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A Fine First-Year Experience


The first semester of Hamilton’s pilot program, First Year Experience (FYE), has concluded and been deemed a success by Coordinator of Orientation and First-Year Programs Tessa Chefalo. She reports that approximately half of the first-year class participated in some type of FYE programming, including Core Sessions, FYE social programming, and/or FYE-eligible events.

FYE is aimed at creating opportunities for first-year students, to feel connected to Hamilton from the moment they arrive on campus. All first-year students were divided into FYE groups, led by a resident advisor or FYE leader, based on their first-year residence hall.   A number of FYE core sessions addressed topics such as wellness, the honor code, diversity and difference, sexual assault and alcohol, and time management. Others were campus social or athletic events. Students attending these events accrued “FYE points” that counted toward their FYE Competition totals.

Rafiatou Ouro Aguy ’18 was the grand prize winner for the fall semester, having attended more than 25 events. She won a $500 gift certificate through travel agency BTI. “I loved that the FYE competition consisted of events that I would normally be interested in attending” she said. “There was not a single FYE event that I regretted attending, and I learned something new and useful from every one. This made is easier to enjoy competition and more fun to attend the events,” Aguy added.

Second place winner Serena Smith won a new iPad Air and third place winner Sarah Magee won a  $150 gift certificate to a vendor/store of her choosing. The winning FYE group, led by RA and FYE group leader Rachel Harshaw, comprised 22 students, all residents of South Hall.  The prize for this group is a day trip to Destiny USA Mall in Syracuse.

“I think our FYE Leaders did an excellent job of planning both relevant, topic-driven programs, and also creating a few fun social events,” said Chefalo. “They have been great ambassadors for the program overall.  I think the videos produced for the ‘Academic Life Hacks’ session will be a great lasting resource, and we heard positive feedback from first-years and RAs about the ‘Diversity and Difference’" student panel. Students also seemed to enjoy the mix of small and large group sessions.” 

Chefalo said the first semester pilot was crucial in helping fine tune the next FYE program and noted there is room to grow and improve.  “In planning for our spring 2015 and fall 2015 FYE series,” she remarked, “the FYE leaders and I aim to increase attendance, pull in a broader range of FYE-eligible events, increase awareness of the FYE campus-wide, and make a few other small changes in response student feedback from this fall.”

Chefalo explained that “One of the most obvious opportunities for improvement moving forward will be in our early marketing - making sure that new students are aware of the FYE early on.  I think our biggest hurdle this semester was lack of information about what the First-Year Experience is, or even that it existed.”

She said a short info session will take place during January Orientation this spring, along with a number of social opportunities for new students to meet the FYE Leaders and learn about the FYE.  “We have also taken feedback about the timing of the series into account, and are planning to host spring Core Sessions on weekday evenings, where presentations and conversations will likely take place over a meal,” Chefalo explained. 

Next semester FYE will offer some small, incremental prizes in addition to grand prizes, and will probably make available everyone's standings throughout the competition, rather than just posting the FYE point totals of the top five students.

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