New online orientation strengthens sense of belonging among new students

A survey of students showed that “Introduction to University Life and Learning” helped position them for success as they began college

Two students embracing
College 1A is designed to orient students to university life, while promoting community-building and effective habits of mind for academic success. (Photo by Elena Zhukova)

Incoming first-year UC Santa Cruz students who took the campus’s redesigned online-only orientation reported a strong sense of belonging by the time they completed the credit-bearing course.

The survey, created by faculty who developed the course in collaboration with Institutional Research, Assessment, and Policy Studies, reported significant increases in self-efficacy in students, both first-generation and continuing-gen, in areas of academic literacy including abilities to find campus resources, selecting courses, time management, and ability to interact with peers, instructors, and staff. The report also revealed a 55% increase in incoming students’ self-efficacy in finding campus resources.

“Nearly all (93–94%) students reported improvement in their ability to find campus resources and plan which courses to take,” according to the report. “In addition, many student subgroups who started off with stronger concerns about not belonging at UCSC,” ended up feeling a similar “strong sense of belonging by the end of College 1A.”

The survey indicates that the change has “provide(d) important support to students not only in course learning outcomes (learning strategies for academic success, developing competency with campus tools for enrollment and path to degree, etc.), but also in developing a sense of belonging to their college and to UCSC broadly!”

College 1A “Introduction to University Life and Learning,” a required online and credit-bearing orientation course for all incoming UCSC first-years, launched in summer 2021. Vice Provost and Dean of Undergraduate Education Richard Hughey said the goal was to orient students to campus and to university life, while promoting community-building and effective habits of mind for academic success.

While offering these strategies, College 1A was designed to introduce students to core elements of academic literacy and to familiarize them with campus resources related to academic planning, health, and well-being.

The initiative, led by Orientation Director Rosa Plaza, shifted summer orientation to an online format, which proved effective in increasing knowledge delivery and retention by spreading the material over the entire summer; improving effectiveness while simultaneously reducing workload; and moving orientation into the digital era.

The change to an online format also supported more equitable access because some families no longer needed to decide between the high cost and lost wages of a multi-day trip to Santa Cruz, or a 4 a.m. to 11 p.m. day trip north. Although not planned, the 2019 shift to online summer orientation positioned our campus well to face challenges brought on by the pandemic.

While serving as Kresge College Provost, Ben Leeds Carson helped to lead the designing 1A as an academic course and handled the submission of the design by all 10 colleges for Senate approval. He also supervised the first iteration of the course in summer 2021.

Carson coordinated 15 faculty teaching 14 courses, including a version of the course for transfer students, which Carson helped design in collaboration with faculty affiliated with Services for Transfer and Re-Entry Students (STARS). “The way we centered justice and accessibility issues for a wide range of students facing barriers to entry” is, per Carson, important because “it’s a record of what we have to be accountable to in the future.” That legacy, he says, “is part of what holds future instructors accountable to uphold that vision and those purposes.”

In Kresge 1A, incoming students are oriented toward resources that “support health and well-being, time management, strategies for academic success, the cultivation of just communities, the prevention of sexual harassment and violence, campus conduct policies, awareness of risks associated with alcohol and other drug use, reflection on UC Santa Cruz Principles of Community, and an introduction to the living and learning tradition of Kresge College,” the syllabus explains.

Juliana Leslie, an instructor who taught 1T for transfer students for the last two years, hopes to continue to work on the curriculum to make it “even more relevant to the transfer student experience.” For first-year students, she adds that it grants “a preview of the academic literacy curriculum and allows them to reflect on their learning habits and goals,” an optimal path to starting fall quarter. “Although faculty teaching the courses are still revising and fine-turning the curriculum and trying to make it as useful and valuable as possible for incoming students,” adds Leslie, “I think the course offers students an opportunity to connect with a faculty member, learn about campus resources, practice navigating canvas and other campus websites, and start to build community.”

Council of Provosts Chair Sean Keilen also looks forward to further evolution of College 1A. Revisions to the course by the Council of Provosts and Campus orientation “will allow us to make more progress toward empowering new students to turn this large, public university into a small neighborhood where they can get to know each other, learn how things work, and find the resources they need to achieve their goals,” he says. “Very high numbers of students reported developing a sense of self-efficacy and belonging as a result of completing College 1A.”

Zac Nakamura, a third-year Games and Playable Media major affiliated with Kresge, witnessed this firsthand as a Peer Navigator for Kresge 1A. “Not only did the course allow students to adjust to college-level discourse and discussion,” he says, “it allowed students to learn from the perspectives of their new fellow classmates.” Nakamura facilitated open discussions with the students and his co-Peer Navigators and found that “students' nerves and anxieties about college were eased,” citing that “the course allowed them to come together in a space where they could be vulnerable with each other—everything from nerves about college-level reading to not feeling prepared in general. These discussions gave incoming students the confidence that they are not alone, and that they can succeed.”

Nakamura’s hopes for the future of College 1A are “that the course can bring the perspectives of other students, professors, and individuals who can share their experiences with finding success in college to the students,” he says. For the incoming students, hearing these various perspectives of how others have navigated the “pursuit of academic success” will be “the most beneficial tool they can have as they start this new chapter of their life.”

Hughey also reflected on the past while envisioning the course’s evolution for 2023.

“This work has already begun,” he said. “It will be fascinating to see this course, and our students, grow and develop based on this Survey Report and future assessments.”