Students working with a professor outside Grainger

The first days and weeks of college can be among the most stressful for freshmen.

Hundreds of questions remain to be answered: Will I make friends? Will I get the support I need from my professors to excel in the classroom? How will I find the right organizations to join?

Often students are essentially on their own when trying to find these answers—sometimes leading to years of frustration.

At Longwood, the Office of Student Success is implementing an innovative approach to students’ first year on campus that addresses many of these concerns and provides the kind of mentoring support from faculty and staff that has become one of Longwood’s trademarks.

We know from years of experience that students who have positive experiences their freshman years, especially when those important social experiences are paired with the kind of access to faculty that Longwood has been known for, are more successful academically and graduate on time more than their peers.

Dr. Emily Heady, senior director of student success and retention

The approach: coaching groups, where students who have similar interests will be paired throughout their first semester with a faculty or staff member who shares those. The groups will meet regularly to talk about academic work, plan activities around their common interest and ease the transition to college life. The interests will be as varied as the incoming class, with groups built around topics like running, gaming, politics and even Legos.

“We took a look at the most successful first-year programs in the country and compared them to ours,” said Dr. Emily Heady, senior director of student success and retention. “Our current approach was hitting on some of the elements that we were seeking but fell short on some other measurements. So we devised this program that combines the traditional mentorship that was a hallmark of the old model with students put in groups based on common interest.”

Universities that have adopted similar approaches have found enormous success leading to increased retention and reports of increased student happiness and satisfaction.

“We know from years of experience that students who have positive experiences their freshman years, especially when those important social experiences are paired with the kind of access to faculty that Longwood has been known for, are more successful academically and graduate on time more than their peers,” said Heady. “That’s really what we are trying to accomplish: getting students the support and peer groups they need to be successful while at Longwood. This is the first step on that journey.”

More than 60 coaching groups will be led by Longwood faculty and staff this fall. Incoming freshmen will be placed in groups based on their stated interests in a survey prior to orientation this summer.

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