For a first-year student, arriving on campus brings with it a mixture of emotions – excitement about challenging their intellect and meeting people from all over the world and nervousness about the exact same things.
Talk to first-year students at the end of their first semester and you’ll find they’ve figured out a lot of things – how to handle the rigor of their classes, how to manage their time and, most importantly, how to find the resources and people they need to support them on their journey. But they still have a lot of growing to do.
This fall semester seemed a bit more normal after two years of pandemic restrictions, but fallout from the pandemic — along with global and personal challenges — continues to impact students who are starting their Cornell studies.
“Students are having a hard time transitioning back into the classroom. They’re coming out from behind masks after such a long time, and learning how to interact with and learn from each other has proven to be emotionally and cognitively exhausting for some,” said Tracy Carrick, senior lecturer in the College of Arts & Sciences and director of the Writing Workshop in the John S. Knight Institute for Writing in the Disciplines. “The pandemic changed teaching and learning. Many high schools just weren’t able to provide the same instructional infrastructure, and so our challenge now is to figure out what is different and to work with diligence and patience to lift each other up.”
Michelle Smith, senior associate dean for undergraduate education in the College of Arts & Sciences, said the College has done a host of things to help students transition, including the ongoing first-year advising seminar.
“Welcoming students to campus and providing them with the opportunity to connect to faculty and each other is a joy,” she said. “We surveyed students at the end of the first-year advising seminar and over 85% of the students agreed with statements about their faculty advisor caring about them as a person and taking interest in their academic success. Nearly all students said they felt comfortable seeking help from their first-year faculty advisor.
“I am so appreciative of the faculty for helping students adjust and introducing them to additional opportunities such as the Nexus Scholars, Humanities Scholars, Harrison College Scholars, Career Development events, the Learning Strategies Center and the Math Support Center,” Smith said.
For the past five years, Carrick has been one of the faculty leading the first-year advising seminars. These once-a-week meetings, which include every first-year student in the College, introduce students to Cornell resources, connect them to faculty and allow them to have a safe space to talk about the challenges of their first semester.
“The seminar is about making a connection with an advisor, but I also want to make sure the students are able to start up a conversion with a peer,” Carrick said. “It helps them to build back those skills that atrophied a bit during the pandemic.”