WMU News

Woolfork-Barnes named FYE director

April 20, 2005

KALAMAZOO--A new program at Western Michigan University aimed at first-year college students has a new director at the helm and is gearing up to welcome its first group of participants.

The First-Year Experience program will debut this summer with a pilot group of about 630 incoming freshmen and continue through the 2005-06 academic year. FYE is expected to grow in future years to include significantly more students.

Dr. Toni Woolfork-Barnes was named the program's permanent director April 1, replacing Bronco Days orientation coordinator Lori Bennett, who had been serving as interim director.

FYE seeks to strengthen new students' academic performance during their initial year at WMU and ease their transition into campus life and college-level learning.

Research shows that the foundation for excellence in undergraduate collegiate life is usually established during the first year. Nationally, first-year programs have been shown to be central to retaining students, reducing time-to-degree completion rates, sustaining individual learning, and contributing to meaningful and productive individual lives beyond college.

Woolfork-Barnes says the research reveals that if students decide to leave college, they tend to do so in the first year.

"Although there are many theories as to why students leave, the overriding reason students stay is because they find success and satisfaction in learning," she says. "The key, then, to persistence is when universities like ours provide the highest quality educational experience possible for students."

FYE allows WMU to specifically tailor some first-year course work and to create small groups of about 21 students each who will progress together through their first year of studies. These groups, called sections, will be led by faculty facilitators who have volunteered for the program. The facilitators also will serve as mentors for the new students in their sections and be assigned an upper-class student assistant.

"This is a very comprehensive, collaborative effort across the University--it's not just one department or office," Woolfork-Barnes says. "The program recognizes that we're all in this together--that we all want our students to have wonderful opportunities and a successful experience."

FYE is geared to academics, but also focuses on personal and social needs.

"We're really looking at the needs of the whole student," Woolfork-Barnes explains. "For instance, lots of students may not know anyone when they get here. This program gives them a chance to get acquainted with faculty and their peers in and out of the classroom. So right away, they'll be connected and have someone to go to if they have questions."

Still, Woolfork-Barnes notes, academics will always be in the forefront.

"We want to ensure that we provide a welcoming and inviting environment to help retain students through to graduation," she says. "But the academic part is critical--we can't lose focus on that. It has to be a priority that students are academically prepared when they leave this institution."

FYE will begin with online placement testing before participating freshmen arrive on campus in June for one of WMU's 12 one-day orientation sessions. Participants will then return to campus in August to move into their residence halls early and take part in the University's new Fall Welcome program.

The Fall Welcome is a comprehensive week-long orientation to WMU that is grounded in the University's previous two-day summer orientation and Bronco Days orientation week. It occurs just before the beginning of fall classes and is open to all incoming freshmen.

Once classes start, participants in each FYE section will attend four co-curricular activities during both the fall and spring semesters, plus take three classes together during those semesters. In addition to an FYE course each semester, the students will take two of WMU's general education courses, one of them being English. Throughout this first academic year, the participants' faculty facilitators and student assistants also will be providing ongoing mentoring.

Although Woolfork-Barnes says FYE continues to evolve, her duties primarily involve overseeing the FYE and revamped summer orientation and Fall Welcome programs, with the coordinators of summer orientation and Bronco Days serving as associate directors of FYE. Initially, a lot of her time also will be spent working with faculty and staff to fine tune FYE, identify section facilitators, form an advisory group and development assessment tools.

Woolfork-Barnes came to WMU in 1978 as a student. She earned a bachelor's degree in applied behavioral analysis in 1982, a master's degree in industrial organizational psychology in 1984 and a doctor of education in educational leadership with an emphasis in human resource development in 1993.

She joined the University's Upward Bound program in 1984 as assistant director, and after a stint as director of the King-Chavez-Parks Program, served as Upward Bound director for 13 years. She also worked with the Science and Mathematics Program Improvement project for six years as a research associate and has been an adjunct faculty member since 1993.

Media contact: Jeanne Baron, 269 387-8400, jeanne.baron@wmich.edu

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