Freshman connections key to college success

Perhaps John Gardner of the Policy Center on the First Year of College said it best: “Residence halls are not just places for students to eat, flop and make love.”

While some colleges may have traditionally seen residence halls as a place to facilitate flopping, many schools just like St. Thomas have discovered the benefits of connecting with their students early in their college careers, especially in residence halls.

For students new to St. Thomas, the first weeks of freshman year are a time to make friends and stand outside dorms talking on cell phones, trying to figure out something to do.

This eager socializing is an electric introduction to college life and many strong St. Thomas friendships have been formed early in freshman dorms. But many students feel alienated or depressed and have trouble assimilating into the campus community.

St. Thomas’ residence and campus life offices take steps to give these students safe and supportive programs and have one of the most important tasks in students’ lives.

St. Thomas resident advisers plan fun weekend activities such as cookouts, dances and haunted houses, turning drab dormitories into festive locales. Freshmen looking for fun and friendship in Dowling and Brady Halls can even request a room in one of the special interest sections, such as substance-free or women in science floors. Freshman and sophomore experience floors are also available.

According to the 2007 National Study of Living Learning Programs, the most successful college students built relationships with faculty, pursued internships and studied abroad. But they also took advantage of the freshman interest groups available on their campus.

These students were less likely to drop out, more likely to graduate and less likely to abuse alcohol, things that any school administrators would be proud of. Some schools even offer courses to freshmen focusing on things like personal finances and note-taking, so they can make a smoother transition from high school life.

Campus community is a huge selling point for St. Thomas because a large proportion of the student body lives on campus.

From smaller class sizes to more personal attention, St. Thomas beats most schools on offerings that let first-year students feel like part of a community. In my opinion, students would do well to take advantage of these integration opportunities both inside and outside of the dorms.

When I used to give tours, I told prospective students that the best part of St. Thomas was the faculty and yet the part they looked forward to most was the dorm tour.

Any attempts to make students feel connected to their school should include faculty, as they can make your time at St. Thomas much more rewarding. They make for great references, have professional contacts and will do just about anything they can to help you. But you have got to ask.

St. Thomas features both alumni and peer mentoring programs to give students advice, as well as personal counseling services and honors classes built around discussion. While residence and student support staff work hard, they don’t do any good if students ignore the many resources intended to improve the quality of their lives and free time.

Zack Thielke can be reached at