LOGAN, Utah — Beginning in the fall 2021 semester, Utah State University expanded its 1010 Connections course to students at USU Eastern and USU Blanding, offering the course itself and new activities as well as yearlong faculty mentors. The Connections courses are taught by local USU professors, and students also have the opportunity to interact with students and faculty on the Logan campus.
“It took several years and many conversations to get the structure in place to finally have Connections offered outside of Logan,” said Kristian Olsen, associate vice president at USU Blanding and a former faculty member at USU Eastern. “I believe there are signposts in our life that we can point to as a time when things changed for us. The starting of college is one of those signposts. As an institution, the better we can help students make the transition from high school to college the bigger, brighter, and more defining that signpost will be. Connections helps students shift their mindset from being a high school student to being a college student.”
The Connections course has been a staple for incoming Utah State University students for more than 30 years, helping ease them into their first semesters of college. USU’s 1010 Connections course is a two-credit course designed help students understand the purpose of higher education and how they can take advantage of the many opportunities and challenges available to USU students. Classes discuss how students can develop habits of mind that will help them professionally, civically and personally throughout their lives.
After becoming aware of the Connections course on the main campus, Olsen saw the benefit of offering the course at other USU statewide campuses. He began working with several members of the Connections Faculty Committee to see if it could be offered to more campuses.
“I believe that students should have a USU experience no matter which campus they attend,” Olsen said. “I saw Connections as one of those experiences. In fact, I believe it is a significant and defining experience. It is an experience that, for many students, becomes the moment when they start to think of themselves as being fully a part of the Aggie family.”
Connections seeks to help students answer three questions as they progress through the course: 1) Why am I here at USU? 2) How do I best engage myself in the process of becoming an educated person? 3) How do I become a fully engaged member of the university community? The intention is to help students become "intentional learners" who understand how to get the most out of their education and how to address challenges that affect college students.
“The Connections program is recognized nationally as a leader in first-year experience programs,” said Harrison Kleiner, associate vice provost. “It is unique because we focus our students on engaging in big ‘why’ questions about their education and then help them develop intentional student habits that will help them be successful. It has made significant impacts on student success, including retention and graduation, with outsized impacts for first-gen students and students from historically minoritized populations.”
Kleiner worked with Lisa Simmons, director of Student Orientation & Transition Services, to conduct listening sessions at both USU Eastern and USU Blanding to make sure the courses would be helpful to the unique populations of students at each campus. Kleiner took this feedback to Connections Program Director Jennifer Grewe, and the Connections team worked together to craft the program to suit these statewide campuses.
Faculty members at both campuses received training similar to that conducted at the main campus, and Connections introduced other activities and mentoring support throughout the first semester, as well. Campuses also participated in the annual Luminary ceremony on the Friday before the beginning of fall semester. Each campus conducted its own unique celebration that culminated with a video address from USU President Noelle E. Cockett, at which time members of each campus lit lanterns all at once, with video monitors showing each campus to each other. Faculty at the ceremony enjoyed feeling connected to other faculty and students around the state.
“I was able to be on the Quad as we did the Luminary and it was really cool to see both statewide campus students on the big screens being looped into the events that were happening in real time with Logan students,” Grewe said. “For those students to be able to engage in the same way, listen to the president and then have the ‘A’ lighted at their own campuses at the same time as Logan was incredibly inspiring. I received feedback from statewide campus faculty that they enjoyed being more connected with campus faculty and being a part of the same training process.”
About 70 percent of students take Connections in their first year and more than 90 percent of them say it helped them learn how to better engage themselves educationally.
“Connections is fundamental in helping students know they have made the right choice to attend college and USU in particular,” Olsen said. “And that yes, college is for them, and a degree isn’t just a dream but a reality.”
For more information on USU 1010 Connections, visit www.usu.edu/connections.
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