The course, which is taught by instructors who have volunteered their time to help fledgling members of UB's student body ease into college life, also covers more traditional campus-adjustment topics like time management, test taking, paper writing, handling conflicts with professors, negotiating the library computer system and the libraries themselves, campus resources and registration; it also serves as a forum for student concerns about family, homesickness, and other personal matters.
On a cool Monday in October, students convene in Baldy Hall on the North Campus for a lesson in diversity, just one of many presentations they'll be given by various campus organizations this semester.
This particular class, team-taught by vice president for student affairs Dennis Black and dean of students Barbara Ricotta, has a friendly vibe: Halloween treats are passed around while students chat about classes, overdue papers, and weekend goings-on. The teaching assistant, UB junior Lisa Blandford, makes the rounds, catching up on the students' lives as she schedules one-on-one conferences. Ricotta--or Barb, as she encourages her students to call her--takes a moment to see what's happening in her students' world.
"Anything new and exciting around campus we should talk about?" she throws out.
The feeling is cozy and intimate--a benefit not only for the students, but for the UB 101 instructors, as well.
"We get to know something about each one," Ricotta says of the students, who typically number about 15 to a class. And, adds the longtime university administrator, "in order for us to understand where they're at, we have to teach."
Black, who taught a similar freshman experience class at UB, echoes the importance of connecting with students. "We assume we know who they are and what they're doing," he says, "but we don't always ask them, face to face." In the section he teaches, he emphasizes, he can and does.
The informal atmosphere of UB 101 is conducive to candid conversations; once they get warmed up, students and instructors alike comfortably share experiences and opinions on whatever comes up. Ricotta and Black also tap into their students' personal struggles and triumphs with weekly correspondence: The students write letters to their instructors, and Ricotta and Black respond with their own letters. The letter writing, Black says, affords him and Ricotta more time to share on a personal level. "Each week you get a chance to write, to share things about yourself," he says.
Black and Ricotta aren't the only instructors who initiate personal correspondence as part of UB 101. Many instructors make journal writing or weekly e-mails a mandatory element, and the communication--and attention--is well received by students.
In Arthur Page's class, for example, students are asked to maintain a weekly journal. It's a great way to get to know them, says UB's director of News Services. "They really share their life at UB--about roommates, parents, pets.
"Last year," he continues, "I had a student from the New York City area, very outgoing, but one of her first journal entries talked about problems adjusting to UB. It really unnerved me when, in discussing her problems and how much she missed her family and friends, she wrote, 'When is this hell going to end?' It took her a whole semester to feel comfortable at UB, and I think UB 101 was a major factor in the change for her."
age's daughter, Kerri, a graduate assistant in the Office of Student Unions and Activities, team-taught with her dad last year and is teaching again this year. For her, the value of teaching is measured in large part by the personal relationships she is able to forge with her students.
"I had a student who had a close family friend who passed away," she says. "When I was a freshman, I had the same exact experience. It felt good to be able to help him get through it, when he confided in me.
"I think that was the day I first felt special as an instructor," she adds.
For Arthur Page, the class serves another important purpose. "This offers me an opportunity to personally participate in the retention effort," he says. "What it takes to be successful at the university level is different from what it takes in high school."
Preventing students from getting overwhelmed and giving up is one of the main objectives of UB 101, says Sara Stensgaard, coordinator of the Freshman Year Experience. "These kinds of courses encourage retention," she says. "The majority of students who drop out do so in their first year."
Of the 873 freshmen who took UB 101 last year, Stensgaard says, 91 percent returned to UB; this year the number of students enrolled has jumped to 1,052. Currently, there are 77 sections taught by approximately 90 instructors and 50 teaching assistants.
Some sections of the once-a-week, 50-minute class cater to students from a particular academic background, such as management or pharmacy majors; often they mix commuters and on-campus residents. And some students are block scheduled, meaning that they share more than one class with the same students who are in their UB 101 section. Courses like UB 101--which has been in existence here for roughly 15 years--are a growing trend nationwide, Stensgaard says, adding that "80 to 90 percent of universities across the country offer a course like this."
And they should, says Bryan Zuppinger, a commuter student in Black and Ricotta's section. "If I had not taken this course, I wouldn't have felt any connection with the university outside of going to class and going home," he says. "UB 101 has given me the chance to participate in some of the other activities the university offers, such as hearing (former President) George Bush speak, and [my] coming to campus to talk to potential incoming freshmen and their parents about college life."
Zuppinger's classmate Alaina Greenberg, who lives in UB's Ellicott Complex, is pleasantly surprised by the feeling of belonging that UB 101 fosters. "The teachers really care about us, and I didn't expect that at all," she says. "They actually take time to listen to us and help us with whatever we need. It's very comforting."
This sense of community isn't just relegated to the traditional classroom, however.
John Ellison, who has been an associate professor in the Department of Library and Information Studies in the School of Information Studies for 29 years, teaches his section of UB 101 almost entirely online.
"The true sense of a community comesfrom a 'feeling' which is developed by quality leadership," Ellison says, noting that students may feel more comfortable expressing themselves in the online forum. "I want the students to know they have a faculty member they can talk to and share their concerns with."
Nearly all of Ellison's students are commuters who live at home and who also work, he says, and his course gives them flexibility around their schedules. For Ellison, helping make his students' first semester at UB a bit easier is profoundly satisfying.
"The pride I feel can hardly be contained when, by the end of their first semester, I have been a factor not only in their success at passing, but in their desire to return to UB," he says.
Kathleen Heckman, assistant director of alumni relations for UB and a former UB 101 instructor, says personalizing the university experience--breaking down the "big city" that is UB into welcoming neighborhoods--makes that first year easier for the "new kids on the block."
"I think freshmen can sometimes feel like a number," says Heckman, who is also a UB alumna. "UB 101 puts a human touch and face on the university."
Courtney Walsh, executive director of the School of Management's Executive MBA program, has been at UB for just two years. For her, she says, teaching UB 101 is a way for her to get to know UB better herself, and to become more involved with UB and its students. "Doing this has challenged me to learn more about the opportunities and support systems that are available on campus," she says.
Teaching UB 101 is one way he can give back to a university that has given him so much, explains first-year instructor and UB alumnus Tom Koller, assistant athletic director for corporate marketing and special events. "I really do love it," he says. "I think the students have responded well. We're at least giving them some insight into what happens at the university and how to be a better--and happier--student."
Zuppinger admits he didn't know what to expect going in to the course. "But it has by far exceeded any expectations that I had--and then some."
Jennifer Lewandowski is a graduate student in the master of arts in humanities program at UB; she is currently working on her teacher certification in secondary English education.