BURLINGTON, VT — The most intense experience of my life so far has been selecting a college. But fortunately for me, I unexpectedly stumbled upon Champlain College. I was skeptical at first about attending Champlain because it was my safety school. I now realize that this close, intimate campus is a better choice than the larger universities that I had once hoped to attend.
A key factor of not only my academic growth, but my social growth as well, has been the Freshman Focus Program. Orientation classes can be found in most college curriculums, but Champlain College has embarked on a experiment that takes this type of freshman class to a higher level.
The program consists of two academic classes that meet twice a week: "Introduction to Psychology" and a companion course that enforces its concepts. Since students all know each other and live in the same dorm, the class possesses a very comfortable learning environment.
On the days that we do not attend psychology, we meet in a more personal classroom for Freshman Focus. There, we discuss the psychology lectures and review study skills. We take practice tests and hold study groups prior to any exam.
The class also makes us more aware of problems on and off campus, such as sexual harassment, diversity, drugs, and alcohol. Currently in class, we are planning a community-service project to be carried out in the town of Burlington.
Here at Champlain, I live in a beautifully restored Victorian dormitory. I share these living quarters with 30 other students, 25 of whom are members of Freshman Focus.
There is a lot more than academics involved in the Freshman Focus program. It reinforces skills not only at the academic level, but at the social level as well. Through living and working with these 25 unique people, I have made friendships that will last a lifetime. Whenever I need help on homework, friendly advice, or even a shoulder to cry on, I can always count on the people in my own home.
The night before our first psychology exam, the dorm transformed itself into a massive study session. In almost every room, you could find at least five students conversing over opened notebooks and textbooks.
Our efforts paid off: No one in the class received lower than a B-plus on the exam. These outstanding scores made college history. Our good work on the first test inspired us to prepare in a similar way not only for other psychology exams, but for exams in other classes as well.
Members of other psychology classes that are not involved in Freshman Focus complain of a less-personal relationship with their teachers. One of my roommates is not in the program. She seems to feel left out from the closeness of the dorm and the academic support that we receive.
As the second semester approached, we needed to select courses for the up coming term. We had a course-selection discussion in class, which motivated me to call and interview perspective professors. By doing this, I became familiar with many of the faculty and the courses they offer.
This action was inspired by the Freshman Focus program. I never before had the confidence to speak to unfamiliar teachers or question a course's significance. The program has helped me learn how to take the initiative and learn things for myself. This newfound self-confidence and determination is the most valuable skill I've acquired since I arrived at college.
Susan D'Elia is a freshman liberal studies major at Champlain College in Burlington, Vt.