New resources foster undergraduate students' success

11/20/13

The College of Biological Sciences has revamped its services for undergraduate students this fall, opening a new all-inclusive student advising center and launching a program to help freshmen begin their college career with unprecedented support.

Biology Academic Success Center

For all undergraduates, the College now offers a holistic academic advising experience to students enrolled in its nine majors. Since the start of the fall quarter, CBS students have had all of their advising needs met in one location: the Biology Academic Success Center (BASC). The center has two co-directors, Maria Saldana-Seibert and Mara Evans, as well as 11 staff advisers. A committee of faculty meets regularly with the BASC to maintain strong ties between teaching and advising.

The center's opening has been a huge success, with the team having already met with 70 percent of all incoming and transfer students for their mandatory incoming advising. By November 26, 90 percent of the students will have had an individual advising session.

"Students have expressed that they really like having all advising in one area," adviser Mariella Guzman-Aguilar said. "And our online appointment system has been a great convenience that allows our students to make appointments with their adviser anytime, anywhere."

Common questions the advisers encounter include: Will I receive transfer credit for my classes? Which classes should I take to graduate? What should my four year plan look like? How do I maintain good academic standing? How do I change my major? What kind of job can I get with a biology degree?

BASC advisers help answer those questions and many more, all with the express purpose of ensuring that CBS students receive the academic support necessary to succeed as Aggies. Where students once had to travel between departmental offices and the Dean's Office, they now visit the BASC, a central resource hub.

The advisors are cross training on student requirements at the campus, college and major-specific levels, as well as on options for international students and students in academic difficulty. Team-members have breadth as well as a long-term experience in specific areas of advising.

"It is also very convenient for us to have the whole team so close in proximity and accessible when needed for questions and our BASC peer advisers have done a tremendous job helping with drop-in students who have a quick question," Guzman-Aguilar said.

The center will serve as one additional avenue to connect CBS students to research opportunities in a variety of fields and career development experiences in the community. Throughout the year, BASC will also host informational seminars to help students learn about career and research opportunities related to their academic interests.

Guzman-Aguilar added that the team is hoping to improve delivery of services to make sure BASC continues to serve students in the best ways possible.

Freshman Cohort Program

The Cohort Program is a new opportunity for freshmen to develop community and orient themselves within the College of Biological Sciences as soon as they arrive at UC Davis.

The four primary elements of the program are a fall welcome where students will be introduced to others in their cohort; the BIS 98 freshman seminar class; the opportunity for small groups of freshmen to have lunch or spend an hour with a faculty member; and the opportunity for a field trip to the Bodega Bay Marine Laboratory.

Through such intensive mentoring, the program aims to allow students the opportunity to engage more closely with faculty; to introduce the students to the full range of research and majors in CBS; to create a greater sense of community and place for students within the college; and to encourage students to use the advising resources within and outside the college.

The program clusters all incoming students into groups of approximately 200 each. Designed by Associate Dean of Undergraduate Academic Programs Susan Keen and Dean James E. K. Hildreth, and generously funded by a gift from alumni Edward Yu, these cohorts have their own faculty mentoring group, workshops, and other structured activities intended to create a community of support.

"Having a community is important because it provides a support system and a professional social network that will make students' education much more valuable," Program Coordinator Ashley Vater wrote in her introductory letter to freshmen.

The program kicked off the year with an all-freshman welcome lunch, which was attended by almost 900 students. All the students received a cohort-specific t-shirt, Dean Hildreth spoke about the importance of the program and students participated in ice breaker games that allowed them to begin to form friendships within the first week of school.

On November 16, Vater led the first two groups of cohorts out to the Bodega Bay Marine Laboratory for a tour and to learn about the research taking place there.

By the end of the fall quarter the program will have hosted 17 Student/Faculty lunch meetings, in which faculty pick a discussion topic and a small group of students meet with them in an informal setting to foster interacts.

"I had a really great time with the first session of the CBS cohort program today and am looking forward to all the exciting opportunities that each week has to offer in addition to all the faculty/student interactions that I can hopefully be a part of," one student said.

But the hallmark of the program is the new BIS 98 seminar for freshmen, offered in all three quarters, with Dean Hildreth as the instructor of record. Faculty will present as guest speakers in BIS 98, discussing their research and its applications, their career paths and new challenges in their fields.

The BIS 98 seminar has several goals: to describe the career paths of professors, to help students understand how central research is to the life of a faculty member, to explain the research tools available via the library and to help students understand how a research university differs from other educational institutions.

"We hope that the Cohort Program will give students opportunities to form relationships with their peers and college faculty. And we hope that through these relationships students will develop a strong a sense of community, early in their academic experience, that will promote a more positive and supportive campus climate," concluded Vater.