NSU First-Year Seminar Program strives to help students succeed in college

Students walking across campus

ABERDEEN, S.D. – New students coming to college for the first time are looking for connections – for some, it can mean the difference between staying or leaving.

That’s where Northern State University’s First-Year Seminar Program comes in. 

The program strives to provide connections for new students, said Dr. Liz Sills, making them feel at home so that they want to stay and learn.

“Learning is the ultimate outcome,” Sills said. “But community facilitates learning.” 

As Northern’s new first-year seminar coordinator, Sills is working with the newly re-formed First-Year Seminar Committee to add cohesion to Northern’s program. The committee is made up of representatives across campus, from the academic realm as well as NSU Student Affairs:

  • Ms. Krista Bau, academic advisor, TRIO Student Support Services
  • Ms. Megan Frewaldt, director of student involvement and leadership
  • Dr. Theresa Giannavola, assistant professor of banking/financial services
  • Dr. Grant Manhart, professor of music, trumpet/jazz
  • Dr. Jon Schaff, professor of political science
  • Ms. Jessica Vogel, School of Education instructor

“Northern’s First-Year Seminar is a key component for student success,” said NSU Provost Dr. Michael Wanous. “In addition to all of the FYS courses being on a variety of interesting topics, they all share common learning outcomes to develop critical thinking, effective writing and speaking, and group collaboration. These capacities prepare students to be successful in college and life after college.”

The overall objective is to make sure Northern first-year students transition into college smoothly and develop the skills they need to succeed.

“Our goal with this program is to keep students’ needs first and make sure that Northern State University is providing our first-year students with what they need in the 2020s,” explained Sills, assistant professor of communication studies.

The program includes required courses for all first-year students. Professors who want to teach a First-Year Seminar course must submit a proposal on their topic. Sills said the committee will make those selections, ensuring that a wide variety of topics and disciplines are represented.

But these instructors do more than teach in the classroom – they serve as mentors on their students’ path to college success. Sills said she still answers questions from some of the students she taught in a past First-Year Seminar course. In this way, the program can result in increased student retention by decreasing confusion in the transition to college, particularly among first-generation or nontraditional students.

Sills’ hope is for all students to walk out of their first year at Northern understanding what’s important about college. That includes critical thinking, discussion, reading and self-initiative.

A lot of students come to college thinking that it’s all about the piece of paper you get at the end, Sills said.

“The piece of paper is a great asset once you earn it,” Sills said. “But figuring out how to earn it is just as much the point.”

About Northern State University

Northern State University is a regional university that offers outstanding academics and exceptional extracurricular activities at an affordable price on a safe, welcoming campus. Northern State recently announced its Educational Impact Campaign, with a goal of raising $55 million for a new South Dakota School for the Blind and Visually Impaired, new athletic and recreation fields, and an on-campus regional sports complex. Once the campaign is complete, NSU will be the recipient of more than $100 million in privately funded building projects and scholarships within a decade. To learn more, visit NSU Admissions.

Pictured: Dr. Liz Sills