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First-Year Toreros Receive Full Support in Preceptorial Program

First-Year Toreros Receive Full Support in Preceptorial Program

Jonathan Bowman is a happy man. He's enthusiastic, has a great attitude and loves being an educator. When he was hired as a Communication Studies professor at the University of San Diego in 2007, high on his to-do list was to be involved in USD's long-running, much-admired preceptorial program.

Why? He knew what it meant. It’s a program that cares about students. He wants to work with them, support them and help them reach their full potential, especially when the time is ripe for learning — the college starting line.

“From my personal perspective the first two weeks of college you change more than you've ever changed during any short period of your life,” Bowman said. “So it's great to have a faculty member who cares and helps guide that in a positive direction. I knew this was the kind of experience you come to a place like USD for — to be at a school where you care about the relationship that faculty have with students. This program allows you to really get to know people.”

Initiated in 1973, a year after the merger of the San Diego College for Women, College for Men and School of Law into the University of San Diego, the 43-year-old preceptorial program is the flagship part of USD's first-year experience. Dedicated faculty members like Bowman teach an introductory course that's part of the core curriculum and has no more than 20 students. The faculty preceptor doubles as their students' academic advisor, answers questions and develops a connection with students that can last all four years of college.

"The most meaningful thing to me about the preceptorial program is that USD really has a culture of care and they welcome all students here full-heartedly. I really see that," said Shalin Shah, a senior neuroscience major and Honors Program member. "When I came in as a freshman, I felt strongly connected right from the start and the foundation was laid out for me."

Collaborative Support for First-Year Students

The preceptorial program is anchored within USD's collaborative Living Learning Communities (LLC) with Residential Life and have thematic elements to enhance the academic learning for first-year students. In an LLC, students who share a common interest live and study together. It helps a new student's academic and social transition to college, it expands intellectual curiosity beyond the classroom and fosters community with faculty and fellow residents.

The eight LLCs — Change, Faith and Reason, Globalization, Insight, Intersections, Natural World, Social Justice and Sustainability — each have a faculty director and a cross-section of undergraduate faculty preceptors and different courses to consider.

Bowman, an associate dean in the College of Arts and Sciences and an LLC and preceptorial program administrator, is also a faculty preceptor in the Social Justice LLC. He's teaching an Introduction to Human Communication class and he is eager to help new students grow their knowledge through experiential learning.

"My class will go to Friendship Park at the U.S.-Mexico border to talk about immigration and social reform," he said. "We'll be in a location that makes these issues of social justice come to the forefront. There you'll see people trying to talk to and to touch fingertips with loved ones across what's a pretty solid mesh wall. It's life-changing. It encapsulates a struggle you've most likely not experienced yourself directly. It also gives a framework for people who have experienced it a way to talk about their experience and be better understood by their peers."

Bowman said the LLC concept, piloted in Fall 2011 and has had 100 percent capacity since Fall 2014, can bring out the best in faculty preceptors.

"Adding the thematic elements allows faculty to be creative in how they approach the classroom and puts a new dynamic perspective on their classes. Instead of just teaching pre-major courses, they teach classes in their expertise related to the theme in a way that they might not have taught to freshmen before," he said.

Faculty preceptors can better connect to the next generation of students, which is something to consider as this fall's freshmen comprise the Class of 2020.

"Training for faculty members has changed over the years," Bowman said. "We're really seeing a focus on student support using the most recent and relevant literature. Every institution of higher learning talks about how students are changing, how they're different than the students from two, five, ten, twelve, thirty years ago. I think it's great to see us being responsive and having engaged faculty who want to know how to support the students coming here. Students expect and look forward to the idea of a 'homeroom,' having a teacher kind of on-call to help them figure out what college is all about."

Peer Student Mentoring

Each LLC has peer student mentoring through preceptorial assistants (PA). This role is held by a successful returning student who is a liaison between the faculty preceptor and new students, is a key resource for student life questions and, along with resident assistants (RA), plans and implements activities outside of class.

Rachel Stein, a mechanical engineering major graduating in December, is a fall PA for the fourth time. Shah, graduating in May 2017, is a third-year PA. Both valued their first-year college experience with the help of faculty preceptors, Frank Jacobitz and Michael Mayer, respectively. They met people who've remained friends and both still seek advice from their preceptors.

Stein and Shah encourage new students to utilize the resources offered by LLCs, preceptors and PAs.

"Really take advantage of all the events your PA is going to put on because it will help immerse you in the LLC and you'll get to know all the different people you are living and learning with," Stein said.

"Definitely come to your PA and preceptor with all the questions you have. Make sure you know exactly what you'll need to be successful," Shah added. "And if we don't have the answer we have connections on campus who can give you those answers. Don't be afraid to come to us."

Educating, Learning and Having Fun

Having new students get involved, discover new passions and get outside their comfort zone is an important part of the college journey. But doing so when they know there’s a strong base of support makes sense. That's why Bowman loves his work. He enjoys combining education, life-skill lessons and fun all into one event as a preceptor.

"I'm looking forward to taking my class to an Improv comedy show," he said. "We'll watch the show, have dinner and then we'll talk about how improvisation in a professional situation can help them be more successful going forward in life."

Every experience is meaningful. Every day is a learning day. The LLCs and multiple preceptorial classes understand this, striving to deliver daily for new students.

"One of the cool things about a liberal arts education is getting different perspectives on similar concepts. Co-curricular events can open doors and open minds to new experiences. It's really great to come into the classroom after a weekend event, unpack the experience, process and see the people who enjoyed it and those who didn't enjoy it, for good reasons, and then have a conversation to learn how it fits with their understanding of the world around them."

— Ryan T. Blystone

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