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Published 05/04/17

First-Year Orientation session 2016

"One thing that I really like about Bryant is how well this University does with building a community, as well as implementing a really comprehensive first-year experience with the Gateway curriculum and the Bryant Innovation and Design Experience for All (IDEA) program,” says Joshua Wilkin, Ph.D., Bryant’s Associate Director for Campus Life who has studied how college and university first-year programs can improve student satisfaction and sense of belonging.

Behind the success of Bryant's first-year experience

Information is an important part of the job for Joshua Wilkin, Ph.D., Bryant’s Associate Director for Campus Life. “Listening to students and hearing their feedback is really important to me,” he says. “You have to be a good active listener in my job.”

"There’s a sense of community here at Bryant that I haven’t really seen elsewhere."

Wilkin recently used such feedback in writing “How the Implementation of a First-Year Experience Program Could Improve Student Satisfaction and Sense of Belonging at an Urban Mid-sized College,” which was published in the March edition of the Journal of College Orientation and Transition (JCOT).

The article grew out of Wilkin’s doctoral dissertation, which sought to better understand students’ perception of their college and how the creation of a first-year program could improve student satisfaction and sense of belonging.

Students queried for the study overwhelmingly felt that the implementation of a first-year experience program would increase the sense of belonging at their college and improve the overall student experience. They also suggested the program should contain elements such as lessons in time management, opportunities to meet other students, innovative workshops, and an introduction to student services. 

Building community

Wilkin, who joined Bryant’s Office of Campus Life staff in 2015, characterizes the University’s first-year Gateway program as an example of a first-year experience that gets it right. “One thing that I really like about Bryant is how well this University does with building a community, as well as implementing a really comprehensive first-year experience with the Gateway curriculum and the Bryant Innovation and Design Experience for All (IDEA) program,” he says. “I was also impressed with how involved the orientation was, and how well Bryant integrated those services into the curriculum.”

In IDEA, Wilkin notes, students work in teams on projects covering a range of "real-world" situations, ranging from the arts to the social services to the business sector. “IDEA doesn’t just help students develop long-lasting friendships, it also helps them make connections with campus staff and student and faculty mentors,” he says.

“There’s a sense of community here at Bryant that I haven’t really seen elsewhere and I think that some of that is the result of having a solid first-year program.”

Extending a helping hand

A good first-year program should fill many roles.

Wilkin says that his study confirms that a good first-year program should fill many roles. “I think the definition of a successful first-year program is one that that helps students acclimate to their college, both academically and socially. It should prepare them for class but it should also give them a way to make friends.”

Another key aspect is ensuring that students understand the services available to them. “A program that goes over the various resources available to students, things like counseling services and academic advising, is vital. Students should know and understand the services that they have available to them, the things that are part of their tuition.”

The human element can’t be neglected either. “Sometimes helping a student get through their first year is as simple as asking ‘How’s your day going?’ if they seem upset,” he says. “I can’t tell you how many time’s that’s happened. Where someone looks just a little off and a simple question can give them a chance to unburden themselves and talk about what’s wrong.”