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Department of Communications/
News Bureau
22 Davis Hall, 10 Lippitt Road, Kingston, RI 0288
Phone: 401-874-2116 Fax: 401-874-7872

URI freshmen offered ‘a sense of belonging’ Learning
communities & community service opportunities expand

KINGSTON, R.I. -- September 17, 2001 -- They’re here. The latest batch of 2200 freshmen are wandering around the University of Rhode Island’s Kingston Campus looking for their classes, sizing up their roommates, and trying to figure out just how they will fit into college life.

"Research tells us that the first six weeks are critical," says Dr. Jayne Richmond, newly appointed dean of University College and Special Academic Programs. Richmond has been interim dean of the non-degree granting College for the past three years. The College’s mission is to help students make the transition to URI and lay the groundwork for their academic success.

This year, Richmond notes that 75 percent of incoming freshmen are enrolled in learning communities, designed to help them establish a connection to URI, each other, and to the faculty. That’s up from 40 percent last year.

"Nationally the transition to college seems to be getting harder for students and we’re seeing that at URI. Students arrive with a perceived sense of stress and a lowered academic confidence. More of our students are working to help pay for college, sometimes they have worked 20 to 30 hours a week while in high school," says Richmond. "The first six weeks make a difference. Research tells us that students who gain a sense of belonging are more likely to stay in school and succeed."

Students in learning communities share a cluster of classes including URI 101: Traditions and Transformations, a mandatory one-credit freshmen course composed of 25 or less students, usually a writing or communication course, and a general education course.

The learning communities also help students connect to their majors or college. Since students sometimes change majors as often as their sneakers, the cluster courses can all be applied to general education credit.

University College is also strengthening service learning opportunities, according to Richmond. All students are required to participate in a service learning component called The Feinstein Enriching America Program which is incorporated into the one credit URI 101 course. The program is designed to heighten awareness and ultimately make students better community members.

Focus areas include children and family, elderly, homelessness, environment, hunger, literacy and health care. "We want this experience to be more than just a one day event," says the dean. "It needs to be brought into the classroom and reflected upon to ‘make meaning’ of the experience. As we be

come more intentional in our service learning design, students will feel a greater impact."
For example, Richmond’s 101 class spent all day Saturday, September 15th helping families in transition to have livable housing (by painting, cleaning, and repairing.) Vincent de Paul Ministry of Providence coordinated the service day. The organization also sent a representative to the class to discuss housing and homelessness issues with the students before they did the service.

The class will also be presented with different family budget scenarios, divided into groups, and asked to make a group decision on how to best work within a budget.

University College is also launching a peer mentoring advising program this semester with five peer mentors who will be trained in active listening skills and be able to provide referrals and resources. "We expect the peer mentors will help foster student connections and improve retention. In addition the mentor program provides leadership opportunities for our student mentors," says the dean.

For Information:Jan Wenzel, 874-2116

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