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First-Step Summer Transition Program

The First Step Transition Program at Muskingum University provides an intensive and comprehensive summer orientation to postsecondary education for students prior to entry into an undergraduate program. The program targets students with learning disabilities, AD/HD and at-risk students choosing to pursue postsecondary education. Primary emphasis is on the application of learning strategies within the context of a University-level expository course. Additional focus include campus familiarity and the social and emotional changes associated with the transition to a University. Overall, the program aims to reduce student anxiety and to improve student success in the postsecondary environment. Students will leave with a better understanding of their learning styles and a concrete plan for improving their chances for academic success.

First Step is administered by professional learning consultants with the assistance of student mentors, who serve as contact persons during the first year, and is coordinated through Muskingum University's Center for the Advancement of Learning, which has been providing academic support to students for over two decades. Some aspects of the program are geared specifically to Muskingum University's liberal arts academic program, but most topics covered during the orientation are applicable to other postsecondary programs.

Based on previous research and existing transition programs at other institutions, the Center for the Advancement of Learning developed a six-pronged approach to facilitating the postsecondary transition for learning-disabled and other students. These components are integrated throughout the orientation period.

  • Diagnostic assessments of learning style
  • University-level expository courses
  • Learning strategies training
  • Social and emotional support
  • Campus awareness
  • Support services

Diagnostic assessments of students' learning styles are used to create profiles of students' strengths and weaknesses, to plan appropriate strategies to use during the academic year, to help students better understand their learning disabilities (if applicable), to evaluate students' expectations about a University compared to high school, to assist students in self-advocacy, and to assist students in scheduling courses and in considering career options. The Center's professional staff members demonstrate how learning style assessments may be applied to students' academic programs. Students will be provided with oral and written summaries of learning style assessment results.

One course focuses on writing and speaking. The other is an expository history course that introduces students to the University-level lecture and lab experience. FSTP courses are instrumental in demonstrating to students the expectations of a University and the performance standards of professors. In addition, the courses provide an academic context for the application of learning strategies.

The learning strategies component of First Step provides students with effective means of enhancing learning strengths and compensating for learning deficiencies. As students begin to develop an effective learning strategies repertoire, they become more effective and efficient learners. Students apply learning strategies to the content of the expository course in individualized and group sessions with the Center's professional learning consultants. Strategy instruction and application activities emphasize time management, organization, notetaking, testing, memory, reading, writing, debriefing, and self-advocacy.

Because the transition to a University is often accompanied by significant social and emotional changes, First Step provides opportunities for student growth and awareness. Participants experience communal living and dining during the program. Professional staff members from the Center as well as student mentors facilitate relationship building among students, encourage the establishment of new friendships and personal support networks, foster internal student motivation, encourage the development of student independence, provide students with a forum for discussing emotional and social concerns, and enhance students' social skills and interpersonal communication skills.

To reduce student anxiety about the University environment, campus awareness activities are an important component of First Step. Students are familiarized with the campus and community layout, are informed of campus activities, and are familiarized with the University operations. Because students are housed in campus dorms and eat in campus dining facilities during the orientation, they gain first-hand experience in campus living.

The variety of campus support services available to students are introduced during the orientation. Knowledge and understanding of support services aids students in becoming independent and in developing self-advocacy skills.

The First Step Transition Program culminates with the development of an Individualized College Plan (ICP) for each student (Clark, 1996). Copies of the ICP are provided to each student and are filed in each students' file for future use in academic support. While development of the ICP begins during the summer orientation, the ICP is a dynamic plan that evolves throughout the student's career. Components of the ICP include:

  • Summary of academic strengths, weaknesses, and preferred learning style
  • Summary of learning disabilities and needs (if applicable)
  • Summary of appropriate accommodations (academic, personal, social, environmental) for minimizing obstacles to learning
  • Listings of effective and ineffective learning strategies
  • Summary of short-term and long-term goals
  • Academic plan of study and preparation for achieving goals

Because First Step is a highly structured endeavor and because some topics are covered only in general terms during the two-week orientation, it is important to allow for follow-up as students move into the less-structured schedule of the academic year. At Muskingum University, subsequent support is multifaceted and additional information about various topics may be obtained through several avenues:

  • Contacts with the primary tutor and other tutors in the PLUS Program (for qualified disabled students who request services)
  • Contacts with First-Year Seminar mentors, student mentors, and class mates
  • Contacts with student mentors from First Step
  • Workshops and personal sessions with Student Life staff

First-Step Activities

The two-week orientation program is packed with academic and social activities geared toward easing the transition from high school to University. Every attempt has been made to simulate the activities that occur in the typical University student schedule.

Morning and afternoon sessions include lectures, labs, presentations, library work, computer work, tutoring, and study groups. Activities scheduled for the evening sessions include social interactions, and cooperative learning activities.

Participants arrive on early Sunday afternoon. The afternoon is devoted to settling in and socialization. After a cookout on the campus quad, the evening sessions focus on policies, course overviews, and time management-organization strategies. Activities scheduled for the first week include classes, learning assessments, strategy instruction, strategy application, academic reinforcement, campus awareness, and social and emotional issues. Supervised field trips to local attractions are planned over the weekend. During the second week, students participate in classes, strategy application, academic reinforcement, support services, social and emotional issues, and career counseling activities. The session concludes on the second Saturday with an individual student evaluation session.

Admission to First-Step

Although students with learning-disabilities, AD/HD and at-risk students are targeted, First Step is open to any student making the transition from high school to University. The orientation is appropriate for incoming Muskingum University students or any student preparing to enter a postsecondary program. Computer equipment is provided and no prior knowledge of computers is required.

Participants in First Step are charged a fee that includes instruction, room and board, course materials, orientation materials, and field trip transportation. The fee for 2011 is $2,600.

Space will be limited. Interested students are encouraged to apply early for the program. Application materials may be obtained by contacting the Center for the Advancement of Learning by phone at 740-826-8280 or by mail at Walter Hall, Muskingum University, New Concord, Ohio 43762-1199.

For Additional Information about First-Step

To obtain the First Step Transition Program application materials, or additional information about the Program, the Center for the Advancement of Learning, or Muskingum University, please contact the First Step assistant coordinator listed below.

Melissa Choate , First Step Assistant Coordinator
Walter Hall
Muskingum University
New Concord, OH 43762-1199
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