The first week of classes for Angelo State University students, especially freshman and international, can be overwhelming. Whether it’s adjusting to living away from home (or country), realizing class coursework is not going to be as easy as high school, adjusting to a language barrier or finding ways to make new friends, these two groups of students have a lot to adjust to. However, thanks to the efforts of the University Center Program Council, these students received a strong first impression this past week for what’s to come as a college student at ASU.
ASU's growth depends upon retention of those new students. And if many students can become overwhelmed in college for various reasons within the first two years, they will drop out. Although enrollment numbers are expected to be at a record high this semester, retention of freshman students will determine the longevity of those numbers.
“With only 59.0% of students staying on to become sophomores, Angelo State University has freshman retention rates below the national average of 69.4%,” noted College Factual, a well-respected online college source for parents, students and colleges, and featured for its reliability in The Chronicle of Higher Education, USA Today, and The Business Journals.
Making this impression is imperative not only within the first few weeks of class, but also throughout the semester, said Sam Mendoza, student programs and activities coordinator with the Center for Student Involvement.
“For us, it’s about being out there and being personable,” said Mendoza, who has been a part of UCPC since 2005. “Program Council is helping with the retention portion of things, and with our scheduled events and programs, we try to keep students on campus and at the university.”
Because of these numbers, ASU administrators, faculty and staff have revved up their efforts on retention and have worked hard to make new changes that will ensure more first-year students make it through college successfully.
UCPC’s entertainment plans for the 2015-16 academic year is part of that drive, Mendoza said.
“For us, it’s all about the experience we try to provide,” he said. “We try to have something unique that other schools don’t provide. That’s what’s nice about Program Council.”
If last weekend and this week’s events are any indication, members of the Council believe they’re off to a good start.
“[UCPC] is responsible for a lot of programming throughout the year. They helped out during Rambunctious weekend with the zipline, caricature artists, and things like that. All those novelty events, they had a hand in all that. Also, they had Mr. Pete Davidson from Saturday Night Live here on Wednesday.”
Pete Davidson, an American comedian and actor, is the youngest member at 21 on SNL, and his age and show made a big impact on ASU students, Mendoza said.
“It went well. It was a very good turnout, and all the students really enjoyed Pete’s comedy,” Mendoza explained. “A lot of posts online said it was one of the best shows they’ve ever been to. A lot of them are freshman, so it’s nice for them to get a good experience and to enjoy stuff, especially at the beginning of the year before it starts to get hectic for everybody.”
Mendoza added that students can expect similar events in the upcoming months. However, a release of those events are not yet available since the university’s fiscal year doesn’t start until Tuesday of next week. As a result, the Program’s contracts are pending; however, the coordinator remains confident the plans for the year will pan out.
“We’re fortunate to have a budget that funds these types of programs. Bigger or schools at level may not have that kind of funding,” he noted.
Whether it’s funding, or something else, Davidson’s show proves ASU has what it takes to compete with larger universities in Texas. In fact, Mendoza said a freshman student made a sign at the event that read, “My sister’s jealous because I’m here and she’s not!” or something to that effect. This student’s sister attends University of Texas at Austin and is a big fan of Davidson’s, so after the show, the comedian made a video for this student’s sister. That gesture definitely made an impact on that student, Mendoza noted.
In essence, the UCPC has been an integral part of ASU’s success in entertaining students, so it too has had to change with the times and the increase of students. Previously, only upper classman worked and represented Council. However, to reach out to freshman students in a way they’ll feel comfortable, the Program now employs two freshman students.
“For us, it’s about being out there and being personable. These freshman students are the ones who will connect with this group for the next four years,” Mendoza stated.
Mendoza also said that UCPC, overall, in addition to adding freshman students to the team, will be changing things up more this semester by providing more entertainment and liveliness to Ram Jam tailgate parties for students and the community to enjoy. UCPC also plans on doing what it can to motivate students to stay involved.
“I think for us a lot of it will be collaboration. It’s been nice the last year. The Program Council has been trying to think a little outside of the box, [which includes] collaborating with other academic departments,” Mendoza said.
For instance, Mendoza explained that an idea to start a Slam Poetry organization on campus came from a poetry study performance class. The Program Council collaborated with academics and created a new program, Angelo Speaks, last year. Students from this performance study class uses that event for their final. Mendoza said they practice their poems all semester and perform them as a final. Program Council provides a nationally touring poet to host, emcee or headline that event. Last year, College National Poetry Slam champion Neil Hilborn was the featured poet.
“To us, that’s where we want to tie in academics and student life and make it all one,” Mendoza added.
All in all, Mendoza feels ASU is ready to make this record enrollment year at ASU memorable. He also mentioned that beyond the programs, signage within the University Center, along with the new stuff placed outside it, the Ram Tram, which was implemented last semester after ASU’s Government Association passed a bill for the university to have a transit system, will also play an important role in keeping students happy.
“We have [over 6,000] students, and so many of them are international students who don’t have vehicles to get around town over the weekend. They can go wherever they need to now on the Ram Tram,” Mendoza said.
Meghan Pace, director of International Studies agreed.
“Ram Tram I think is awesome. It is the most wonderful thing that has happened for us in a very long time, and the students really love it and are utilizing it,” Pace said. “Last weekend, we had more students, and not just international students, use Ram Tram than we had when we first started it.”
Pace added that the International Studies Department has also seen an increase in student enrollment, and students from 30 different countries now call San Angelo and ASU home, at least for the duration of their study abroad timeframe. Before the Ram Tram, faculty and staff in the department took turns driving students where they needed when they needed, but as enrollment numbers increased, that became more difficult.
However, Ram Tram now takes these students to HEB, Wal-mart, the Cinemark movie theater, Best Buy, Academy and Sunset Mall, which were all the places faculty and staff had to take international students in the past.
“It also takes these students downtown so they can enjoy that atmosphere,” Pace said.
As with regular incoming freshman, Pace added that the first week of classes also appeared to be successful for new international students.
"I think [the first week] went really well," Pace said. "We talked to quite a few [students] as they were stopping in; they all seemed to like their classes, and appear to be adjusting and making friends."
Getting involved, establishing relationships, and succeeding in academics are the outcomes UCPC, administrators, faculty and staff hope will continue as they strive to provide memorable experiences for both the newbies on campus and returning students.