How to give incoming freshmen a head start on college

Lipscomb University’s president developed and delivered a summer course on managing in uncertain times—helping students to feel more connected to the campus community before arriving on campus this fall.
By: | July 17, 2020
Freshmen entering Lipscomb University this fall could take a summer one-credit course to help in building resilience.Freshmen entering Lipscomb University this fall could take a summer one-credit course to help in building resilience.

Now more than ever, college students need to be able to navigate dynamic circumstances and access practical strategies for living well when the way tomorrow looks isn’t clear. That was the assumption behind a free, one-credit summer course developed by Randy Lowry, president of Lipscomb University in Nashville. The two-week course, called “Surviving & Thriving in Uncertain Times,” included two 20-minute pre-recorded video lectures, each followed by a live, real-time Q&A with the professors whose video lectures they just watched, plus group and independent assignments.

Students were divided into Resilience Teams, and each team was paired with a professor. Those groups met via Zoom to process each lecture and engage in group work and relationship building. Besides Lowry, the course had 10 other instructors, many of whom students will encounter in their classes this fall.

The university anticipates a freshman class of about 675 students, 175 of whom enrolled in the summer course. “So many students finished high school in terms of face-to-face learning in March,” says Lowry. “We felt that waiting until August to engage again was a long, long time in their lives.” That’s what sparked the idea of them starting college a little early. “We had no idea if we were right or if anyone would come. But the course came from that framework, and it seemed to have found a place that met a need to be engaged and to be thinking academically and to be ‘in college,’” he adds.

An interdisciplinary content approach combined concepts from the health sciences, English, Bible, psychology, history, business and conflict management. “If we look at history, English literature, science and religion, almost any liberal arts field we look in, there are stories of people who were resilient. Our students can learn from these stories and how to be resilient, not only in the context of the challenging time in our world currently but throughout their lives,” Lowry says.

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Freshmen participants learned about the lifelong value of resilience in the face of adversity and developed strategies to thrive as a young adult. In the process, students had the opportunity to feel more connected to each other, the president and some instructors before the semester begins.

“Community is a very important aspect of a university experience,” says Lowry. “During a typical summer, these students would have already been on campus meeting each other during student orientation events. So we tried to foster that using the technology that allows us to interact in a meaningful way.”

Learn more about the course here.

Melissa Ezarik is senior managing editor of UB.