New students began meeting with members of the Deans of Students’ office this week as part of an initiative aimed at retaining first-year students at the University of Maine. The retention initiative of the Dean of Students’ Office was made possible by a $105,000 grant from the administration. The grant was given to the University to improve retention rates from the first to second year in college.
“We’re trying to be the warm, friendly face of UMaine,” Kenda Scheele, associate dean for students, said. The initiative aims at meeting every member of the 1,763 first-year class personally at least twice a semester. These meetings will typically last 15 minutes and are scheduled through FirstClass.
Retention is a problem nationwide as well as regionally. The University of Maine has a 78 percent retention rate. This is just under the national average of 79.5 percent. The reasons first-year students fail out or dropout of college vary from homesickness, to monetary issues, to not knowing what field they want to pursue, according to Scheele.
The meetings are designed to let first-year students know where they can go if they need help, what services are available on campus and what organizations they can get involved with. First-year students usually have questions they don’t know whom to ask or are too embarrassed to ask. These meetings are there to let them ask those questions.
“We have the answer to every question,” Kenda said. “And if we don’t have the answer right on hand, we know where you can find it.”
First-year students will be meeting with the Deans of Students as well as six part-time advisors. The program will feature a part-time advisor, along with five recent graduates and graduate students.
“We hope for a real sense of connectedness,” Dean of Students Robert Dana said.
This program is unique because it joins both academia and student affairs into one place, he said. Previously, students could get academic help and student affairs in separate locales. But with this program, it is all being brought together.
“We really feel it is a tremendously innovative program,” Dana said. “It is a classic representation of the University of Maine as caring and compassionate. The University of Maine wants the best for its students.”
“I haven’t heard much about it, but I think it’s a good thing for freshmen,” said Julie Cole, a first year student. “Guidance is important, especially when you’re in an unfamiliar environment.” Many first-year students echoed Julie’s statement. They hadn’t had much involvement with the program yet, but said it sounded good.
Scheele is heading up the program. It is just one of the duties assigned to her after being promoted to associate dean of students from director of Campus Recreation.
“Even though it’s a move up, I feel like I’m more connected to students. And I see a wider variety of students, which I find refreshing,” Scheele said.
“She’s doing a great job of launching and managing the program,” Dana said.