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Small Teams Make Big Impact at Freshman Symposium

Students with Freshmen Symposium BannerFor a university known for its small classes, the first class for freshmen is an exception. Freshman Symposium packs Jones Hall auditorium and sets the foundation for the mission of the University of St. Thomas with a community of freshmen and mentors.

While most colleges and universities across the nation offer a similar first year experience course as an introduction to college life, St. Thomas tailors this course to focus on the University mission and help students improve communication, professional success and leadership.  

Plus, UST is one of the few, if only, schools to have a three-person mentor team for each section. 

2013 Freshmen Symposium mentorsCatherine Barber, associate professor of education and a member of the planning team, said mentors are hand-selected for their experience and dedication to students, with dynamic professors, engaged staff and student mentors who help students connect to clubs and activities.

“They all bring something unique to the group,” she said.  “I think ours is the only model that includes staff, and I think it’s unique to our success.”

Students alternate weekly meetings between large group presentations by guest faculty and small 16-person classes. The small groups, which are the same as New Student Orientation, are organized randomly so they are diverse and include students from all majors.

Each section is unique. Some may do service-learning projects selected by the students. Others will focus on different aspects of the University mission. They’ll all gather for movie night to watch “Remember the Titans” on Sept. 12 on the Campus Life Mall.  

In terms of professional success, students hear from an alumni panel on their experiences and take a free Myers-Briggs assessment. Freshmen get advice from upper-classmen in a student panel on “What I wish I knew as a freshman.”  They can also explore fields of study at the Majors/Minor Fair on Oct. 9.

Study Abroad in Costa Rica and Rome

Dr. Jo Meier-Marquis, director of Freshman Symposium, said study abroad is an exciting new initiative for the program this year. While UST offers many study abroad programs open to freshmen, two trips are organized for freshmen only: Costa Rica and Rome.  

Paloma Stier, a second-year mentor and a member of the planning committee, said her experience in Freshman Symposium—where the critical thinking and liberal arts benefits of study abroad were explained —inspired her to study abroad in Chile the summer after her first year.

She traveled with Dr. Rogelio Garcia-Contreras, associate professor in the Center for International Studies, who was a mentor in Freshman Symposium.

“He made a huge impact on what I wanted to study,” said Stier, who is now a senior international studies and international development major. “It’s a sense of community, and you aren’t a number because your professors get to know you as an individual.”

Since attending St. Thomas, she has traveled on three study abroad trips. Stier said getting out of her comfort zone with study abroad led to more activities when she returned home.

“That led to a ton of other opportunities with clubs and other activities on campus,” she said.

Commissioning Ceremony Celebrates Freshmen

The Freshman Symposium culminates in a Commissioning Ceremony. Students complete personal success projects for the class, and the top three projects are presented at the final meeting, with cash awards for the best ones.

Freshmen will also receive lapel pins specific to the class, signifying they are officially Celts.

Meier-Marquis said although students arrive scared and a little bit uncertain, the class provides a supportive academic environment. Freshman Symposium helps students affirm their place at St. Thomas, so they graduate on schedule.

UST has taken a lot of time to recruit the right students,” Meier-Marquis said.  “We want to keep you here. We want to do everything we can to make you successful.”