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Office of First Year Experiences

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First Year Experiences at Virginia Tech


Recognizing the importance of a successful beginning in college, Virginia Tech in July 2009 made a commitment to improve the first-year experiences for first year and transfer students.   The initiative emerged as the Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP) component of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools-Commission on Colleges (SACS-COC) Reaffirmation of Accreditation process.  Branded as Pathways to Success, Virginia Tech’s first year experiences courses are designed to engage students in curricular and co-curricular learning opportunities and intellectual and practical skills that are foundational to development into lifelong learners.  To do so, Pathways courses center on three common learning outcomes that are customized to the discipline.

  1. Problem Solving Skills – the ability to design, evaluate, and implement a strategy or strategies to answer open-ended questions or achieve desired goals.
  2. Inquiry Skills – the ability to explore issues or topics through the ethical and responsible collection, analysis, and use of information as evidence that results in informed conclusions and judgments.
  3. Integration of Learning Skills – the ability and disposition to make connections between ideas and experiences, to apply them to new learning situations within and beyond campus.

The concept has grown from five courses with nearly 1000 first year students involved in 2010-11 to 29  unique courses with nearly 5000 fist year students in 2015-16.   Every college that serves undergraduate students plus the University Academic Advising Center is involved.   With the successful completion of the QEP in 2014-15, the university, under the leadership of the Office of First Year Experiences, is now engaged in increasing the numbers of and enrollment in courses while refining and improving each experience.   The 2015-2016 Pathways to Success course descriptions follow.   


2015-2016 Pathways to Success First Year Experience Descriptions



Animal and Poultry Science

APSC 1504, Animal and Poultry Science First Year Experience, is a course for students new to the Animal and Poultry Science major providing opportunities for students to understand the APSC curriculum and how they can most effectively benefit from it. Students also research, retrieve and evaluate information on topics relevant to the animal science fields.    Contact:  Nada Tamim,



BCHM 1014, Biochemistry First Year Experience, incorporates the goals of fostering a community of first year biochemistry majors by introducing incoming students to the field of biochemistry through building awareness of the kinds of questions and problems that can be solved using biochemical approaches and enhanced critical thinking skills.    Contact:  Zachary Mackey,


College of Agriculture and Life Sciences

ALS 1234, CALS First Year Seminar, is a collaborative course across several departments in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences including Agriculture and Applied Economics, Agricultural Leadership and Community Education, Animal and Poultry Science, Crop and Soil Environmental Science, Dairy Science, Food Science and Technology, Horticulture, Human Nutrition, Foods and Exercise and Life Sciences Undecided.   The course promotes a multidisciplinary perspective on agricultural and life sciences by having students explore disciplinary topics and problems and participate in research and inquiry projects.   Contact:   Renee Eaton,


Human Nutrition, Foods and Exercise

HNFE 1114, HNFE First Year Seminar, provides opportunities for new Human Nutrition, Foods and Exercise students new to the major to develop their critical thinking skills by applying problem solving skills, using information ethically and effectively to accomplish a specific purpose and make connections across disciplines as they reflect upon and assess themselves as learners.  Contact:  Renee Eaton,




School of Architecture + Design

ARCH 1024 and ARCH 1034, Innovation Design Thinking and Seeing Design, are linked summer academy courses.  1024 engages first year students in the learning environment of the design laboratory of interactive inquiry, experimentation, discovery and synthesis.  Students engage in a series of iterative drawing and modeling exercises.  1034 introduces students to ways of perceiving and recording the built and natural environment in southwest Virginia by employing photography and sketching to transform their observational skills.   Contacts:  1024 – Martha Sullivan,, 1034 – Kathryn Albright,


School of Visual Arts First Year Experience

ART 2984, Gateway to Art and Design, is designed to provide an overview of the School of Visual Arts and inform new students of the possible curricular paths for multiple visual arts professions.  Students have the opportunity to explore a variety of resources such as galleries, museums and guest artist lectures with the goal of making art a part of their daily and future professional lives.   Contact:  Jennifer Hand,


Building Construction 

BC 1214 and BC 1224, Introduction to Building Construction I and II, incorporate the learning outcomes of problem solving, inquiry and integration of learning in this two semester course sequence.  The courses approach “whole student growth” by having the students identify and utilize their own strengths while engaging in the theory and terminology of the construction industry.   Contact:  Thomas Mills,




Engineering Education

ENGE 1215, Foundations of Engineering Education, is an initial course in the first year sequence in general engineering.  It introduces students to the profession through data collection and analysis, engineering problem-solving, mathematical modeling, contemporary software tools, professional practices and expectations and the diversity of fields and majors within engineering.   Contact:  Ken Reid,




Apparel, Housing and Resource Management

AHRM 1104, Introduction to AHRM, has as its focus the majors and faculty expertise within the department.  Within that context special emphasis is placed on introducing first year students to the multiple perspectives and forms of academic and creative scholarship within the department as well as the importance of experiential learning opportunities including study abroad, internships, field studies and undergraduate research.  Contact:  LuAnn Gaskill,



COMM 1004, First Semester Experience in COMM, emphasizes in both the freshman and transfer sections a focus on the integration of existing knowledge about the discipline of human communication and the problem solving skills and strategies needed to explore that knowledge.  The course also provides an introduction to the co-curricular and pre-professional resources provided within the department, college and university.   Contacts:  Buddy Howell, and Susan Stinson,



ENGL 1004, Introduction to English Studies, prepares first year English majors for study and inquiry at a research institution.  In addition to introducing students to the opportunities available in the English major, the course includes basic principles of research and the writing process and helps students make connections across disciplines as they apply them to academic work.  Contact:  Kathryn Graham,


Human Development

HD 2335, Principles of Human Services, is taught in the spring semester for first year Human Development majors as an introduction to the basic concepts, techniques, and structures of the human services profession.  The course incorporates attention to information literacy, problem solving and the integration of learning within the context of human services.  Contact: Matt Komelski,



HIST 1004, Introduction to History, introduces first year students to the discipline of history via a number of topics including the nature and types of history and history writing.  Emphasis is placed on engaging with a variety of primary materials and sources as an example of inquiry.  Contact:  Trudy Becker,


International Studies and Political Science

IS/PSCI 1034, Introduction to International Studies and Political Science, introduces first year students to the fields of International Studies and Political Science and their respective subfields.  It provides students with important information to help them succeed in their studies and prepares them for their future careers while focusing on the examination of concepts and issues pertaining to their fields of academic inquiry.  The course also introduces students to the basic principles of the research and writing process and focuses on the identification and search of bibliographical sources.  Contacts:  Jennifer Hanratty,; Courtney Thomas, and Brandy Faulkner,


School of Performing Arts – Music, Theatre, Cinema

MUS/TA 1004, Performing Arts First Year Experience, provides experiences for first year students in which they gain knowledge of the philosophy and resources of the School of Performing Arts.  The intent is to support participation in the creative and scholarly life of the School’s programs, learn about the nature and scope of research in the creative arts, and begin to cultivate a common intellectual, analytical, and creative conversation with other students and faculty in the School.   Contacts:  Polly Middleton, and Patricia Lavender,


Religion and Culture, Foreign Languages and Literature and Philosophy

RLCL 1004, Investigation in Religion and Culture, is a first year experience course for students in the majors of religion and culture, the foreign languages and philosophy.  This course, also a general education course, has the subtitle of “Love:  An Introduction to College”.   Within the broad context of using primary and secondary sources the course examines “love” across different chronological, geographical, cultural and religious situations.   Contacts:  Aaron Ansell, and Matt Gabriele,



SOC 1024, First Year Experience in Sociology, provides first year sociology and criminology majors with an introduction to sociological concepts and research as well as opportunities to begin framing social research questions culminating in a poster presentation for a sociological research proposal.     Additionally, the course provides information about experiential opportunities and careers in sociology. Contact Donna Sedgwick,




NR 1234, First Year Experience in Natural Resources and Environment, for freshmen and NR 2984, First Semester Experience for Transfer Students, provide students with the opportunity to explore a variety of career pathways from the diverse programs in the college while adjusting to and benefiting from campus life.  With a focus on encouraging students to engage in the work of the disciplines in the college, the courses help students develop their sense of identity and relate to the college as their home as well as encouraging involvement in undergraduate research, internships, study-abroad, and other relevant programs.  Contact:   Dean Stauffer,




Biological Sciences

BIOL 1004, Biology Orientation Seminar, aims to provide students with the tools for success in college, strengthen their career plan through academic advising, and engage students through hands-on problem solving strategies.  Additionally, the course introduces students to the many resources and opportunities available at Virginia Tech that encourage student success.  Contact:   Jack Evans,



CHEM 2984, Chemistry First Year Experience, promotes the development of healthy relationships with the culture and content of the chemistry department and the disciplinary culture at large.  The course  focuses on helping first year students build relationships with faculty, upper class mentors and each other to prepare them to enter a more significantly diverse and interdisciplinary dependent scientific community.  Contact:  Jeannine Eddleton,



GEOS 2004, Geoscience Fundamentals, a spring semester course, is an introduction to geoscientific reasoning, methods, written and oral communication, professional expectations and career options for students pursuing a degree in geosciences.  Emphasis is placed on scientific methodology, empirical reasoning, and the specific application of these methods to conducting investigations and communicating the results.   Contact.  Madeline Schreiber,



MATH 2984, Discovering Mathematics, is a fall-spring two course sequence that introduces first year math majors to the scope and applicability of mathematics as well as to its many sub-disciplines and to other aspects of mathematics likely to be new to students.  Through various activities and assignments, both individual and collaborative, students will investigate and answer the question “what is mathematics?”   Contact Jessica Hurdus,



PHYS 2325, Seminar for Physics Majors, fall semester and PHYS 2326, Seminar for Physics Majors, spring semester provide first year and transfer physics majors with a foundation for success in their undergraduate degree and subsequent careers by focusing on their problem solving skills and their ability to access information, evaluate existing knowledge and integrate knowledge and experience across various disciplines.  The course exposes students to the many arenas in which physicists work and helps students develop career plans and goals.  Contacts:  John Simonetti, and Alma Robinson,



PSYC 1024, Pathways to the Psychology Major, and PSYC 2984, Transfer Student Course in Psychology, are two on line courses for first year and transfer students.  Both provide a structured and student-centered introduction to the psychology major.  Incorporating some face to face interactions with on line pedagogy the course requires students to interact with information about their major, Virginia Tech, and the career paths associated with psychology.   Contacts:  Cindy Koziol, and   Kurt Hoffman,



STAT 1004, First Year Experience, Learning from Data, gives first year statistics students the opportunity to explore the world of statistics and personally and professionally transition into their first year of college.  The course introduces students to theoretical and applied statistics preparing them for a professional career or graduate education by exploring large data sets, and analyzing misconceptions and misunderstandings of statistical concepts.  Students also have an opportunity to interact with guest  statisticians.  Contact:  Jane Robertson Evia,




MGT 1984, Foundations of Business, exposes first year students to how business works in a free market economy by developing a foundational knowledge of various business functions and of current events occurring in today’s business world.  The course incorporates a lemonade stand team project requiring a business and project plan that maps to problem solving, inquiry and integration skills in addition to being a hands-on learning experience about the key functions of a business.  An individual research report on the factors that make a business successful and connection with an alumnus/alumna build on inquiry and integration skills.    Contact:  Steve Skripak,




UNIV 1824, Pathways to Success: Exploring Your Future, helps first semester University Studies majors better navigate the university, engage in education, and succeed in their college experience.  It is designed to establish fundamental knowledge and skills that facilitate success during college and to serve students for the rest of their lives.  Contact:  Herbert Bruce,    



COS 1015, Successful Starts in Science, brings together in the Da Vinci and Curie Living-Learning Communities first year life sciences majors from three colleges (COS, CALS, CNRE) and are part of the larger inVenTs community. Problem solving, inquiry, and integration are embedded within a seminar that emphasizes the research process, career planning, service-learning, self-reflection, teamwork, and community.  Contact: Lori Blanc,

For more information, including the evolution of this initiative, click on the Quality Enhancement Plan tab to download and view Virginia Tech’s Quality Enhancement Plan, Pathways to Success.

What is required to become and/or continue as a course that carries the First Year Experience (FYE) attribute?

Academic units (departments, schools, colleges) desiring to either initially propose a course as a First Year Experience (FYE) course or continue carrying the FYE attribute on an existing FYE course must submit a proposal on an annual basis to the Office of First Year Experiences.  Courses identified as FYE courses are included in the university metric – Entering Students Attending First Year Experience Classes – and are eligible for pedagogical and financial support.    

Additional information can be found in:

What is required to become and/or continue as a course that carries the First Year Experience (FYE) attribute? (PDF | 193KB)

First Year Experience Research Protocol Information

The Office of First Year Experiences encourages exploration of the scholarship of teaching, learning and assessment within the first year experiences courses.  For general questions and/or collaboration on conducting research in your first year experiences course contact Jennifer Culhane (  Please find the First Year Experiences IRB Protocol and Student Informed Consent template forms here and on the Virginia Tech IRB website.  The FYE IRB templates are to be used as a framework, editing is necessary before submission to  provide course specific details.  

First Year Experience IRB Protocol Template 2015-16 (DOC | 184KB)

First Year Experience IRB Consent Form Template 2015-16 (DOC | 228KB)

First Year Experience Pathways to Success Professional Development Grant

Professional Development grants are designed to support those who are involved in a First Year Experience Pathways to Success course by providing supplemental funds to attend and make presentations at state, regional, or national conferences. Such opportunities serve the dual purposes of visibility and dissemination. Additional information about the grant and the application can be found at: First Year Experience Pathways to Success Professional Development Grant

Dr. Mary Ann Lewis, Assistant Provost

103 Hillcrest Hall (0914)
Blacksburg, VA 24061
Phone:  (540) 231-3341
Fax:  (540) 231-4891