First-Year Field Experience: A Pre-Freshman Head Start Like No Other

July 16, 2010

Students travel to Costa Rica as part of a pre-marticulation study abroad course.

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For the second consecutive year, Rollins offered incoming freshmen the opportunity to experience the College’s mission of global citizenship and responsible leadership—before they even set foot on the Rollins campus.

Summer 2009 marked the launch of the Rollins College First-Year Field Experience which took 12 eager students on a 10-day adventure through Costa Rica’s rugged landscape. The trip, a two-credit environmental studies course, offered students the chance to study flora and fauna in Costa Rica’s world-renowned protected areas and national parks.

According to Associate Provost for Internationalization Barry Allen, the 40 students who applied were overwhelmingly the most promising students in the admissions pool: dean’s scholars and honor students who all were previously top achievers in high school.

Allen led the trip and recalled that he left with a dozen kids from around the country and came back with Rollins students. “This wasn’t just a trip,” Allen said. “Like all of our study abroad experiences, these are academic courses that provide unique bonding opportunities.”

As Allen has discovered, an international program for incoming freshmen is something that’s highly progressive in the academic community. “I’ve heard that some colleges run a semester-long abroad experience in the fall. But I don’t know of any institution that is doing this on an international scale in the summer before the freshman year.”

Beneath the obvious allure of a summer adventure combined with academic credit, the First-Year Field Experience served one other critical function: it gave new students the chance to begin their new life in college with confidence and ease. Over the course of the 10 days students spent abroad together, they formed a close peer group that continued into the new school year. “I still see the Costa Rica group hanging out together on campus,” said Allen.

“The Costa Rica trip was an absolutely amazing experience,” said Emily Sessoms (Class of 2013). “It definitely relieved a lot of the pressure of starting at a new school. I’m still friends with everyone on the trip; it changed my whole freshman year.” Since the First-Year Field Experience is anchored in academics, these new Rollins students also started to get an idea of what would be expected of them in college. “These kids made the transition from high school student to college student on that trip,” Allen said proudly. “When they got to campus in the fall, they hit the ground running.”

This summer, two First-Year Field Experiences took place: the 10-day Environmental Studies Costa Rica trip and an intensive 23-day Shanghai language immersion. The Shanghai trip, led by Rollins Lecturer Li Wei, was a beginner-level, five-credit Mandarin Chinese language course that catapulted 16 students beyond the 101 level and into 102 for fall 2010. In fact, Wei described this particular field experience as “transporting the entire 101 course to China.”

“Thanks to an exchange partnership with Shanghai University, students studied in classrooms weekday mornings, received free tutoring by native speakers weekday afternoons and then engaged in a multitude of cultural activities and excursions [such as a visit to the World Expo 2010] in Shanghai and its neighboring towns,” explained Wei. “This trip is a total language immersion encompassing everything from food to culture and history to art.”

Rollins already attracts a sizable number of students who specifically choose Rollins for its commitment to global citizenship and multitude of study and service abroad opportunities. As the First-Year Field Experience expands and attracts attention, faculty and administrators expect that even more scholars will put Rollins College at the top of their list in the hopes of engaging in this exciting pre-freshman adventure.

Rollins Spans the Globe

Rollins’ unprecedented efforts to educate students for global citizenship and responsible leadership have received national accolades. More than 70 percent of eligible faculty and teaching staff have conducted individual research or traveled internationally with faculty-led groups and have brought those lessons in the world’s classroom back home to Rollins. For the number of students who study abroad, Rollins ranks eighth in the nation in its category in the most recent Open Doors Report on International Educational Exchange published by the Institute of International Education. Approximately 73 percent of Rollins students in the College of Arts & Sciences have an international experience before graduation.

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