Published: Aug. 2, 2019 By

Making the Self: Tools for Well-Being and Success in College looks to help incoming freshmen learn how to be healthier and happier students

The College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Colorado Boulder is about to seem a bit less intimidating for first-year students—with the help of a new class launching this fall.

The course, Making the Self: Tools for Well-Being and Success in College (ARSC 1550), is part of the university’s ongoing efforts to help students smoothly transition into college while also learning study skills in an intellectually stimulating program rooted in the liberal arts.

“This course grows out of a need to help first-year students transition into the College of Arts and Sciences successfully, with that success being a holistic thing that includes their personal health and well-being, their intellectual development, their preparation for academic success, and their agency over their college education. We want them to have the ability to be creative and really leverage (their education) for all the possible richness that it can have,” said Gretchen Lang, the coordinator for the course and a first-year advisor with the college.

Standardized first-year seminars are common across the nation, and they are often considered a best practice in terms of keeping a student engaged and enrolled at a university.

Even within CU Boulder, the College of Arts and Sciences is the only college that does not currently require one—a fact that many have long agreed needs to change.

Photograph of Gretchen Lang

Gretchen Lang, an academic advisor with the College of Arts and Sciences, helped bring this new first-year student experience to life.

Over the years, there have been a few attempts to get a similar course off the ground. This newest attempt, however, is designed to not only make the college approachable, but to do so in an academically rigorous way—even going so far as to get the curriculum approved by the college’s curriculum committee (which reviews and either approves or rejects all courses offered).

The course will focus on four modules, including guiding students to understand the importance of physical and mental well-being to academic success, challenging them to consider what creates a sense of belonging for everyone, and helping them figure out their place in the world.

“A dedicated team of faculty and advisors devised ARSC 1550 as an opportunity for students to explore the meaning of a liberal arts education and learn strategies for succeeding in college,” said Daryl Maeda, the college’s associate dean for student success and one of the people responsible for launching this class.

“We hope that participating in small, interactive classes focused on first year students and their transition to college will help students to find their places in the university, form communities, build a sense of belonging, and see the many possibilities that studying in the College of Arts and Sciences provides.”

Lang shares this hope:

“There’s a practical component to this (course) that’s about things like retention, but to me, those things are a secondary result of doing a good job of making students feel like this is their place, they can get what they want and need here, and they’re able to succeed without fitting into a really narrow idea of what a successful college student looks like.”

While the class is currently a three-year pilot, there’s hope that it will eventually become a required course for all first-year students.

“A lot of how the course evolves is going to be generated by the students: What they want, what they respond to, what they’re excited by, what’s successful for them in the classroom. So, they’re going to be shaping it along with us,” Lang said.

Interested first-year students can ask their academic advisors to be added to the course.