First Year Center Sees First Semester Success

BCTC opened its brand new First Year Center in August 2015, funded by a Title III Grant from the U.S. Department of Education.

Renovation of a former computer lab during the summer of 2015 turned the space from functional to inviting. Renovations took out all existing classroom elements, and new carpeting, furniture, wall graphics, equipment, and computers were brought in to make the room a place where first-year students could feel welcome and thrive. The walls were wrapped with words of greeting and inspiration, providing a unique backdrop for a space that now serves as a warm and inviting place for students seeking assistance or relaxation between classes.

The center staff spent much of the summer and fall semesters in the developmental phase researching best practices, bringing on additional staff, and purchasing equipment but a number of services are already offered. Students can come to the FYC for advising, career counseling, help with study skills, tutoring, questions about study abroad, and more. It has become a one-stop shop for students to receive assistance for a wide array of issues, and is also a place where they can do their homework in a supportive environment.

One of the most successful services offered through the FYC has been the availability of peer mentors. These mentors are high-performing students willing to share their skills and the lessons they have learned with other students. The peer mentor program is only in its first semester and the mentors have already dealt with serious issues that their fellow students face, such as student homelessness and domestic abuse, and have become a vital part of the FYC.

Though the center is currently housed at the Cooper Campus, the FYC is already looking to expand its reach. A first-year advisor is available one day a week at the Newtown Campus and one peer mentor also works at Newtown. Due to demand, a second peer mentor has been hired for the spring and the FYC continues to look at ways to expand its services such as through social media and Skype. There are also plans to implement new services, including laptop loans, service learning, and volunteer opportunities, as well as workshops on issues important to students.

Full expansion of First Year Center services to the Newtown Campus is planned for 2018.

Nathan Smith, director of BCTC's First Year Center, calls the student response so far amazing.

Students love the new space and many stop in daily. Student visits have grown steadily doubling from October to November as word about the Center spreads, said Smith. By combining a relaxing environment and proven success strategies with supportive college faculty and staff, we know the new FYC will become a great resource for our students. With the support of BCTC and our amazing staff, we will continue to build on this success.

The First Year Center was established as part of the Title III Strengthening Institutions grant BCTC received from the U.S. Department of Education for almost $2.3 million, or about $450,000 annually, to be distributed over a 5-year period.

The grant is assisting with first-year to second-year student performance barriers and developing a college-preparatory developmental education sequence to move students toward college-level courses more quickly.