International Educator - January/February 2018 - 32

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INTERNATIONAL STUDENT AFFAIRS
By Glenn Cook

Smooth Transition
First-Year Interest Groups Help International Students
Navigate Transition to College Life
THIRTY YEARS AGO , the University of Washington started a program to help incoming fresh-

men smoothly transition into life at the Seattle campus. Known as a first-year interest group, or
FIG, and led by upperclassmen, the program was designed to "put a face" on the university.

"We have changed dramatically how we communicate with students," says LeAnne Wiles, the university's
director of first-year programs. "We've moved from the
model of 'Come and figure it out when you get here'
to one in which we provide information in advance
and engage them at home before they ever arrive
on campus. The FIG is one piece that helps them in
that transition."
FIGs are part of the Learning Communities movement, which started in the late 1980s and combines
classroom work with a focus on personalization. Now
a staple in most U.S. and Canadian universities, these
first-year groups are credited with helping students
earn higher grades, make friends faster, and graduate at
higher rates than those who don't participate.
For international students, most of whom arrive on
campus just prior to the start of classes, FIGs can help
them learn to navigate the sometimes tricky transitions
they encounter when moving to a new country.
"Strategically, we want our FIGs to be focused on
integration, not separation," says Wiles. "We do specific
training for our peer mentors around how to help international students in a FIG program, and we work to link
domestic and international students together. Our goal
is to help all students have a strong sense of community
from the beginning."

Broadening the Experience
The number and size of FIGs differ depending on the
university, but most are held during the fall semester and
emphasize training in small groups of 15 to 25 students.
The University of Washington started with four FIGs
in 1987 for a freshman class of just under 3,300. Today,
159 FIGs serve more than half of the 6,400 first-year
students, about half of whom are from other countries.
Patricia Moran Micks, director of the First-Year
Experience Office at the University of Texas (UT)Austin, works with a large freshman class-8,300 in the
32  

INTERNATIONAL EDUCATOR J A N.+ F E B .18

fall of 2017. Two-thirds of the class participates in one
of the university's 300 FIGs, which are individualized
based on the students' college or major. Participants
take two to four classes together, participate in weekly
seminars led by a peer mentor and staff facilitator, and
work together in study groups.
Micks says UT's program "is unique in that it works
to develop the whole student," with equal focus on academic, developmental, social, and emotional learning.
International students, in particular, benefit from "the
opportunity to be instantly engaged in a learning community of peers" as well as events and other opportunities that target their needs and interests.
Networking with peers and faculty is a hallmark of
many FIGs, most of which are offered to students living
on campus for their freshman year. Some offer options
not tied to campus housing, such as State University of
New York-Potsdam in northern New York state and the
University of Wisconsin-Madison.
SUNY-Potsdam has about 300 students participating
in 30 different FIGs, which focus on hands-on applied
learning, research, and arts experiences. The university
also is piloting FIG cohorts that are aimed at undeclared
majors to help work on future career plans.
"Our FIGs generally incorporate a number of highimpact educational practices that improve student
retention, completion, and success-and those experiences are particularly important for international students," says Lisa M. Wilson, director of the university's
Learning Communities Advisory board.

Mixing It Up
Few universities have programs that separately target international students, opting instead to go with
blended programs. UT-Austin is planning to start
its first international FIG in the fall of 2018, and
UW-Madison is looking at its options tailored specifically to students from foreign countries.



Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of International Educator - January/February 2018

From the Desk of
Frontlines
In Brief
Global Spotlight: Malaysia
Quick Questions
Feature: Recruiting Farther Upstream: U.S. Institutions Are Exploring New Opportunities Among International High School Students
Feature: CASE STUDY: The Business of Global Engagement
Feature: Middle Class Rising: As the Number of Families with Discretionary Income Grows, So Do Prospects for More International Students
Education Abroad
International Student Affairs
International Enrollment
International Education Leadership
Forum
In Focus
Feature: Minimizing Risk, Maximizing Results
Advertiser Listings & Index
International Educator - January/February 2018 - BB1
International Educator - January/February 2018 - BB2
International Educator - January/February 2018 - Cover1
International Educator - January/February 2018 - Cover2
International Educator - January/February 2018 - 1
International Educator - January/February 2018 - 2
International Educator - January/February 2018 - 3
International Educator - January/February 2018 - 4
International Educator - January/February 2018 - 5
International Educator - January/February 2018 - 6
International Educator - January/February 2018 - 7
International Educator - January/February 2018 - From the Desk of
International Educator - January/February 2018 - Frontlines
International Educator - January/February 2018 - In Brief
International Educator - January/February 2018 - 11
International Educator - January/February 2018 - 12
International Educator - January/February 2018 - 13
International Educator - January/February 2018 - Global Spotlight: Malaysia
International Educator - January/February 2018 - 15
International Educator - January/February 2018 - Quick Questions
International Educator - January/February 2018 - 17
International Educator - January/February 2018 - Feature: Recruiting Farther Upstream: U.S. Institutions Are Exploring New Opportunities Among International High School Students
International Educator - January/February 2018 - 19
International Educator - January/February 2018 - 20
International Educator - January/February 2018 - 21
International Educator - January/February 2018 - Feature: CASE STUDY: The Business of Global Engagement
International Educator - January/February 2018 - 23
International Educator - January/February 2018 - 24
International Educator - January/February 2018 - 25
International Educator - January/February 2018 - Feature: Middle Class Rising: As the Number of Families with Discretionary Income Grows, So Do Prospects for More International Students
International Educator - January/February 2018 - 27
International Educator - January/February 2018 - 28
International Educator - January/February 2018 - 29
International Educator - January/February 2018 - Education Abroad
International Educator - January/February 2018 - 31
International Educator - January/February 2018 - International Student Affairs
International Educator - January/February 2018 - 33
International Educator - January/February 2018 - International Enrollment
International Educator - January/February 2018 - 35
International Educator - January/February 2018 - International Education Leadership
International Educator - January/February 2018 - 37
International Educator - January/February 2018 - Forum
International Educator - January/February 2018 - 39
International Educator - January/February 2018 - In Focus
International Educator - January/February 2018 - Cover3
International Educator - January/February 2018 - Cover4
International Educator - January/February 2018 - SCover1
International Educator - January/February 2018 - SCover2
International Educator - January/February 2018 - S3
International Educator - January/February 2018 - Feature: Minimizing Risk, Maximizing Results
International Educator - January/February 2018 - S5
International Educator - January/February 2018 - S6
International Educator - January/February 2018 - S7
International Educator - January/February 2018 - S8
International Educator - January/February 2018 - S9
International Educator - January/February 2018 - Advertiser Listings & Index
International Educator - January/February 2018 - SCover3
International Educator - January/February 2018 - SCover4
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http://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/nafsa/ie_20141112
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http://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/nafsa/ie_20131112
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http://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/nafsa/ie_20111112
http://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/nafsa/ie_20110910
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http://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/nafsa/ie_20110102
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