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Department Helps New NSU Students Excel

by Gail Kent -

nsu students talking in a classroom

Student Pathways and Academic Formation Department Helps New NSU Students Excel

Learning to become an effective college student is a skill that can be difficult to master. For the past five years, Norfolk State has supported new students through the Student Pathways and Academic Formation Department as they develop that skill. The department, originally funded in November 2016 by a $2-million, fiveyear grant from the Lilly Endowment in partnership with the United Negro College Fund, uses a three-pronged approach to strengthen students’ academic integration, belonging and skill development. Because of the department’s success, it is now funded through the university’s academic budget.

NSU freshman seminar courses have been redesigned throughout the years. Students now take three, one-credit courses during their freshman year and first semester of their sophomore year that help them learn study skills and time management and allow them to explore majors and careers best suited to their strengths and interests. Students also gain the opportunity to network with industry leaders and observe professionals in the workplace. “We help them connect their skills to prepare for their journey,” says Robin Marable, Ed. D., department director. “We talk to students about growth mindset, and how they are not in high school any longer. There’s nobody to call them or their parents if they don’t show up in class or do their homework. So we get them thinking like college students and taking responsibility for themselves.”

The courses, required for graduation, include Spartan Seminar 101, focusing on college readiness; Spartan Seminar 102, emphasizing academic discipline; and Spartan Seminar 201, a research-based course focusing on the ethnography of work that provides students an opportunity to observe work environments related to their career interests.

Students provide feedback used to improve the courses. “Students really like Seminar 201 because it is so meaningful and relevant,” Marable says. Last year students rated this course the highest of the three, giving it scores of 4.3 to 4.4 on a fivepoint scale.

“It’s a really reflective course where they’re getting to observe behaviors, norms and activities in the workplace and provide feedback on the experience.” Such an experience can help students determine early in their college careers if their initial interest in a field is consistent with their goals and aptitudes, she says.

Additional initiatives that support students include Learning Communities, in which students are grouped according to their interests. Learning Community members take courses together and participate in co-curricular activities in which they network with peers, faculty and staff. This ultimately enhances their sense of belonging to the institution.

Student Pathways works closely with Career Services and collaborates with multiple departments in Academic and Student Affairs to ensure that students receive the support they need for success, Marable says. It also interacts with external organizations that provide scholarships and career readiness opportunities. A partnership with the Thurgood Marshall College Fund (TMCF), offering a five-day Leadership Institute for qualified students, connects them with 300 employers in cities such as New York and Washington, DC.

Students say they have gained valuable insights and opportunities through the courses.

“Spartan Seminar bridges the gap of the unknown for first-year college students,” says Jordan Moody (’25), a sophomore from Newport News majoring in secondary history education.

“The beauty of Spartan Seminar is that the courses are mainly taught by professors who have a great knowledge of Norfolk State University from its genesis and are knowledgeable of resources all around campus. Most of the time they are either Norfolk State alums or high-ranking professors who have been at Norfolk State for a majority of their professional careers.”

Moody credits the seminars with supporting his growth as a leader. He served as president of the Robert C. Nusbaum Honors College Student Association his freshman year and as a presidential intern and chief of staff for the NSU Student Government this year.

Nevin Gammage (’23), a senior psychology major from Ewing, NJ, says the Learning Communities have benefitted him by “providing a space for my peers and me to come together and help each other with complex courses.”

He serves as an ambassador for the FACE-IT Learning Community for psychology students, which Moody says led him to a paid internship that prepares students for graduate school.

“FACE-IT gives a sense of community to freshman psychology majors by hosting programs such as ‘Surviving the First,’ where we provide an open space to discuss our experiences and obstacles that we had to overcome when we were in freshmen’s shoes,” Gammage says.

“This is only one example of our many programs that focus on students excelling in their major and providing opportunities to further improve their experience as psychology students.”