For many students, the first year of college can be both thrilling and terrifying. They must negotiate challenging schedules, learn new study habits, and find their place in a new social structure. Freshmen at the University of Wisconsin–Madison who are interested in the life sciences also face the risk of getting lost at sea: they must choose from more than 30 possible majors in 60 different departments. A new program supported by HHMI will help students navigate those options without floating adrift.
"Academic expectations [of new students] are huge, and it's also probably the first time they've lived on their own," says Teri Balser, an associate professor of soil science and director of the Institute for Cross-College Biology Education, who will lead the program. Her goals, in part, are to ease students' transitions from high school to college and usher those who are interested in research into the lab as quickly as possible, with a special focus on students from groups traditionally underrepresented in the sciences.
The program will begin with a week-long Mad Biology Boot Camp, bringing students together before classes start to give them a preview of college life and teach them to manage time and stress. As the semester begins, students will attend a seminar that introduces them to the scientific process and big-picture subjects such as evolution, energy, and stem cells. In conjunction with the seminars, the students will be mentored by more advanced students, who will share their own strategies for success.
To help these mentors, an existing course—Entering Mentoring—will also be expanded with the new grant. Developed by HHMI professor Jo Handelsman and her colleagues, the course trains graduate students and postdoctoral researchers to be better mentors in the lab, especially as they work with first-year students. The course will now be available to a wider population of students and faculty members.