The academic realities of your first year of college can be rough. Like any confrontation, the fight or flight responses can kick in when adversity truly rears its head for the first time, whether in a bad grade on a test or the sudden realization of how much work has piled up on you.

Like first-years around the country, students at St. Thomas’ Dougherty Family College (DFC) have experienced the realities of academic rigor. In classmates, faculty and the school’s many support systems, they’re finding what they need to take their effort and work to a higher level.

“When we took our midterms [fall semester], I didn’t do a great job and I saw my grades go down,” first-year Jessica Chamu said. “For my finals I studied so hard. I realized early on I have to study hard, put time into this. I’ve seen the difference.

“It’s hard, but you can do it,” she added.

Both those realities are at the heart of DFC’s academic curriculum.

“It’s been an interesting transformation for some students. Because we have a number of students from different places, some have to work a lot harder to make the transition,” said Associate Dean of Students Doug Thompson. “For some students it was a matter of fine-tuning … and I’ve been able to see students make the transition academically and socially. Some approached it closer to high school and realized it was much more rigorous and demanding.”

“Students are really rising to the challenge. They’re really growing together,” sociology faculty Jennifer Trost said. “They’re working well together, becoming more comfortable with the higher ed model and separating themselves from the K-12 model. They’re really developing as college students.”

A lot of that starts right in the classroom as faculty work with students to raise their level of work.

“The professors we have are really passionate about their teaching,” first-year Citlally Ruiz said. “They want the students to learn; it’s not about just passing each semester. They try to determine different ways to help you figure out each subject.”

DFC’s cohort model – in which groups of 25 or fewer students take their classes together – has helped students figure out ways to help themselves, too, as they’ve gotten to know each other’s strengths and weaknesses better.

“It’s having each other’s backs,” said first-year DeAmonte Block. “We as students help each other, make sure everyone’s on top of things. It’s just good teamwork.”

“That support is great, knowing these are the people who will help me work through things,” first-year Leslie Nicolas added.

Outside the classroom, the Scholars Resource Center has become a more and more important resource for students’ growth.

“What’s really gratifying is when I hear from faculty how well the students we’re working with are doing,” Scholars Resource Center Director Julie Bach said.

Throughout both fall and spring semester the DFC’s faculty and staff have also used its early alert system to recognize when students are showing signs of academic issues.

“That gives us a chance to intervene with some meaningful solutions, some chances to catch up and get the support they need,” Thompson said. “We can let them know we’re here and there’s still time to get the help they need. We always have those conversations.”

Throughout this opening year, the difficulties and successes of its students has helped shape what DFC is all about.

“Coming into college, being first generation, it is scary because you don’t know how it is,” Leslie Nicolas said. “It’s hard for my parents to tell me what to expect. Having good professors to support you, and friends and the cohort you interact with throughout the day, it’s very nice to know you have that support. That’s why you’re here. We get the chance to incorporate everything we do. For me, making it on the dean’s list is a big deal. It pushes me to want to go further.”

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