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University’s boot camp gives freshmen fighting chance

May 12, 2013 by

The University of Nevada, Reno program aims to prepare new students for their first semester.

RENO, Nev. — Welcome to boot camp, you maggots.

Stand up straight, suck in that gut and recite the periodic table.

What did you say? I can’t hear you! Drop and give me 20.

When the University of Nevada, Reno holds its first academic boot camp Aug. 16-20, there won’t be any snarling drill instructors ordering freshmen to scrub the latrines with toothbrushes, but it won’t be easy, either.

They will spend five days, from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m., attending classes, working in study groups and taking exams.

Just as basic training prepares soldiers for combat, the goal of UNR’s new boot camp, called Biofit, is to help freshmen majoring in certain scientific fields improve their chances of surviving that fragile first semester of college.

“Students of all levels of preparation come here, and some of them struggle that first semester,” said Jeff Thompson, dean of UNR’s College of Science. “And studies show that if students struggle that first semester, it’s very hard for them to overcome.”

Struggling students also are at risk of dropping out, and UNR is on a mission to improve its graduation rate.

Last year, slightly more than half of the freshmen who entered UNR in 2006 graduated.

The graduation rate in 2012 for UNR students who earned a diploma in six years was 54 percent. That’s 2 points below the national six-year graduation rate of 56 percent.

Another hopeful indicator is UNR’s retention rate: 79 percent of the freshmen who came on campus in 2011 were still enrolled when the next fall semester began.

Attending the boot camp is voluntary, and during its first year, enrollment will be limited to freshmen who plan to major in biology or neuroscience.

“It’s a test run with no risk to them,” Thompson said. “They have the opportunity to make adjustments before they get a poor grade that first semester that’s hard to recover from. That’s really what we’re trying to address.”

The students will live in the same residence hall and have to pay $200, which will cover food, room and program materials.

UNR joins a growing number of campuses that offer this type of experience to help freshman successfully make the transition from high school to college.

Louisiana State University held the first weeklong boot camp in 2005 for new freshmen biology majors at its College of Science, where Kevin Carman was the dean at the time.

Carman, who became UNR’s new provost in February, made starting a boot camp at UNR one of his top priorities.

Thompson said LSU’s boot camp has increased student graduation rates for new freshmen by 50 percent.

“That is very significant,” he said.

He credits that improvement to the way boot camp exposes freshmen to the tougher academic requirements of higher education before they start their first semester.

“The point of boot camp is that college is very different, but most students don’t really understand that,” Thompson said.

They can hear that message repeated by UNR recruiters, high school counselors and their parents, but the boot camp experience drives it home, he said.

“We try to compress into a fairly short time what it is like to be a university student,” Thompson said.

The students will attend several classes each day, take exams and get feedback on how they did.

Although the first Biofit boot camp will be open only to biology and neuroscience majors, Thompson wants to offer it next year to all of the incoming freshman in the College of Science.

“Provost Carman eventually wants to expand this across as much of the university as we can,” Thompson said.

Other universities have boot camps for students majoring in theater, engineering and business as well as for disabled veterans and high school graduates who are smart but at-risk because of bad study habits.

Christina Cho, UNR’s director of advising, recruitment and retention for the College of Science, said the college is recruiting undergraduates majoring in biology and neuroscience to serve as mentors for the boot camp students.

Biology majors Brandy Reynolds and Chris Gomez, two undergraduates who will mentor freshmen in the upcoming boot camp, said they could have used some help adapting to university life when they first came on campus.

“One of the hardest things I had to deal with from a social aspect was having to deal with a roommate who was a slob, but he moved out six weeks into the semester,” Gomez said. “Then there were five guys who lived on the same floor and played video games until five in the morning.”

On the academic side, Gomez, who wants to become a dentist, and Reynolds, a pre-med student, found the work load much harder than they expected.

“You have to learn to manage the credit load and the intensity at which each professor teaches their class,” Gomez said. “In an hour and 15 minutes they go through two-and-a-half chapters of information.”

Freshmen will learn that exams are crucial to their grades, Reynolds said.

“In a lot of the courses you take, the grades are based mainly on exams, whereas in high school, you had homework and extra credit that could boost your grades in the end if you messed up on a test,” she said. “That’s not the case so much in college.”

Gomez said the newly found freedom that freshman experience when they leave home poses another danger, Gomez said.

“Some freshmen are like, ‘I’m away from mom and dad and there’s a party down the street and I can stay up until 3 in the morning,'” he said.

“But if you only get two hours sleep, you’re probably not going to function well the next day. So with that freedom comes responsibility and knowing your limits,” Gomez said.

via University’s boot camp gives freshmen fighting chance.

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