Author: Emily Bell
The First-Year Residential Experience (FYRE) program slotted to start this year has been postponed due to issues concerning implementation. The new program, designed to help incoming first-years adjust to on-campus life, was to be used as an extension of orientation for the incoming class. The program was described in the new student packet mailed to first-years during the summer but never mentioned during Orientation.
The central idea behind FYRE is that peer-to-peer mentoring is an effective way to help first-years adjust to college. Each first-year would be part of a 20 person group who would meet with an upperclassman FYRE fellow once a week to discuss different subjects meant to help with the transition to life at Occidental.
Issues arose, however, when it came time to find volunteers to be FYRE fellows. To make up for a lack of applications, the administration turned to campus RAs as a resource. According to an anonymous RA, the administration told applicants for the RA position that would be required to be FYRE fellows as well. Applicants were told that some of their other duties would be lessened in order to make time for their responsibilities as a fellow. RAs were later told that the FYRE program had been scaled back, and that they were relived of these additional responsibilities.
In addition to the constraints in finding applicants, the FYRE program triggered concern by some of the faculty and staff because of its intricacy.
“It was a great idea, an ambitious plan, but the more we talked about it, the more we got into the details, we realized that we needed more time,” Assistant Dean of Students and Director of Student Life Tamara Rice said.
FYRE’s proposal of how to reimburse FYRE Fellows also caused some of the reluctance expressed by staff.
“The biggest challenge was balancing the work done by the Fellows and their compensation. We
wanted to give the FYRE Fellows two units of internship each, but that
was not approved by everyone in time. Next, we considered paying maybe
$500 per person, but with 60 Fellows, that added up to $30,000 and we
don’t have that in our budget,” Chang said.
Last spring, a committee of seniors who had intended
to be FYRE fellows was formed. These students were asked by Assistant
Dean of Students for Residential Housing and Education Tim Chang to
continue helping with the program this semester. The committee is
focused on researching ways to improve the program and creating a new
proposal to submit to the faculty for approval.
Although the program is still a work in progress, several involved members shared a general outline of what they hope the project will look like. Topics to discuss, such as alcohol, career development, sexual assault and money management, are to be covered each week. The goal of these topics is to educate students on subjects across the spectrum of college life. Instead of trying to pack all of that information into three days of orientation, it is designed be spread out during the first semester, allowing for a more comprehensive discussion.
“The whole idea behind the first-year program is to create a good curriculum for the first-years when they arrive. We want to get them excited for first-year activities, the CSP program, make sure that they are organized in terms of classes, explain which teachers are well-known on campus, how they can reach their advisor and what events are open to them,” Mariah Napoles (senior) said. Napoles is a member of the committee of future FYRE fellows.
This year, the group has committed to forming a plausible plan of action for FYRE that will be implemented next year. “We’re taking what they came up with last year and over the summer and building upon that research and revisiting a little bit. We are doing more in-depth research from all of the different schools that are similar to Oxy–calling them up, sending them emails, looking at their websites–doing a lot of research on their programs,” committee member Jennifer Wang (senior) said.
Although FYRE has been delayed, proponents of the program aim to pilot it during the Fall semester of next year.
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