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News Clips 08/29/2013
Freshmen find direction in exploratory program
Source: FSView, 08/29/13
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By Kristine Abshier
Audrey Hartfield found herself faced with a dilemma. Like many other freshmen, Hartfield was unsure which academic direction to choose at FSU. Several semesters later, she was strolling to her dorm on a spring day, and was hit with the realization that she was ready to commit to a major. This realization, she claimed, was largely due to her involvement in the exploratory major, FSU’s take on an undeclared program.
Instead of branding students “undeclared,” FSU began using the term “exploratory” in 2004. Dr. Kathleen Smith, founder of the Advising First Center for Exploratory Students, said the term change promotes active progress.
“The term exploratory connotes action, whereas undecided is very passive,” Smith said.
Some state universities, such as the University of Miami and the University of West Florida still use the undeclared title, according their online advising resources.
What separates Florida State’s exploratory major from other colleges’ undeclared programs isn’t limited to terminology, rather it includes the active progression that Smith champions. Further, FSU’s Advising First Center for Exploratory Students, founded in July 2005, was awarded Outstanding Advising Program by the National Academic Advising Association in 2011.
“At most universities, it is recommended that undeclared students just try out classes,” Smith said. “At Florida State, students are given a great deal of structured support throughout the major selection process.”
This structure allows participants of the program the ability to explore for three semesters without straying too far.
“Undeclared students often seem to wander aimlessly through their first semesters,” Hartfield said. “[The exploratory major] is completely the opposite, giving students the tool kit they need to make a confident decision.”
The tool kit that Hartfield spoke of is the “STEPS Program” (Students Taking Exploratory Paths to Success). The number of steps on the staircase leading to major declaration is three: “Self Exploration,” “Major Exploration” and “Career Exploration.”
“Dr. Smith took a lot of interest in the work of Dr. Virginia Gordon, who talked of students needing information in three main areas,” said Linda Burns, program manager for Advising First Center for Exploratory Students, in reference to the three steps.
The first step is “Self Exploration.” This step consists of several assessments, self-identification activities and advising sessions that assist students turn passions into feasible goals.
“The different sessions of the program throughout the year like the ‘Pizza and a Major’ series really helped,” Hartfield said, referring to major workshops incentivized with the promise of free pizza.
Smith suggests that this “hands on experience” is unique to FSU’s exploratory major, and helps students turn advice into tangible progress.
“We offer creative/fun workshops…where we partner with the FSU Career Center to talk about self/major/career exploration,” Burns said.
After exploratory students have a better of idea of their skills and interests, they move on to the second step: “Major Exploration.” In this step, advising becomes even more important than in the first. According to Smith, this makes the program different from others.
“Advisors challenge students to think about their passions and strengths, and then recommend possible majors that may be a good fit,” Smith said.
Advising is taken so seriously in relation to the program, that it is mandatory. According to Kathy Allman, an academic advisor for the program, advising sessions are numerous.
“We have personalized advising that is on another level; not just on a computer,” Allman said.
Other Florida universities’ undeclared programs, specifically the University of Florida and the Unversity of Central Florida, do not have mandatory advising as indicated on their advising websites. According to Allman, this strong emphasis on advising sets this program apart from similar programs at other universities. Hartfield corroborates this.
“The exploratory program showed me other majors and what can be done with them both in and out of school, leading me to feel more confident in my decision to pursue theatre,” Hartfield said.
The next step, “Career Exploration,” is indeed designed to connect students’ newly found major interests to a life “out of school.” In this step, students get involved in internship, volunteer and shadowing programs to learn more about career opportunities.
“Eventually, I would like to incorporate aspects of theatre, especially the self-exploration and discovery that comes with any art, into a holistic wellness center,” Hartfield said. “The staff is fantastic and I’m really going to miss working with them.”
Hartfield, now a sophomore, has since transitioned successfully from a former exploratory major to an undeterred theatre major. She looks forward to what lies ahead.
“Confidently, I met with my advisor and felt excellent about my decision,” Hartfield said. “It’s simply one stepping stone along a much longer path.”