NEW PALTZ — Raymond M. Schwarz, associate vice president for student affairs at the State University of New York at New Paltz, is one of 13 individuals nationwide who has been cited for developing and implementing outstanding programs geared to enhancing the positive experiences of first-year college students. The National Resource Center for the First-Year Experience and Students in transition, located on the campus of the University of South Carolina and chartered in 1986, annually identifies 10 exemplary programs and the individuals responsible and honors them with the Outstanding First-Year Student Advocate award. One hundred fifty-four people were nominated for this year’s award.
“I am very pleased to have joined President [Roger] Bowen in nominating Dr. Schwarz for this honor,” said Barbara Geider, vice president for student affairs, “and I am proud to know that someone who has worked as hard as Ray to facilitate the transition and retention of first year students has been recognized in this manner.”
Three years ago, Schwarz began challenging his colleagues in the Student Affairs division to develop initiatives that would address transition and adjustment issues for first- year students. The result was the emergence of five programs on the SUNY New Paltz campus:
- the Orientation Leader Mentorship Program,
- 40 Days/40 Nights of daily residence hall programming,
- an expanded three-credit social issues course,
- a pre-semester second Orientation and Freshman Weekend experience,
- and a pilot living/learning community in the residence halls.
“These programs have contributed to a significant increase in the retention of first year students,” noted Schwarz.
The Orientation Leader Mentorship Program connects freshmen students with the Orientation leaders they first met during the summer and provides a continuing relationship during their first semester.
40 Days/40 Nights is a residence life initiative which involves daily programming during the first six weeks of school, and is aimed at community development, the fostering of residence hall identity, and early intervention of at-risk students. “These are the most critical weeks in the life of new freshmen,” said Schwarz.
A three-credit Social Issues course was expanded to include a focus on skills and knowledge pertinent to a student’s successful adjustment during the first year.
Although freshmen students participate in a summer orientation, SUNY New Paltz decided to create yet another opportunity for freshmen to get a headstart on the semester, this time by bringing them to the campus in advance of upperclassmen. “We provide our students with a number of opportunities to become involved with each other and the faculty in a variety of educational and social programs, including Freshmen Weekend,” stated Schwarz.
“Our newest venture, the First Year Initiative, is a pilot living and learning program,” explained Schwarz. “It provides an opportunity for our students to live together, take classes as a unit, hold common study groups, and become involved in a number of programs designed to foster academic skill building, community involvement and leadership development. We are pleased with the way this program is emerging,” he added.
In addition to being honored for overseeing the development of these five efforts aimed at improving retention, Dr. Schwarz has also earned national recognition for his work on other projects which have had an impact on student retention at all class levels. He has been singled out by the U.S. Department of Education, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and the New York State Assembly for his role in the development of award-winning prevention programs in the areas of college student substance abuse and sexual violence. “All these programs, which have contributed to an 11 percent increase in the retention of first year students during the past three years,” said Schwarz, “have been collaborative and involved many staff, faculty and administrators. What is most exciting to me,” he added, “is the well-deserved recognition such an honor brings to SUNY New Paltz for its commitment to the adjustment and academic success of new students.”
The national Resource Center for the First-Year Experience and Students in Transition collects and disseminates information about the first college year to campuses nationwide. Through conferences, seminars, and publications, the center assists educators around the nation and enables them to enhance the learning, success, satisfaction, and retention of college students in transition.