First Year Success Program to Create Class Unity and Open Intracampus Dialogue


Deciding to pursue one’s undergraduate studies in one of the most culturally diverse cities in the world is not for the faint of heart. With the speed of Paris and new academic opportunities imbuing their days, incoming AUP students juggle a lot. For some, even after securing a French phone and bank account, there is a feeling of being adrift in the city whose motto is “[she] is tossed [by the waves] but does not sink.” Luckily, a new intracampus initiative aims to offer safe harbor and showcase the abundance of community available to incoming, degree-seeking students.

First Year Success (FYS) is a co-curricular pilot program that was launched this fall and aspires to accompany first-years beyond an initial orientation experience. With objectives such as creating lasting class unity and opening dialogue between new cohorts and senior members of the community, FYP will solidify the intercultural constellation that is AUP. For Rona Phi, student advisor and senior in International Business Administration, FYP will, in fact, “[bring] the entire AUP community – students, faculty, and staff – much closer.”

After enjoying its second installment on practicing safe, consensual intimacy a few weeks ago, FYS is looking forward to a rich line-up of first-year workshops that progress with the first-year experience and cover subjects ranging from feeling at home in Paris to achieving work-life balance. Terrell Stahl, senior Psychology major and student advisor in the FYS program, is excited to be a part of an effort to give incoming students that sense of belonging: “I am older and have lived many different lives in many different places, yet Paris was the hardest to adjust to. One thing brought to my attention by my students is some still feel a loss of community living in Paris.”

While FYS will be offering students a space to talk about any of their first-year questions, its sessions also combine the content of workshops with fun, intercultural activities, such as eating crêpes and pancakes while discussing cultural differences. FYS is a program with an eye to the long term and will, as Alexandra Shao, senior Philosophy, Politics, and Economics major and student advisor says, “provide a lot of soft skills for AUP students.” “[Through the] workshops on diversity, global professional skills, and time management…FYS will offer vocabulary to students on certain topics that may come up and be useful in their professional lives,” says Shao.

Kevin Fore, Dean of Student Development and one of the program coordinators, has been reviewing the first-year experience for years and knows the important role student advisors play in connecting incoming students with the greater AUP community. Though a student advisor program has been in place for years at AUP, what makes FYS particularly innovative for incoming students is the addition of its faculty-staff mentorship component. “When we’ve done assessment of [the student advisor] program, the data that comes back consistently, reveals, first of all, that the student advisor program is a successful one and, second of all, that student advisors need more institutional support and guidance in structuring the program once the orientation period has ended.”

Fore and his colleagues understood this need and came up with a new idea. Now, eighteen student advisors are working in partnership with eighteen faculty-staff mentors to create a co-curricular experience for first-year degree seekers. Material for each workshop has been developed by AUP staff and faculty, and the implementation of the content is being overseen by a committee that includes Peter Hägel, Raphaël Bloch-Lainé, Lorie MacKenzie, Siham Mouahid, Ruth Corran, Kevin Fore, and Russell Williams. “A student’s experience isn’t just in my office, isn’t just in a classroom or in the health office, the student is here with us, across the campus, so I think having student advisors work together with staff and faculty mentors to identify students’ needs and to come up with engaging ways to address these needs is what makes First Year Success a brand-new initiative and potentially a very powerful one,” says Fore.

AUP President Sonya Stephens has herself joined the FYS program as a staff mentor and is convinced of the importance of creating spaces for students to enjoy conversation “with their peers in unpressured situations” on certain intercultural and other  challenges facing first-year students. “This program is really important because it is co-curricular and is designed to support students’ sense of well-being. We want to complement the rigor of their academic courses by giving them the tools to understand the context in which they are living and working,” says Stephens. Indeed, a life in Paris is richer when you have the tether of home, and FYS, in establishing constant lines of communication among first years and the greater campus, intends to create this port of kinship, for all involved.