Now in its second year, UW-Green Bay’s Phoenix GPS program is helping University freshmen get engaged and stay engaged as they navigate that all-important first year. We talked to students and faculty about what makes the program unique.
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“The Phoenix GPS program — GPS does stand for gateways to Phirst year success and the ‘ph’ in the ‘first’ year, is you know, a little play on the Phoenix,” said Associate Prof. Denise Bartell, Human Development and Psychology. “Really what the program does is it builds on existing structures at the University and kind of adds to them. It’s a yearlong program — in the fall semester, the two primary curricular components are that every student is in one of five kind of special sections of first-year seminars that we’ve designated as these GPS courses. The second curricular component is the intro to Human Biology class.
“So we’ve taken those two curricular elements,” Bartell continued, “and then we have sort of built on top of it the extra work with the peer mentors and the academic advisers, the co-curricular engagement, the social events that our students are doing with each other. And then of course that spring course where they’re doing the service-learning project and the personal development work as well.”
For GPS peer mentor Alex Wilson, the program is all about making connections.
“We spend a lot of time getting to know them in the beginning,” Wilson said. “We want to encourage them to spend as much time on campus as they feel comfortable, getting involved with things they’re interested in, things they could be passionate about, to try and discover who they are and what they would want to do with their life and their major.”
Associate Prof. Christopher Martin, Humanistic Studies, said Phoenix GPS is making a difference.
“Something that the GPS program does really well is tie what students are doing in the classroom to all of these other activities around the school — activities that are shown statistically to promote better engagement, better grades, better success in college, better success after college, all these excellent kinds of things,” Martin said. “So one thing I’ve seen with my students is, over the course of the year they have gradually become more aware of this factor, more engaged, more willing to try things they might not have tried before.”
That’s certainly been the case for Kayla Duesterbeck, who was part of the program during its inaugural year.
“I came into college having a fear of speaking in public, speaking in front of cameras,” Duesterbeck said. “I think the most I’ve gotten out of GPS was the little push I needed to get out of my comfort zone and actually put myself out there for once.”
Associate Prof. Katia Levintova, Public and Environmental Affairs, also was part of the program’s first year.
“I think the biggest change I have seen was the build up of confidence,” Levintova said, “so just to see that, that’s just amazing, in probably what, five months, people became not only confident in themselves but also kind of confident enough to share with others and kind of spread this particular approach in making this campus their own.”
Added Associate Prof. Lora Warner, Public and Environmental Affairs: “What this program has really done is identify a lot of the keys to success in college — getting engaged socially and getting some academic skills,” Warner said. “And so now when they move on, that they’ve got this really, really good foundation — and the confidence, really to go forward.”
The transformation has been noticeable, Wilson said.
“It’s a chance for them to grow and they have,” she said. “It’s been awesome.”
More information about Phoenix GPS is available online.