U of A Team Publishes Guide on Navigating College and the Path to Adulthood

by | Jul 29, 2020 | Faculty Points of Pride, Features, Student Success

​What does it mean to be a college student and young adult in today’s society?

That question is at the heart of a new book, The Science of College: Navigating the First Year and Beyond, written by a team of researchers, professors, advisors, recruiters and higher education professionals at University of Arkansas.

The Science of College looks to aid entering college students and their support networks in navigating college successfully, with up-to-date recommendations based on real student situations, sound social science research and the experiences of authors Patricia S. Herzog, Casey T. Harris, Shauna A. Morimoto, Shane W. Barker, Jill G. Wheeler, A. Justin Barnum, Terrance L. Boyd and their colleagues.

“The transition to adulthood is a complex process – especially now during the COVID-19 pandemic – and college is pivotal to this experience,” said Casey T. Harris, an associate professor in the U of A’s Department of Sociology and Criminology and co-director of the Center for Social Research.

“The book highlights common issues that many students face and provides science-based advice for how to navigate college. Each topic covered is geared towards the life stage that most college students are in: emerging adulthood,” he said.

Harris said the book does this by addressing the changing needs of incoming college students based on their demographics and social background; challenging preconceived and outmoded understandings of career pursuits; interrogating diversity in college settings along class, race, and gender lines and other areas of difference; and empowering students to identify and make use of campus resources.

The stories captured in the book also highlight how the challenges that college students encounter vary in important ways based on who they are and where they come from. And how, despite these varied backgrounds, all students are more likely to have successful college experiences if they invest in their communities.

“Universities have many resources available, but students need to learn when to access which resources and how best to engage with the people serving students,” Harris said. “This includes having a better awareness of the different roles held by university faculty and staff, and navigating who to go to for what, based upon understanding their distinct sets of expertise and approaches to support.”

Additionally, the book includes appendixes with activities for students, tips for parents, and methods information for faculty. Supplemental website materials also suggest classroom activities for instructors who adopt this book within first-year seminars and general education courses.

“We think the work we’ve done is very important and are hoping that others across our university and beyond will think so, as well – and maybe even adopt the book for their own classes!” Harris said.

The Science of College: Navigating the First Year and Beyond is an open access title available under the terms of a CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 International license. It is free to read at Oxford Scholarship Online and offered as a free PDF download from OUP and selected open access locations.

The Fulbright REVIEW had a few more questions about the book, which Harris and the author team answered:

Why did the team create the book? What were they hoping it will address?

Because there was nothing on the market like it!

Some of the existing textbooks focus on the experiences of students at small, elite universities and these places may not have the same types of students or provide them with the same resources as larger, land-grant universities like our own.

Other books focus more on the different departments and buildings newly arriving students might find, while also emphasizing basic skills incoming students might need to develop (like note taking or budgeting).

We wanted to go deeper into why this transition is so difficult for so many and that there is actual science behind that “why” – and we wanted to tell the stories of our own students, their struggles and successes, and how our own faculty and staff are working to engage those students!

How has the college experience changed over time?

For one, there is more self-generated pressure among students to be successful in everything they do.

Many of the authors of this book remember our own experiences quite differently, where we had the freedom and peace of mind to know we could make mistakes and learn from them.

Also, students are juggling many decisions and responsibilities on their own – they have to figure out not only what they want to study, but also how to pay for college and support themselves now and in the future.

In addition, they are figuring out how to form lasting relationships, figure out where they want to engage their campus and local community, and what their identity will be!

With so many personal and academic decisions being made with a sense of intense pressure means that college today can feel much more overwhelming for some students. Added to all of that, even the fundamental concept of the college experience and what it means to our society is changing rapidly.

How might the COVID-19 pandemic also be changing the college experience?

The disruption to campus life will probably impact our first-year students most strongly, particularly those who are less prepared to navigate a large institution like the University of Arkansas because of their demographic and social backgrounds.

Finding the right resources, engaging with support staff and faculty, and finding new ways to become integrated into campus life will be more essential now than ever before.

In many ways, our book is intended to get students, their families, and university faculty thinking about these kinds of unique, unexpected events – particularly how there are very important differences in how students will respond to those events as they look to grow into adults in and around our campus.

What can we as faculty, administrators, parents or colleagues do to help students succeed during their first year and beyond?

From the beginning, we can let students know that they belong here, we are interested in them as individuals and we are confident that they can succeed. This also means that we need to make our expectations very clear and acknowledge that the path will not always be easy.

By getting to know our students as individuals and learning the backgrounds and challenges, we can connect with them in a way that they know we care about their success.

There is no single template for a successful student, but there are important lessons we can learn from thinking about how some types of students might struggle more than others.

At the same time, we also need to avoid relying solely on what “worked” for you as students and instead continue to find new ways to understand our students and how they interact with the larger campus community.

What are one or two of the biggest pieces of advice you’d give to a new college student, particularly one joining Fulbright College?

You are not alone! Many of our first-year students struggle with the transition, especially if they are away from friends and not experiencing the same level of success to which they are accustomed.

A recent survey we did in our University Perspectives course revealed that more than one half of the student body feels alone during their first semesters on campus.

Our book is broadly about identifying different challenges that students experience, describing the social science behind why those struggles happen, and identifying ways to engage students in overcoming those struggles.

In the end, our students are here to build skills for their careers, while simultaneously working to understand themselves and the world.

About the Authors:

Patricia S. Herzog is the Melvin Simon Chair and Associate Professor of Philanthropic Studies in the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at IUPUI.

Casey T. Harris is an Associate Professor in the Department of Sociology and Criminology and Co-Director of the Center for Social Research at the University of Arkansas. He is also currently serving as the department’s Director of Graduate Studies.

Shauna A. Morimoto is an Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of Sociology and Criminology, as well as a Faculty Affiliate of the Center for Social Research at the University of Arkansas.

Shane W. Barker is the Assistant Dean for Advising and Student Development in the J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Arkansas.

Jill G. Wheeler is the Associate Director of Honors Studies in the J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Arkansas.

A. Justin Barnum is a Visiting Assistant Professor in the Department of Sociology and Criminology at the University of Arkansas.

Terrance L. Boyd is the former director of recruitment and the Honors College Path Program, a mentoring initiative geared towards increasing diversity in honors education and graduation.

Andra Parrish Liwag

Director of Communications,

Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences 

479-575-4393 // liwag@uark.edu