You are here: Memorandum


October 4, 2017

TO: AU Staff and Faculty
FROM: Scott A. Bass, Provost; Jessica Waters, Vice Provost for Academic Student Services and Dean of Undergraduate Education
SUBJECT: Announcement of AU Core and First Year Advising

We write to update you on the Academic Year 2018-2019 (AY18-19) rollout of the American University Experience (AUx) and Complex Problems programs, forthcoming changes in first-year undergraduate academic advising, and the creation of the Center for the Undergraduate Experience. Each of these interconnected initiatives affirms the student-centered vision of our Reinventing the Student Experience (RiSE) project and reflects the incredibly hard work of our campus community.

AU Core: American University Experience and Complex Problems
Beginning in AY18-19, all incoming first-year students will take American University Experience I (AUx1), American University Experience II (AUx2), and a Complex Problems seminar. These courses are components of the AU Core, our new four-year, inquiry-based general education program that was unanimously approved by the Faculty Senate last year. Professor Cynthia Bair Van Dam serves as the Chair of the AU Core Committee.

The AUx program and curriculum, under the leadership of Professor Andrea Malkin Brenner, helps students transition into their first year at AU by learning about campus resources, building academic skills for college success, learning to navigate social and cultural differences, and forming mentoring relationships with faculty and staff across campus. While both AUx1 and AUx2 (which are capped at 19 students and co-facilitated by peer leaders) introduce topics of diversity and inclusion, AUx2 in particular focuses on blending personal exploration of social identity formation with a multidisciplinary approach to race, ethnicity, social class, disability, gender, power and privilege, and cross-cultural exploration.

Our first pilot of the AUx program, conducted in AY16-17, revealed that our AUx students report a greater sense of belonging, an increased ability to navigate university resources, and stronger personal connections to faculty, staff, and peers. The retention rate for AUx1 students was 95%. We are continuing the pilot and assessment this year, with approximately 350 students enrolled in AUx, in order to further refine the curriculum.

The 3-credit Complex Problems seminars are one-of-a-kind courses designed to steep students in the process of university-level inquiry while engaging with the most pressing issues of our time. Like AUx, these discussion-based seminars are capped at 19 students. This year we have 41 faculty members teaching Complex Problems seminars, with over 600 students enrolled. As with AUx, we will be refining the Complex Problems courses prior to full rollout in AY18-19.

We owe a debt of gratitude to staff members Brad Knight (AU Core Manager), Richard Duncan (University College Manager), Andrew Bowen (AU Core Coordinator), Rebecca Comfort (University College Coordinator), and Izzi Stern (AUx Coordinator) for their tireless efforts to implement and support our new curriculum.

First Year Advising
Beginning in AY18-19, all first-year students will be assigned to a first-year advisor. Each first-year advisor will advise approximately 76 incoming students throughout the academic year. During the fall term, he or she will also facilitate the AUx1 discussion sections for those same 76 students (in 19-student sections) via a "flipped classroom" instructional model, and during the spring term will facilitate AUx2 discussion sections (again, in a 19-student flipped classroom model). This student-to-advisor ratio will allow first-year advisors to engage in targeted, student-centered advising, recognizing the unique needs of first-year students and ensuring that first-year students will see their advisors every week in the classroom.

After their first year, students will transition to our unit-based advisors. Notably, the addition of first-year advisors will concurrently reduce the student-to-advisor ratio in the academic units and will allow our unit-based advisors to devote more time to our second, third, and fourth year students.

We will soon begin recruiting and hiring 25 first-year instructor advisors, with initial hiring opportunities available only to internal candidates. The search will begin in October 2017, hiring announcements will be made in January 2018, and the start date will be May 2018. An external search will commence after the conclusion of the internal hiring.

The advising community, particularly our inaugural first-year advisor instructors (Briana Weadock, Andrea Malamisura, and Deborah Demille-Wagman) and the Advising Council (Tyler Atkins, Christine Frezek, Nat Williamson, Lauren Wagoner, and Erica Waxbom), continues to play a central role in creating advising best practices, training materials, and a plan for students to transition from first-year advisors to unit-based advisors.

Center for Undergraduate Experience
Finally, we are pleased to announce the creation of a new Center for the Undergraduate Experience, located on the first floor of Anderson Hall. Chris Moody, Assistant Vice President, Office of Campus Life, was the driving force behind the Center's creation. The physical offices for the Dean of Undergraduate Education and Vice Provost for Academic Student Services, the Academic Learning Communities, Housing & Residence Life (HRL), and the Office of Orientation, Transition, and Retention (OTR) are now co-located on the first floor of Anderson Hall, establishing a new collaborative community of colleagues. This new Center for the Undergraduate Experience creates a unified living-learning community space where students feel at "home," where support for students in and out of the classroom is integrated, and outreach to parents and families of students is coordinated.

We will continue to provide updates to the community as we implement AU Core and first-year advising. Please do not hesitate to reach out with any questions about these undergraduate education initiatives.