More than 1,600 first-year Rochester Institute of Technology students are getting a head start accumulating college credit and learning how college works by taking an online course this summer.
The First Class Academy, which was first offered last year as a way to help engage and retain students during the pandemic, is an interactive, tuition-free online experience designed to introduce RIT to incoming first-year students. Students also have opportunities to participate in virtual coffee hours with faculty, explore student life through online webinars and forums, and meet future classmates.
“We saw a great success in 2020,” said Sandi Connelly, academic director for First Class Academy. “Students who took the classes last summer said they felt more comfortable in the fall semester. And we saw a higher retention rate of students.”
And the 26 courses offered aren’t the required basics. Courses are from almost all RIT colleges and include “Science in Your Kitchen,” “American Pop and Rock Music,” “Street-fighting Mathematics,” “Biomechanics of Sports,” “Drawing Fantasy Characters,” “Web Page Creation,” “Nutrition and Diet,” and “Being Human.”
Students last year said the courses also taught them how myCourses works, helped them know more about faculty expectations and how they could best interact with faculty even in an online asynchronous class. The students are strongly encouraged to take a course that is outside their major.
“For many of them, they got a feel for a course that is very different from what they experienced in high school,” Connelly said. “It was an opportunity for them to step outside their comfort zone and take a class that they just wanted to take for fun instead of something that’s required in their program.”
Students are also invited to participate in a variety of interactive, online activities that include forums, webinars, and meet-ups with students, staff, faculty, and alumni. Upper level students serve as guest speakers in extracurricular sessions, talking about being successful in college, why they chose their majors and what they want to do with it, and even fun things to do around Rochester.
Ethan Martin, a psychology major from Pearland, Texas, took the “Science in Your Kitchen” course last summer as his first RIT course prior to his orientation.
He was taught how to make cheese in his microwave and when to put his ingredients in his omelets to get them evenly cooked.
“I decided to take the course because cooking was something I’ve always been interested in,” Martin said. “But it really was more about the experience, to see what a class is going to look like and to better familiarize myself with the student-teacher relationship at RIT.”
He said he learned he could talk directly to his professors – not having to talk to teaching assistants. “I felt more comfortable reaching out.”
The classes run through Aug. 6 and range from 1 to 3 credits.