University 101: Success Starts Early at McK

by Stephanie (Coartney) Dulaney ’10

Photo of Students Gathered at New Student OrientationFor McKendree first-year students, academic and personal success begins early with a strong support system in a class that feels like family.

University 101 is a one-credit-hour course dedicated to helping students who are new to university life transition to the many academic challenges commonly encountered for the first time at college. Through the joint leadership of an instructor and a peer mentor, University 101 classes offer students uniquely personal guidance from faculty and fellow students, all within a supportive environment that encourages openness and inquiry.

According to Jennifer Miller, ’04, MAED ’07, assistant dean for student success, the University 101 program at McKendree has been evolving since she was a freshman in 2000. “First-year students from all different majors are placed in classes co-taught by an instructor and either a sophomore, junior or senior student serving as a peer mentor,” explained Jennifer. “Each instructor has the ability to diversify their class to highlight what they feel is most valuable to students entering college life, while also covering key topics and activities that fully equip students for academic success.”

Beautifully blending the McKendree core values of service to others and lifelong learning, University 101 classes incorporate service learning projects and the Distinguished Speaker Series into the curriculum. It has become a McKendree tradition that each year, first-year students work together with their University 101 class to accomplish community service projects at a host of different locations throughout the area. Known as “Into the Streets,” the service learning experience not only shows students firsthand the importance of giving back to others, but also uniquely bonds students and instructors in the University 101 classes, creating a more personal classroom environment from the start.

Through the Distinguished Speaker Series, first-year students are treated to a special presentation from one of the University’s prestigious guest speakers related to a particular topic. Such learning opportunities outside the classroom introduce first-year students to the notion of embracing and seeking out activities that expand their knowledge base and stimulate personal development.

At its core, the University 101 program helps students learn more about themselves and offers real solutions for achieving academic and personal growth during their college years and beyond. Guided self-assessments from the Career Services Department give first-year students a head start on selecting the right major and help them map out their academic goals early on in their college career. Guest speakers from other areas of campus also lead discussions on leadership and ways to stay involved in University life.

President Dr. Dennis Meeting with Student in His HomeWith so many members of the McKendree community taking an active role in their lives, University 101 students soon discover they have an entire campus cheering them on and paving the way for their success in a multitude of areas. Even the president of the University participates by teaching a class and inviting students to his house for dinner.

That kind of encouragement is one of the most valuable components students take away from the course, according to Sarah Klucker, director of leadership and student life and University 101 instructor. “I tell my students from the beginning of the semester that I believe they can do this,” she said. “It’s very important to me that our class environment is an inclusive, safe place for them to share what they are really feeling and dealing with in their lives. The topics we discuss are not new to these students, but we look at them through a new lens.”

Peer mentors also share a passion for serving McKendree’s first-year students; however, they are often motivated by their time as past University 101 students. Junior business major Robert Watkins ’18 was inspired to become a peer mentor because of his appreciation for those who helped him during his transition to college. “Having people I knew were there to help me with questions and issues I had was really comforting when I was a first-year student, and I wanted to be able to provide that same feeling of comfort for others,” he said.

The partnership between instructor and peer mentor is one of University 101’s most unique aspects. “From bouncing ideas off one another to taking turns leading the class, we really work as a unit to accomplish our main goal of informing and integrating the first-year students into life at McKendree,” said Robert. “Having multiple perspectives is another benefit. It’s amazing to see how differently a faculty member views a problem as opposed to a student, and the outcome is always a mix of cohesive advice that students can utilize in their own situation.”

Through the University 101 program, first-year students learn first and foremost that, at McKendree, people care about them and their futures on a deeply personal level. Success, they discover, is not something they achieve alone, but instead starts with the support of an entire campus community offering support and encouragement through each step of their college career.

Last fall we followed three new students as they traversed through their first semester of college and University 101.


Photo of Caleb Hamilton '19Caleb Hamilton '19

Hometown: Sherwood, Arkansas

Major: Undeclared

Why did you choose McKendree?

“I really wanted to participate in a college sport (fencing). What helped make the final decision was my visit. The person that took me on the tour knew every student we passed. The staff members I talked to had some great stories about their students and seemed to really get to know them.”

What did you learn about yourself during your first semester in college? Was it what you expected?

“I need to work on managing my time and I may have taken too many hours. I took 17 hours this semester and it was a lot juggling all my class assignments. That, combined with fencing practice at 5:30 in the morning and having to travel pretty far when we had a tournament, was pretty stressful.”

What was the most memorable thing about your UNI 101 experience?

“Gabe Shapiro’s jokes. They brightened my mood and made me want to take his English 112 class.”

What is your advice for an incoming freshman?

“Really think about what you are capable of handling. If you are someone who shouldn’t take more than 15 hours, you really shouldn’t take 18 hours and join several groups and activities. If you are someone who can’t get up in the morning, you probably shouldn’t have an 8 a.m. class.”


Photo of Brittany Schmidtke ’19Brittany Schmidtke ’19

Hometown: O’Fallon, Illinois

Major: Undeclared

What was the most memorable thing about your UNI 101 experience?

“The most memorable thing about my UNI 101 experience would probably be the goose chase app, and the rest of my class and I running around campus like crazies trying to make sure we were the ones who won. It helped us to find all of the buildings on campus that we didn’t know about and while I may not have seen it at the time, it helped me later on to be able to find all of those buildings again.”

Did you join any groups?

“I joined the sorority Kappa Sigma Tau, the Student Government Association, and became the freshman representative for the Honors council. All three are equally amazing groups and I love being a part of them.”

What was your favorite class?

“My favorite class would have to be either my Beginning Ballet class or my Honors Microeconomics class because they were both a ton of fun, and one pushed me physically while the other pushed me mentally. Both were my hardest classes and I think that is why they were my favorites.”

How did you balance schoolwork, co-curriculars, work, dorm life, etc.?

“I wrote out my schedule for each day of the week in 15-minute increments. I work three jobs (including my work study), am involved in the PomCats dance squad, in the honors program, and still have a social life. Planning out my schedule ahead of time reassured me that I would have time to eat, showed me times when I would be able to study for my classes, and allowed me to see times that I would be able to hang out with friends (if we weren’t already studying together). I was also able to balance this, thanks to several of my awesome coaches and the support from my amazing friends.”


Photo of Gabrielle Johansen ’19Gabrielle Johansen ’19

Hometown: Virginia Beach, Virginia

Major: Political Science

What was the most memorable thing about your UNI 101 experience?

“The most memorable thing about my UNI 101 experience was probably the friendships I formed with students also in my class. Having a great adviser was nice as well because everything was so open and easy to talk about with her.”

How did you balance schoolwork, co-curricular, work, dorm life, etc.?

“I would say the key to balancing all of these would be to prioritize them. School work is obviously very important, so I always made sure to get that done before participating in other activities. I made sure I still had time to take breaks to not burn myself out from the school work by spending time with friends and teammates, taking little runs to clear my head, and driving to St. Louis for some different scenery.”

Did you join any groups/activities?

“I helped collect cans for the Trick-or-Treating for Canned Goods service project around Halloween and helped raise funds for McKendree’s Giving Tuesday. I am also on the bowling team.”

What is your advice for an incoming freshman?

“Keep in mind that college is more rigorous than high school, so expect to spend more time studying. There is so much to look forward to such as meeting a lot of new people, and making lifelong friends. If you have a close relationship with your family, expect to miss them LOADS, but know that they are only a phone call or text away and you will see them soon enough!”


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