By Abby Vander Graaff
Via- Wyoming News Exchange
LARAMIE — After the Saddle Up student orientation program garnered a mixture of praise and complaints, University of Wyoming administrators are already considering how they can improve it for next year.
The fall 2022 semester marked the first-ever implementation of the program, which is meant to serve as a comprehensive introduction to university life for incoming first-time college students.
Some students said Saddle Up was effective in preparing them for college life, while others said the week left them feeling overwhelmed and overtired.
There also were complaints about a comment regarding casual sex made during one of the program’s lifestyle courses titled “Adulting 101.”
Administrators plan to make alterations to next year’s program in an effort to acknowledge some of those concerns and avoid them in the future, the Saddle Up team told the UW Board of Trustees last week.
“We learned a lot this year,” Provost Kevin Carman said. “It will be a lot better next year than it was this year … we need to be a little patient to refine this program and get it to where it needs to be to serve our university and our students well.”
The team used a set of survey responses from program participants, field notes from program staff and comments made during more than 25 debrief sessions with various academic departments to plan changes to the program.
The “Adulting 101” class will be canceled for next year’s program, though there will still be skills-based sessions available, Vice President for Student Affairs Kim Chestnut said.
In an effort to better tailor the skills sessions toward student needs, the programs will be run by specialists, she said.
There also will be more chances for students to decide between multiple activities throughout the week rather than having their schedule completely decided for them.
There also has been an effort to better harmonize expectations across Saddle Up courses and better align these to what courses students will take when they start the semester, Academic Affairs spokesperson Anne Alexander said.
This means offering fewer math courses and focusing on courses that have high rates of withdrawal and failing grades.
Peer-assisted study sessions, assessments and faculty office hours will also be more consistent, she said.
Next year’s move-in day will look more traditional, with two days of move-in time and an open house dinner available for students, Dean of Student Success and Graduation Nycole Courtney said.
Throughout the week, there also will be more time for meals and commuting between event locations.
The weeklong program is meant to prepare students for a college-level course load, while also giving them a sense of community ahead of the start of the semester.
Trustees and program managers also hope Saddle Up will show long-term beneficial results at the university through increased retention rates.
Last year’s fall-to-fall retention rate was 76%, and it typically fluctuates within the high 70s, Carman said.
The university has a goal of increasing retention to 80% or 85%, which would be more aligned with national benchmarks, he said.
There already is interest among students to be Saddle Up mentors for next year.
As people become more familiar with the program, it will get easier to continue making changes in the future, Carman said.
The Saddle Up team is working with the UW admissions and marketing teams and could have a clearer plan in place in late January, Courtney said.
Despite the negative comments, multiple trustees commended the team for their effort and success on the project.
“I know that the team worked extremely hard to put this all together,” Seidel said. “It’s an indication of our overall dedication to student success.”