By Melody Warnick
Graduating seniors get all the pomp and circumstance in May. But toward the end of spring semester, a more under-the-radar milestone finally got its own celebration: completing freshman year.
At 92 percent, Virginia Tech’s freshman retention rates are significantly higher than the national average, which hovers around 75 percent. But at any college, the first year presents a gauntlet of social, academic, financial, and mental health challenges. Successfully making it through is a win worthy of applause.
So Zack Underwood, director of University Studies, worked with the advising directors from three colleges to design First Year Finish, a retention event “to help students on the home stretch of their first year to stay motivated and continue to their second year at VT. We’re saying, ‘Wow, you’ve made it, you did it.’”
About 200 first-year students from University Studies and the Colleges of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Natural Resources and Environment, and Architecture, Arts, and Design, attended the inaugural First Year Finish event in the atrium of Wallace Hall on April 26. Plied with free T-shirts and popcorn, they played games, painted, or enjoyed a moment with a Virginia Tech therapy dog.
Even the HokieBird made an appearance. “It was really cool that I finally, actually got to see the HokieBird,” said attendee Levi Shoates.
For campus groups such as Academic Advising, Career and Professional Development, the Student Success Center, Global Education, and The Virginia Tech Recovery Community, First Year Finish was an opportunity to reinforce first-year students’ sense of belonging at Virginia Tech.
“Many students have a more difficult transition in their first year than expected,” said Dana McGuire, assistant director of academic advising for the College of Natural Resources and Environment. “Support and caring from folks who work with and interact with students in various capacities can make all the difference in whether a student decides to return to a college or leave.”