President Michael F. Adams on the First-Year Odyssey
Q: The First-Year Odyssey Program is a one-hour seminar course required of all freshmen that features small (15-student) classes with a tenured or tenure-track professor. How does this program benefit UGA freshmen?
A: It exposes them to a broad base of knowledge that, in all likelihood, they have not been exposed to before. It will connect every freshman early in his or her career with a senior member of the faculty who can serve as a guide and mentor as the process goes forward. Hopefully it will build strong interpersonal relationships among each class that will last throughout an academic career. This is the sort of thing that is done at small, selective liberal arts colleges, but not many major research universities have devoted the time and resources to effect this sort of program.
Q: How did the idea for the program originate?
A: I have been a proponent of such programs since I came here because I saw the power of them at places like Pepperdine and Centre, where I had been before. The genesis of this program, though, actually grew out of the SACS (Southeastern Association of Colleges and Schools) reaccreditation process led by Associate Provost Bob Boehmer. Professor Boehmer worked with a number of faculty members to write the plan. It was passed by the University Curriculum Committee and University Council and became a part of the university’s 10-year strategic plan.
Q: You, as well as many other UGA administrators, teach a freshman seminar. What are you teaching and what has been your experience thus far?
A: I am teaching a course I’ve never taught before on the history and development of the University of Georgia. As I have worked carefully with the development and campus planning committees over the past 15 years, it is no secret that I have fallen in love with this campus and its history. There are few basements, attics or crevices on campus that I have not now crawled through. I have read a great deal about UGA history and find it a very compelling story in American academic history. I am trying to transmit a bit of that excitement to freshmen and thus far it seems to be taking. I am actually moving the class around campus, and over a 14-week period we will meet in 11 different venues.
Q: What other programs does UGA offer specifically to first-year students?
A: We offer a summer Dawg Camp, which is a leadership development program. We offer numerous counseling programs as part of our nationally recognized orientation program. This is not a place where we just say, “Welcome. Tomorrow’s your first class.” There are numerous efforts to inculcate students in a way that helps them feel comfortable. I believe this is the process that has led to our 95 percent freshman retention rate, the highest among public colleges and universities in the state of Georgia.
Q: Does this set UGA apart from other major public universities?
A: Of course it does. Like international programs, I believe the Odyssey program will become a distinctive feature of UGA for many years to come. We don’t want this to be the sort of place where students are hidden in lecture auditoria. We prefer full engagement of very bright young people. I believe the Odyssey program will be a great advantage in that regard.