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Betsy O. Barefoot is a writer, researcher, and teacher whose special area of scholarship is the first year of college. She currently serves as senior scholar at the John N. Gardner Institute for Excellence in Undergraduate Education. In her Institute role, she led a major national research project to identify institutions of excellence in the first college year. She currently works with both two- and four-year campuses in evaluating all components of the first year. She is the author of Your College Experience, Step by Step, and Understanding Your College Experience.
Tell us about one initiative you are currently working on that you are really excited about.
Recently, I have joined a team as part of the John Gardner Institute to work with NACADA, the National Association for Academic Advising, to develop an exciting process for evaluating and improving the process of academic advising at colleges and universities in the U.S. and other countries. This process will help not only first-year students, but also students at all levels in the undergraduate experience.
What motivates you to work in college success?
The factors that motivate me the most are my teaching experiences at the University of South Carolina in the college success course, University 101, and my work as a consultant for hundreds of other colleges and universities – mostly in the U. S. but also around the word. In spite of their many differences, the institutions I have visited share in common a desire to improve the learning, success, and retention of first-year students. Over the years, I have found that well-designed college success programs can actually transform students, instructors, and host institutions by giving them a laser-like focus on what matters most – student readiness for collegiate learning.
What advice would you have given to your younger self as you embarked on your first year in college?
My advice to me would have been to understand how my university experience was going to be vastly different from my high school experience. I was minimally prepared for college, even as a high school valedictorian, and I found my initial grades demoralizing and frustrating. My first year could have been so much more engaging and enjoyable if I had relaxed a bit and given myself time to adjust to a different level of expectations.
What are some trends and developments you are currently seeing in the college success/First-Year Experience course?
The most constant characteristic of first-year seminars is change. Institutions are constantly trying to find the balance between what students need and what faculty, staff, and administrators are willing to provide in a credit-bearing course. Existing data show a trend toward more courses based on an academic theme, more contact hours (fewer one-hour courses and more that are three-credit hours), and more use of new methods of teaching including flipped classes and online components. Also, we are happy to note the increasing use of peer leaders – student co-teachers of college success courses who can make a tremendous positive difference in student attitudes about the course.
What did you enjoy the most about writing Your College Experience, Step by Step, and Understanding Your College Experience?
Writing these books helps keep me informed about what’s happening in higher education, the characteristics of students who are coming to college today, and the intersections between students and institutions. Today’s students are not necessarily the students we used to have or want to have or believe we were like. Rather, they are students with complex lives and experiences who need more help than ever on academic, social, and personal matters. I enjoy thinking creatively about how to blend the needs of our students with the expectations of higher education in ways that are relevant and encouraging.
And on a personal note...
What book has influenced you the most?
I am a constant reader, mostly of fiction, but also of books that explore ideas and historical perspectives. The most influential book I have read in the last year is The Road to Character by David Brooks.
What is something you want to learn in the next year (related to higher education or otherwise)?
In the next year, I want to learn more about other countries and cultures. I intend to do this through travel to places around the globe.
If you hadn't pursued your current career, what do you think you would have done?
In addition to my current career as a writer and editor, my other career has been as a mom and grandmom. But in terms of a work life, I believe I would have ended up somewhere in higher education, possibly as an administrator or as a full-time faculty member.
What is your ideal vacation?
I can think of two: the first – a beach where I can relax, read, and walk; and the second a “festival” of music, film, or more generally the arts in a lively and interesting city
Tell us an interesting fact about yourself that not many people may know.
I love movies – even children’s movies – and I can sometimes be found (by myself) at the latest “children’s” film, which, I believe, can be delightful for anyone of any age who is willing to suspend reality for a short time.
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