Not everyone is sold on the Second-year Transformational Experience Program.
STEP is in its first semester at Ohio State and after about 11 weeks, some students, faculty and staff have said the program needs work.
“It’s definitely developing,” said Kathleen Harper, a lecturer in the College of Engineering and a STEP faculty member. “Meeting with a group of people … once a week is very different from teaching a class where you get to see the students multiple times a week closer together.”
Some students participating agreed with Harper.
“I feel like there’s still definitely a lot of room for growth within STEP but I overall enjoy the idea,” said Amanda Stefanik, a second-year in communication and STEP student.
The STEP experience is “designed to focus on student success and development,” and allow students “the opportunity to engage in activities that cater to their individual interests and needs,” according to the STEP website.
STEP launched as a pilot program for the 2013-14 school year. One thousand second-year students who volunteered for the program are living in residence halls this year and engaging with faculty on a regular basis. Students who complete the pilot program will be eligible to receive a $2,000 fellowship to use toward various educational opportunities.
Each student is placed into a small group of about 20 students and one faculty member called a cohort. Five or six cohorts combine to make a larger group, or a house.
At the beginning of the 2016-17 school year, when the $370 million North Residential District Transformation is scheduled to be completed, the requirement for OSU students to live on campus for two years is set to go into effect. Living on campus will then be mandatory, but STEP will remain optional.
Program ‘definitely developing’
Stefanik called the program a “guinea pig process.”
“There’s been some things I think the faculty is doing extremely well, but there’s also been a feeling of a lack of engagement,” she said.
Stefanik said her faculty members have been open to change, but the larger program still needs a larger organization.
Miles Reagans, a second-year in mechanical engineering, agreed that STEP has been a learning process.
“It’s a good idea and everything, but as of this point, it’s a little unorganized. I don’t think the expectations are clear,” he said.
Anna Soter, a professor emerita in the College of Education and Human Ecology and a STEP faculty member, said the fact that there are problems and will be necessary future changes isn’t surprising.
“There are a lot of things we’re learning,” she said. “We’re an experimental group. Consequently we’re also … involved in co-creating any adjustments so we’ve got a lot of flexibility and I think it’s actually going surprisingly well given that we have quite a bit of flexibility as faculty.”
Harper said the busy schedules of both students and faculty members has been a noticeable issue so far because there are no ramifications or requirements to make up missed meetings yet.
“Even when we all hold this time free, sometimes the students have something important that comes up and then they can’t make it to the meeting,” she said. “You certainly don’t treat missing a STEP meeting in the same way that you would treat missing a class.”
Harper added that her group has been working to find a line between thinking of the program as optional and thinking of it as a class.
“They signed up for it and made a commitment to it and we the faculty signed up to it and made a commitment to it, but it’s not like taking a class and it’s not like teaching a class,” she said.
Soter said her group and the larger organization are still learning how to adjust and improve the program.
“Really it’s more about managing this area in a large institution. Organizationally, I think we need to fine tune,” she said.
Executive Vice President and Provost Joseph Steinmetz said students and faculty expressing problems isn’t surprising.
“There will be some changes (going forward), and that was totally expected,” Steinmetz said in an interview with The Lantern Oct 8. “When you launch something new, you get a feel for how the faculty reacts, how the students react when you have a new program, and we didn’t have any other benchmarks to compare it to, really, on this sort of scale.”
Interim President Joseph Alutto agreed and said the opinions of first group of students are important for the future of the program.
“We’re going to experiment in that first year. I think the brave students, and I hope the message is going to them, those who are part of that first thousand: we’re going to learn a lot from them, we’re going to try a number of different things, a number of new approaches for them to learn, to go beyond their limitations of just in-class learning,” he said during an interview with The Lantern Sept. 23.
Harper said she anticipates many of the problems will work themselves out as house meetings become less frequent and students establish better relationships with their faculty members by meeting in smaller groups.
“In the Spring Semester, we probably won’t be having the great big meetings because there’s no guarantee that we’re going to be available for the same time because all of our schedules change,” she said. “So in the spring, we’re envisioning a lot more of these smaller meetings.”
Currently, students meet in a larger house group and a smaller cohort group every week, alternating between house meetings and cohort meetings each week.
Soter said maintaining the relationship between faculty members and students is important, though, especially for second-year students who often do not get the chance to interact with some tenured professors early in their college career.
“They miss that if they don’t have that connection with faculty because the (graduate student teaching assistants), they’re focused more on delivering the curriculum and teaching the courses,” she said. “Having been a TA myself when I was a doctoral student, I really didn’t know all that much.”
Stefanik said in the future, there should be more input from the students.
She said her group has gone from the faculty leading the meeting to having student leadership, which fits with one of the six STEP points of interest.
The $2,000 students receive will go toward certain points of interest including study abroad, internships, undergraduate research, community service, leadership opportunities and creative endeavors.
“I have met with my faculty member numerous times to sit down and discuss where the program is going,” Stefanik said.
Miles Reagans’ brother, Ryan Reagans — a fellow second-year, studying biomedical engineering — said there have been some difference between his group and his brother’s. Miles Reagans said if he made any changes, it would be to address those differences.
“I would just make especially clear (what faculty members should do). There’s a lot of difference between the groups,” Miles Reagans said.
Ryan Reagans agreed and said the expectations aren’t clear as to what the faculty members need to do each week, meaning his group may discuss different things from his brother’s group, or one group may be more interactive, while the other only discusses topics.
Steinmetz also said if changes are necessary, they’ll be made in the future.
“There’s an advisory committee for that program and we’ll do an assessment in the next couple of months of where we are and then have that committee come back and say do we have to tweak anything,” he said. “But we’re happy so far on the smaller scale that we’ve got going of how it’s progressing so far.”
Alutto said officials are still determining the best way to gather information from the first year of the program.
“The assessment of how well (STEP) works is going to be absolutely critical. And so one of the things we’ve talked a lot about, and I haven’t yet seen the results of, is exactly how we’re going to evaluate the feedback we get from that first thousand students. And I think that’s going to be a critical element in all of this,” he said.
OSU Student Life spokesman Dave Isaacs said Monday there are no set numbers available yet for the how many of the original 1,000 students are staying with STEP and added the evaluation is ongoing.
Soter said the best data would come from re-examining the students who currently participate in STEP at the end of their last year of college, after the program has been over for a few years, to see how the program affected them.
“How do we know whether STEP made a difference? And I don’t think we can answer that question in the short-term,” she said. “Maybe the only way you could answer it is in the long-term.”