USC College’s learning communities give undecided students an academic home
By Kaitlin Solimine
It’s like academic limbo.
Undecided. Undeclared. These words may strike fear in traditional academics, but USC College is stepping up to bat for those freshman and other students who are in transition, unsure what they want to study and in need of an academic home.
The USC Learning Community Program, established in 1998, helps undecided incoming freshman and others who are changing majors to find an academic focus. The program places these students into learning community groups based on their interests. They then attend two classes together, which are centered around a theme — one class is usually a general education class and the other is a gateway course to a major.
The program has recently shifted focus, however. “More than providing a major for these students, the learning communities give them a sense of connection,” says Director of College Advising Debra Bernstein. “They feel more connected to their peers, faculty and the advising offices on campus.”
While attending classes and studying together, the student groups also see movies, have dinners and go to events such as baseball games or musicals. They are guided by a faculty mentor (who usually teaches one of the community courses), a peer mentor (a student who has usually been a participant in the past) and a staff advisor.
Indeed, the sense of belonging and connection students gain from the program is as beneficial as finding a major. “They named the learning communities quite well,” says USC College student and program participant turned peer mentor Patricia Heck. “They really give students a sense of community. First semester in college is a very lost feeling for most, and it’s really helpful giving these students other people just like them and with the same interests to talk to, learn from and bond with.”