50@50: Creating the First Year Experience course


To celebrate the university’s 50th anniversary, FIU News is sharing 50 moments in FIU’s history as part of our “50@50″ series.

Whether you’re studying biomedical engineering or art education, there is one course that brings every FIU student together regardless of major: the First Year Experience course (a.k.a. SLS 1501).

The one-credit course, part of the core curriculum at FIU since 1994, was the idea of current Vice President of Student Affairs Larry Lunsford and former Associate Dean of Undergraduate Studies Glenda “Rusty” Belote.

In an effort to help improve retention rates at FIU, Lunsford and Belote worked together to design the course, combining their experiences from other institutions for the purpose of helping FIU students make a smooth transition from high school to college.

FYE book

The cover of the first edition of “The Freshman Year: Making the Most of College” written by FIU’s Glenda “Rusty” Belote and Larry Lunsford for the First Year Experience course in 1996. The cover was illustrated by FIU student Achilles Yeldell.

“We saw a need, and we knew that these courses worked at other schools around the country, so we created this course,” said Lunsford, who also taught the course for many years.

While the course itself received high marks from students and professors alike during the first year, the generic textbook that was being used for the course was not. So Lunsford and Belote worked together over the course of a year to write and publish a textbook tailored specifically for FIU students.

FIU student Achilles Yeldell, who served as a peer advisor for New Student Orientation and the Academic Advising Center, was the illustrator for the textbook. He also assisted in teaching summer term versions of the course.

Since then, the course has become a vital part of the student experience at FIU, covering topics that include effective studying techniques, time and personal finance management skills, health and wellness, and life and career planning.

“It works and it helps keep students here at FIU, teaching them how to survive college,” Lunsford said. “It helps them with the problems and issues they face as students.”

What lessons from your first-year experience course have stuck with you over the years?