Sept. 26 — Director of CLA First!, Rachel Puopolo, was able to sit down for an interview to talk about CLA First! at the University of Massachusetts Boston.
Claire Speredelozzi: What exactly does CLA First! do?
Rachel Puopolo: So, CLA First! is a learning community for first-year students in the College of Liberal Arts. So essentially, we provide a community feel for new students who are in the College of Liberal Arts. It started back in 2010 and the learning community is multi-parts. We have a bunch of different layers; we have students taking classes together, in cohorted classes so students are able to see familiar faces from class to class. It doesn’t mean that a student who joins CLA First! is only in classes with CLA First! students. In fact, some of our classes are parts of a larger section; some of our classes are a mixture of half CLA First!, half non-CLA First! But the idea behind the cohorted classes is that students will have class with at least one classmate in multiple classes. So, that’s part of it.
Another big component of it is our co-curricular programming. We offer workshops, once a week, during the fall semester. And then in the spring semester, it’s a little bit less frequent. But, we really aim to help with that transition to the first year of college. I like to think of it as bringing resources to students. One example that I can think of, that we absolutely brought to students, rather than having them go out and do it, we held a workshop on Focus 2, which is a tool that Career Services uses, and instead of telling students they had to go individually meet about Focus 2, we brought Career Services into the classroom. To make that connection and make that a resource that seemed approachable and available to first year students.
The other two big components are an advising component, so once a student joins CLA First!, they have access to an advisor in CLA First! until they graduate. Not just their first year of college, but we work with students from the time they start, until they graduate. It doesn’t mean that students aren’t going to work with their professional, faculty advisors. Once a student declares a major, or if a student has already declared a major, they absolutely should be working with their faculty advisor as well so it’s not in replacement, it’s more of an additional, supportive resource.
CS: What happens if a person in the College of Liberal Arts decides to switch to a STEM major? Would they still stay in?
RP: So, that’s a great question. We work with students who are exploring all sorts of things and included in that we students who do an inter-college transfer. Since, our background in CLA First! is more liberal-arts based, we certainly will never turn anybody away but we will absolutely make that connection and that referral. It happens that myself and Oceana [Elia-Hintsa], current advisors for the program, are absolutely connected with advisors in other colleges. So, if you decided tomorrow that you wanted to study Exercise Health Science, we could go over together and literally make that smooth transition and you could always know I’m the person you can come to about any number of things. Just probably not general education curriculum for EHS.
CS: What exactly is your role in CLA First!?
RP: I serve as a director, overseeing the general program. We do have the "CLA SophoMORE" continuation, second year and in addition to providing programmatic oversight and oversight of CLA First!, I also serve as an advisor for students. I love that my job is still getting to work one-on-one with students, while doing some things in a more leadership role. I work directly with the College of Liberal Arts dean’s office to coordinate different initiatives and efforts for student success. Part of my role is heavy involvement with new student orientations. So, I speak at every, single new student orientation, welcoming students to the College of Liberal Arts on behalf of the College of Liberal Arts.
Puopolo and everyone else in the CLA First! learning community strive to help students succeed and because of all the extra support and opportunities CLA First! gives, students participating in the program have a higher graduation retention rate.