Focused on First-Year

Stephanie Foote (center) receives the 2015 recipient of the Excellence in Teaching First-Year Seminars award

KENNESAW, Ga. (Feb. 4, 2015) -- Stephanie Foote is at once an object lesson and its solution in one…

Georgia (Feb 4, 2015)

KENNESAW, Ga. (Feb. 4, 2015) -- Stephanie Foote is at once an object lesson and its solution in one impressive package.

Foote, an associate professor in education at Kennesaw State University and director of the Master of Science in First-Year Studies, empathizes with students making that critical transition from high school or from another college to KSU. If a student lacks the skill set, or if there are no programs in place to help them acclimate to their new school, the results can be disastrous. She’s been there.

A “distracted” Foote found herself struggling through her first year of college, and at the end of that year, she was forced to move back home to Myrtle Beach, S.C., where she completed her undergraduate studies at Coastal Carolina University.

Foote is clearly an example that first-year failure is not final. Today, she is regarded as an expert in first-year studies, and her 2014 accomplishments reflect that. Among them are her being named a 2014 Wye Fellow and a participant at the Wye Seminar, accepting a two-year appointment as faculty liaison for NASPA's International Education Knowledge Community (IEKC), accepting an appointment to the Board of Visitors for the University College at Coastal Carolina, being selected to serve a four-year term as a member of the Advisory Board for the National Resource Center for The First-Year Experience and Students in Transition and traveling to Nottingham, England, to present papers at the European First-Year Experience conference as well as several national conferences.

“It was a good year, 2014,” Foote said. “But 2015 is going to be even better.” The year is off to a good start for Foote as she has been selected as the 2015 recipient of the Excellence in Teaching First-Year Seminars award. Sponsored by the McGraw-Hill Companies and the National Resource Center for The First-Year Experience and Students in Transition, the Excellence in Teaching First-Year Seminars award recognizes one instructor annually who has “achieved great success in teaching first-year seminars and who inspires student learning, development, and success.”

This year also marks the launch of the online Master of Science in First-Year Studies program, a program first conceptualized in 2008 by former FYTS department chair and now UC Dean Dr. Keisha Hoerrner and developed by a committee of faculty within in the FYTS Department over a period of several years. An instructor at KSU for three and a half years, Foote arrived in time to be involved in the final stages of planning the program’s curriculum and getting it approved both on campus through the Graduate Policy and Curriculum Committee and the University System of Georgia Board of Regents. “We are thrilled that Dr. Foote was able to join our department at such a critical time in the approval process for our graduate program,” notes Dr. Ruth Goldfine, chair of the Department of First-Year and Transition Studies. “She possesses a tremendous breadth of knowledge and expertise related to first-year and transition studies that makes her ideally suited to take the helm of this master’s program and launch it in fall 2015.”

But obtaining approval for the program was just a first step. “Since the Master’s in First-Year Studies was approved just over a year ago, I’ve been working on developing the actual curriculum, building the classes online, recruiting the students, marketing the program,” Foote said. “So it’s really exciting to finally see things come to fruition. It’s been a long time coming.”

The program, Foote said, is the first of its kind anywhere. She added that first-year and transition programs like KSU’s learning communities and first-year seminars are vital to aid students in making the transition to a new institution in the first college year or after transferring. Foote has recently worked on extending some of KSU’s existing programs to meet the needs of transfer students.

The transfer student learning community, Flourishing at KSU, has become part of the Transfer Advocacy Gateway (TAG) program funded by the Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education (FIPSE)—First in the World Program (FITW). “The TAG learning community focuses on flourishing at KSU,” Foote said. “One purpose of the TAG learning community is to help transfer students from technical and community colleges to feel like they belong here, and to provide opportunities for these students to get connected in ways that are meaningful to them.

Through the learning community, students will hopefully become engaged in campus and community activities while developing the academic skills and knowledge they need to be successful. By focusing on positive psychology and helping the students develop resilience and grit, they have a greater possibility of being successful.”

That push Foote received at Coastal Carolina changed her life. Since then, she has made it her calling to assist other students.

“The thing that I realized when I was a transfer student, people assume, because you’ve been to a college or university that you understand how to navigate it, that you know what it’s all about,” Foote said. “That you understand the acronyms and where to find things. But what we don’t realize is that each college and university is unique and different, and we all have a language that is unique to us.

“And transfer students (which make up approximately half of the incoming new students at KSU each fall) we assume, because they’re young adults, and they’ve been to college before — whether is it was the year before or 10 years before, that they’re fine and can figure it out. But many of them need our support and help.”

That’s where KSU’s program comes in. Through its TAG transfer student learning communities, KSU can help students to develop the skills they need to navigate the university and to navigate their own personal and academic transitions. Their experiences are wholly different from first-year students.

Foote said first-year students come into college with the mindset that since they’ve never failed before, they think they can become a doctor or an engineer with little difficulty. Transfer students, Foote said, are often far more grounded.

“The reality transfer students know is that it takes more to become whatever it is they want to become,” said Foote. Transfer students have had a dose of reality.

“When I got to Coastal, there were faculty members there who believed in me and who extended a helping hand to me. When I began college, I felt I didn’t have that. For me, the support propelled me to go out (and help others making a similar transition). I think the reason I went on to get a master’s degree and later my doctoral degree was that I looked at it as my calling, and I believed I could really help students in that first-year transition or in the transfer-student transition. I think through this type of work we can make a difference in the lives of our students.”


A leader in innovative teaching and learning, Kennesaw State University offers undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees to its nearly 43,000 students. With 11 colleges on two metro Atlanta campuses, Kennesaw State is a member of the University System of Georgia. The university’s vibrant campus culture, diverse population, strong global ties and entrepreneurial spirit draw students from throughout the country and the world. Kennesaw State is a Carnegie-designated doctoral research institution (R2), placing it among an elite group of only 6 percent of U.S. colleges and universities with an R1 or R2 status. For more information, visit