Building a Foundation
Gateway Courses Prepare Freshmen for the Major, College Life, and Careers
By Sandra N. Hurd

From the October 2002 AAHEBulletin.com

College freshmen arrive on campus from diverse experience sets and are thrown into a new environment. The experience can be intimidating. Part of their discovery process is understanding the academic and professional expectations of their chosen field of study and cultivating a sense of community among themselves and with faculty. It was only during the last 10 years, however, that Syracuse University School of Management faculty came to fully understand this.

To fill that learning and discovery gap, the School of Management crafted two freshmen-centered solutions to better prepare our students for that whirlwind first year: a primer course and a residential learning community. (While our program has been developed from a business education perspective, it can certainly be applied to other courses of study.)

Ten years ago, freshmen in Syracuse University’s School of Management spent their first year in arts and sciences courses. Then, in the first semester of their sophomore year, they were unceremoniously greeted with accounting and management information systems. If students then discovered they did not care for the coursework or career choice, they found themselves with credits that did not transfer and similar academic issues. Those affected were not happy.

Over time, faculty and staff, especially those who regularly advised students and student organizations, realized that we were doing a disservice by not getting students into their course of study quickly enough. We needed a way to help students determine if this major is what they want to talk about, think about, and learn about for four years.

Focus on Freshmen

To put that acclimation in motion sooner, the faculty developed the Management Freshman Gateway Course, which introduces incoming students to management concepts, theories, and issues. As an educational primer, it also facilitates the development of written and oral communication, teamwork, and research skills.

Offered for the first time in 1992, the Gateway Course began as a career seminar that focused on personal development with business as the backdrop. It ran for a couple of years before faculty asked, "Where is the content?" It was a great question but one without a great answer. A curriculum redesign began and the course metamorphosed into its present academic structure.

A three-credit requisite for first-semester freshman management students, the Gateway Course is divided into three interrelated tactics: lectures, recitation meetings, and a semester-long industry analysis project.

The lecture and recitation structure enables us to bring in speakers from the business community as well as university faculty and administration. One of my responsibilities as Gateway Course coordinator, a position I have held since 1995, is to ensure that lectures complement the textbook and are relevant to course objectives.

The Big Picture

The Gateway Course takes a systems approach to business by concentrating on related issues and themes. It is not "Today we will talk about marketing and tomorrow we will discuss accounting." It goes beyond that methodology to give a broad overview of the components and principles the students must understand to be successful.

The course provides a solid foundation of knowledge and skills that serve the students well during their matriculation at the School of Management. According to faculty, that knowledge base is evident early on. Professors teaching sophomore-level courses know quickly who participated in the Gateway Course versus those only minoring in business. Gateway-enabled students arrive to class knowing the language and understanding general concepts.

The Gateway Course gives students a complete look at management and the options available to them. A few classes are devoted to faculty members from various disciplines addressing how that particular business field operates and the real-world skills and aptitudes it requires.

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