New first-year cohort program works to increase student retention, success

Students meet with a faculty mentor at cafe.
First-year students meet with their faculty mentor, Judy Liu, professor of structural engineering, at a cafe off campus.

“The mission of the first-year cohort program is to strengthen the school community from the first year through graduation and into professional practice,” said Whitney Korthauer, head academic advisor. “Through regular cohort meetings with faculty mentors, students are learning more about the school, engaging with faculty and staff, and getting to know fellow students.”

Activities include meetings with mentors at coffee shops or other locations outside the traditional academic atmosphere. There is no homework or credit. Rather, the sessions are about conversation and connection. Mentors are encouraged to organize outings based on their own interests, such as hiking, cycling, and attending concerts.

To encourage participation, prizes are awarded to cohorts based on points accrued by attending a meeting, posting selfies with the Oregon State mascot Benny Beaver, and answering quizzes about school news.

“Four-year graduation rates increase dramatically when students are engaged in an extracurricular activity and can work with faculty members who care about their success,” said Jason Weiss, school head and Miles Lowell and Margaret Watt Edwards Distinguished Chair in Engineering, citing a recent Gallup study.