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Launching the First-Year Experience Movement


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Table of Contents

Prologue. Reflections During the PandemicAcknowledgment Introduction Part I. My Collegiate Journey 1. The All-Important First Year of College 2. The Second Year of College. Continuing Recovery from the First Year 3. The Third Year of College. Making Some Successful Decisions 4. The Senior Year Capstone Experience Interlude. Graduate School—Even the Military Would Be Better Than This Part II. My Life and Learnings in the U.S. Air Force 5. I Should Have Paid the Air Force 6. Becoming an Involuntary College Educator and Discovering My Calling Part III. Becoming Who I Am as an International Higher Education Leader 7. My First Full-Time Teaching Position. Learning from It, Losing It, and Moving On. Winthrop College for "The Fairest Flowers in the Southland" 8. On Reinventing the Beginning Year of College. My Real Life's Work in The First-Year Experience 9. Evolution of University 101. Major Developments and Research Outcomes 10. The Conferences on the Freshman Year Experience and a Transformative National Movement. The First-Year Experience 11. Other Contributing Factors to the National and International First-Year Experience Movement 12. Another Important Transition. Moving the Annual FYE Conference (and Ultimately Its Founder. Out of South Carolina 13. 20-Plus Years of New Work--This Time From North Carolina and a New Organization Home Conclusion

About the Author

Dr. John N. Gardner is an undergraduate student success thought leader and a social justice advocate. He is Chief Executive Officer and Chair of the non-profit, the John N. Gardner Institute for Excellence in Undergraduate Education, co-founded by him and his wife, Betsy O. Barefoot, in 1999. John is also Distinguished Professor Emeritus and Senior Fellow, University of South Carolina at Columbia. He was also the Founding Executive Director of both the National Resource Center for the First-Year Experience and Students in Transition, and the University 101 Programs. He also served as Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs for the University's five Regional Campuses. Subscribe to the Office Hours with John Gardner: Innovation in Higher Education podcast.


“Few initiatives in higher education over the past five decades have experienced the sustained national adaptation and influence of what modestly began as the ‘University 101’ program launched by John Gardner and his colleagues at the University of South Carolina in 1974. Consequently, Gardner's memoir,Launching the First Year Experience Movement,documents a very personal journey and also the continuing programmatic evolution and institutional impact of what emerged from a directive to help ‘transform university culture’ at the University of South Carolina – to ‘humanize it’ and to make it more ‘student centered.’ These were – and continue to be – ambitious goals for any college or university. Gardner’s chronicle reminds us of the distance traveled over five decades, and also of the challenges that remain.”“Launching the First-Year Experience Movement is a compelling and inspirational read. John Gardner’s candid and engaging life story tells the tale of how a few of his early life experiences, which could have resulted in an end to his university career, instead led to a lifelong passion to support students as they transition into, through, and out of college. He tells of how he and his colleagues spawned the FYE movement that has inspired thousands of similar programs around the world. Perhaps most importantly, he tells us how we too can have an impact in our own institutions, building on what he has learned.”Steven M. Smith, Ph.D., Professor of Psychology, St. Mary's University“This book captivates readers with this unusual, heartfelt, life-changing adventure of my colleague and dear friend, John Gardner who is without a doubt higher education’s ‘Man of La Mancha.’ The story of this author’s life's ‘crusade’ for students who are underserved and inequitably treated as they pursue dreams of a better life with a college diploma is a touching tale that will stir hearts and minds with a tantalizing fascination to join in the Crusade. I certainly couldn’t resist.”John Lawless, Entrepreneur, Investor and John N Gardner Institute Fellow“John N. Gardner’s Launching the First-Year Experience Movement is a must-read for anyone interested in the field of student success. Gardner, one of higher education’s leading scholars and thinkers, offers a wealth of insight and wisdom in this delightful and insightful memoir. Through his own experiences as a higher education leader and innovator, Gardner provides a unique and important case study of how to effectively make a difference in our field.”Dan Friedman, Director, University 101 Programs, University of South Carolina“Behind all successful leading-edge ideas is the vision of a genius, and this is ever so evident in John N. Gardner’s authentic account of his journey in college and the military. In this one-of-a-kind memoir, he recounts epiphanous moments in his life including the people and events that inspired him to create some of higher education’s most impactful innovations, chief among them what is known as ‘the first-year experience.’ If you are a champion of student success I believe my friend and colleague, John, would want you to read his book to reflect on your own life journey, your own epiphanies and allow these learnings to inspire creative ideas about how to positively impact all students especially those who are first-generation, low-income and racially minoritized. And then, take transformative action to become an equity warrior and to fashion the next generation of the American student success movement. My own hope is to honor John’s legacy in this profound fashion.”Laura I. Rendón, author of Sentipensante Pedagogy: Educating for Wholeness, Social Justice and Liberation, Second Edition, Stylus"John is a titan within higher education, yet so willingly invites us into his living room and offers a level of uncommon personal vulnerability that is both humble yet self-aware. This book is a must read for any aspiring practitioner in the field of student success. While John’s career roadmap is unique to him, this book brilliantly weaves together his personal story with substantive advice and intentional reflective moments that will surely inspire readers to think differently in and out of the office."Nii Kpakpo Abrahams, Director of the First Year Experience, Butler University“John N. Gardner has been one of the most influential figures in American higher education for decades. His pioneering work and thought leadership on the first-year experience has benefitted millions of students, easing an often challenging adjustment to college. The John N. Gardner Institute for Excellence in Undergraduate Education is an authoritative voice about innovative practices in teaching and learning, which has led to students experiencing more engaging classrooms, better mentoring, and many fewer systemic barriers to learning that often most impact first-generation college students and students of color. Beginning with his own ironic, less-than-stellar start at Marietta College, Gardner reveals much in this book about his own life experiences, character, and values that shaped a movement focused on college student success.”Leo M. Lambert, President Emeritus and Professor, Elon University“I have always appreciated that the first-year experience defied the expected ‘elevator pitch’ simplicity common to reform fads in higher education. This book makes clear that the intellectual depth of the international reform movement entrusted to our care is a reflection of its prime mover.”Kurt Ewen, PhD, Chief of Staff and Vice Chancellor, Strategy, Planning and Institutional Effectiveness, Houston Community College“Launching the First-Year Experience Movement: The Founder’s Journey is a tour de force! I was captivated, engaged, and inspired by the replicable and innovative stories that illustrated the origin and development of the Student Success movement. Dr. Gardner’s book serves as a call to action for all of us to do more for students and for equity in the academy. I want to be John Gardner when I grow up!”Jody S. Fournier, PhD, Provost, Capital University“All college and university educators would benefit by understanding the origin of the First-Year Experience movement. John N. Gardner’s account offers a passionate and instructive story loaded with wisdom and advice about the importance of the first year of college as a foundational experience of undergraduate education.”Jillian Kinzie, Interim Co-Director, National Survey of Student Engagement, Indiana University Bloomington“At a time in our country where we all could use some direction, John Gardner candidly shares his journey from a lost college freshman to an international leader in higher education. His tale serves as a blueprint to inspire, lead, and assist others in avoiding pitfalls on the journey to achieve their life’s work. Instructive from beginning to end, this is a must read.”Kimberly Kolodoye, EdD, Program Coordinator of Student Success, Professor of Learning Framework & Developmental English, Houston Community College“For decades, John Gardner has shaped the conversation on college student success, but Launching the First-Year Experience Movement does more than simply reflect on how to improve college outcomes. Rather, Gardner takes us on a personal journey and asks us to reflect on how we can make our own distinct and powerful contributions to an equity-focused student success agenda.”Tracy L. Skipper, Senior Thesis Director & Academic Advisor for the Honors College, University of South Carolina“Dr. Gardner’s timely and sobering memoir is a practical guide for professionals at any stage. The seamless transitions from chapter to chapter embodies many lessons that contribute to the overall advocacy of higher education. Such defining perspectives and experiences shared from the text can serve as stimulus to encourage significant change in equity, social justice, and the overall success of collegiate students. I encourage all practitioner and scholars at any point in their higher education tenure to read.”Michael Igbonagwam, Ed.D., Program Manager, Office of Strategic Initiatives and Engagement, South Carolina Commission on Higher Education“Over my nearly six decades as a higher educational professional, I had the privilege of working with and learning from many of our profession’s most innovative leaders – innovators who shaped our nation’s colleges and universities, who introduced powerful approaches to teaching and learning, who created programs and services that enabled more students to enter college and to succeed. John Gardner, a man I’ve known for nearly 40 years, was one of them. And he’s the only one I know who left his mark on the academy by creating a movement, a man who in 1987 was described by the Chronicle of Higher Education as the self-appointed spokesperson for largest educational minority – first-year students. Launching the First-Year Experience Movement is a must read for established higher education scholars and leaders, senior administrators, policy makers, support staff who work with first year students, and graduate students who are considering a higher education career that focuses on success.”Louis S. Albert, Ph.D., Professor of Practice, Division of Educational Leadership and Innovation, Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College, Arizona State University“All of us who are committed to equity and excellence in higher education owe a debt of gratitude to John N. Gardner for his willingness to tell the story that underlie his unswerving commitment to ensuring academic success for all>students, especially first-generation and ethnic minorities. John was an equity ally long before the current era of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI). As Black baby boomer and three-time university president, I have long been inspired by how John Gardner has used his agency to be a voice for historically disenfranchised populations. This book should be on the required reading list for current and aspiring university leaders.”Charlie Nelms, Indiana University, President-in-Residence, United Negro College Fund“This inspiring history is much more that that alone. It is an inspiring model for the rest of higher education faculty, staff, and administrators who aspire to contribute to student success. Professor Gardner was and is willing to invite the higher education community to join him in creating new and significant institutions: the First Year Experience and Students in Transition at the University of South Carolina, and the Gardner Institute for Excellence in Undergraduate Education in Brevard, North Carolina. The gift he gave initially, and actively gives now, is to be colleagues with him in learning from each other as well as from his continuing visions.”John M. Whiteley, Professor of Ecology, University of California Irvine“The insights, experiences, and lesson-learned in John Gardner's Launching the First-Year Experience Movement is a compelling blueprint of how to organize and mobilize to make a difference in the life of others, particularly college students. We see how John allowed the context of the civil rights movement to influence him, and how that created the subtext for his commitment to drive meaningful change in higher education. It illuminates the question: How are we allowing the current context to influence us to lead and drive positive change for our students?”Nicole L. McDonald, Ph.D., Senior Vice President, Transformation Initiatives, Johnson C. Smith University“Everyone who has been in higher education for a minute knows that John Gardner is the ‘Grandfather’ of the First-Year Experience. Those of us who have been in higher education for many decades know that the First-Year Experience has changed the landscape from focusing on teaching the material to the student for academic success to creating an environment for student learning to create a whole person for life. In addition, it created opportunities for countless students to achieve their dream of becoming a college graduate. In this manuscript, John chronicles how this change became a movement. If this alone were all he did in this work, it would be well worth the read. However, this is truly a memoir. Like many of us who find ourselves with more years behind us than in front of us, we reflect on who and what we are and how we got here. John does exactly that! He shares with us the elements of life that created him and thus this movement—those core values that made him the staunch advocate for ALL students, and the history that allows me to call him an equity warrior.”Aaron Thompson, President, Kentucky Post-Secondary Council for Higher Education“John Gardner’s book is essentially the story of twin journeys. The first of these is the personal voyage of a young man starting from a privileged white background via service in the Air Force at the time of the Vietnamese war, through a developing career as a university teacher to his present status as the central figure in the First-Year Experience Movement. The other journey is that of universities and colleges themselves coming to appreciate the vital importance of the learning (and hence teaching) experienced by students during their first year. A large part of this development is due to the initiative and work of Gardner, through his many years of consultancies, international conferences, and more recently through the work of the John N. Gardner Institute for Excellence in Undergraduate Education. The book gives a splendid insight into how ideas may be transformed into practice within the context of higher education and how a change agent can influence and expedite that transformation. It will appeal to a wide range of university and college teachers as a case study of a contemporary success story in how we care for the intellectual development of our students, especially during their vital early experiences.”Brian E. Oldham, Head of Educational Development, Transatlantic Consultant, Teesside University, UK (retired)

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