Colleges and universities have continued to refine their understanding of engagement, affinity, and retention. At Arizona State University (ASU), the goal has been to continually retain first-year students at a 90%+ retention rate. At ASU, two key aspects of the first-year experience have been employed to foster retention. First, ASU has grouped on-campus students so they lived in residential colleges, housing students with others in the same college, to aid retention of first-year students. Second, ASU has required first-year students to take a 101 class, an orientation to ASU resources (library, advising, etc.) and its community (student organizations, clubs, etc.). The residential college living experience has afforded students opportunities to intentionally engage in campus events, connect with other students, and develop a vision for success. The 101 class has provided students with opportunities to learn about resources and community that have enriched their first-year experiences. Together, these two key approaches have offered students pathways to building initial engagement at the institution. The current research study was conducted to examine the ways in which students became engaged during their initial semester at ASU. Student participants in this study all lived in the W. P. Carey (WPC) Residential College Community in Hassayampa Academic Village (HAV) and were enrolled in WPC 101—Student Success in Business. WPC 101 was focused on helping students navigate college and learn about campus resources.
In the study, the researcher infused three Engagement Workshops into the WPC 101 curriculum alongside pre-existing assignments to afford students learning opportunities for a richer, deeper exploration and reflection on their first-semester experience. Students participated in a pre- and post-intervention survey, contributed written narratives and reflections, and six students completed individual interviews.
Results of the study, particularly the qualitative results, indicated (a) quality of relationships, (b) ASU community, and (c) campus environment emerged as variables that served as the ‘roots of engagement’ for these first-semester students Thus, the current work extended previous research on engagement by identifying the initial developmental aspects of engagement among first-semester, university students. The discussion included detailed explanations of the results, limitations, implications for research and practice, lessons learned, and conclusions.