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Washington State University
Dividend - Fall 2023 Cover Story

New Orientation Program
Propels Carson Cougs Toward Academic Success

By Sue McMurray

Carson College undergraduates attend Launch to build networks and understand what it means to be a Carson Coug.
Photo by WSU Photos Services

“Hey dude! What time is the exam?”

Believe it or not, college students really send emails like this to their professors, according to Debbie Compeau and Tom Tripp, who spoke at the Carson College of Business Launch program at the start of spring semester.

Compeau and Tripp, both in leadership positions within the college, worked in partnership with Suzi Billington, director of the Carson Center for Student Success, and her staff to implement the program in fall 2022. Its purpose is to ensure undergraduates understand the expectations required of them as Next Carson Cougs.

All students who are new to the college must attend either the fall or spring Launch sessions in order to apply to the business program.

“Launch focuses on getting new students acclimated to the college, prepared to engage in class, and to become leaders of their own academic success,” Billington says. “We set clear expectations in their first year, so by the time they are juniors and seniors, they understand what it means to be a Carson Coug.”

Learning to adopt a growth mindset

The spring 2023 Launch kicked off with a Family Feud–style game focusing on Carson College expectations. Carson Center staff then led informational breakout sessions with active participation and self-reflection activities.

Billington’s session on a fixed mindset versus a growth mindset resonated with several students. A fixed mindset is the belief that skills, intellect, and talents are set and unchangeable. A growth mindset is the belief that these attributes can be developed through practice and perseverance.

For example, a student who fails a math quiz might think “I’m not a math person,” which is a fixed mindset. A growth mindset would flip that thought to “I’ve always had to work harder on math; what other strategies can I use to learn better?”

The key lies in reframing the fixed mindset instinct, Billington says.

“Before attending this workshop, I often thought failure was due to the lack of abilities I had as person. Now I realize failure is just a minor setback and a great learning opportunity for me to grow as an individual,” says Spencer Young, a finance major who spent five years in the US Air Force before enrolling at WSU.

“Launch helped me reinforce a growth mindset because it reiterated that if you make a mistake or get a bad grade, it isn’t the end of the world but rather an opportunity to improve,” says Jack Byers, a transfer student from Arizona State University.

“While I’m able to practice some growth mindset principles, I need to work on how I react when receiving a poor test score,” says Will Wenrich, a first-year marketing student. “I’ll also work on how to accomplish more than what is ‘enough.’”

Carson Cougs do more than enough

Doing more than what is enough to graduate is a common attribute of Carson Cougs and complements the premise of The Next Carson Coug curriculum, which focuses on being strategic with choices and experiences. Leaders in the college thought graduates needed more professional polish to complement their strong technical skills. Extensive research led to a revision of the undergraduate curriculum to create a balance of technical and professional skills such as communication, critical thinking, equity and inclusion, leadership, professionalism, and teamwork.

These competencies are developed in class and through experiential learning in the college’s Career Amplifier program outside of class. All Carson students complete this cocurricular program—a unique factor that sets Carson Cougs apart from other WSU majors and makes them more hirable.

“We want students to develop critical thinking and transferable skills, not just focus on getting good grades,” Tripp says. “We encourage them to take classes in their weak areas, where they have the most to gain.”

“The most important thing I got out of Launch was learning about the Amplifier program and how to use it,” Byers says. “I didn’t even know how to get started, but I have a much better understanding of it now.”

Expectations backed by research

Other college expectations such as showing up, participating in class, and putting e-devices away are backed by assessment and research.

“We found that in cases where in-person classes were livestreamed, many students who stayed at home didn’t need to, and they participated much less. The lack of engagement also diminished the interactive vibe of the live classroom,” Tripp says.

Research shows students using e-devices distract others and cause their grades to suffer twice as much as those using the devices. Another study shows hand-writing notes is better for comprehension than typing them, he says.

“Overall, the value of the Launch program is to create a critical mass of students who understand the value of engagement and are able to model it to their peers and eventually their employers,” Billington says. “We also have students complete a personal values exercise. At midterms, they revisit and reflect on these values. Research shows this reminder of what is important to them can be a powerful motivator to help them persevere through difficult times.”

“After completing my degree, I know I’ll have the skills and knowledge to successfully transfer into a career and be a successful member of any work environment I choose,” Young says.