Before classes had even begun at the University of Nevada, Reno on Aug. 26, 48 biology and neuroscience students had already been to school for a week.
The incoming freshmen participated in the first academic boot camp, BioFit, a new initiative started by Provost Kevin Carman to give students a jump start for success. The camp was held Aug. 16-20.
"Academic boot camps dramatically increase academic performance and student success rates," Carman said. "It's exciting to see these students recognize and embrace the hard work needed to be successful. Students who go through boot camp are twice as likely to graduate in their major. We give them tools for success."
The program simulated an exam week and provided students a chance to see how to balance academics with social activities at the University. The students lived together in the same residence hall during the program. From 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. they attended classes, worked in study groups and took exams.
Through the BioFit academic boot camp - FIT stands for Freshmen Intensive Transition - students were taught study habits, time management, guidance in particular courses and even financial management. The program offered a glimpse into the University's rigorous academic expectations and college life prior to the start of the semester.
"I didn't know what to expect other than that I would be exposed to biology content," participant Nelson Quezada Jr. of Las Vegas said. "Nothing in high school could have prepared us for the strenuous five days. All 48 of us came out of the program exhausted, but mentally stronger. I know I have an advantage over all other incoming freshmen because of BioFit."
A typical day of the 5-day program started with 7:30 a.m. breakfast, then a chemistry or biology lecture followed by a lab class, lunch, a study session and then an exam. After a writing study session, the group had dinner, another lecture and exam discussion. Throughout their busy schedule, the students also attended learning sessions to help them understand note taking and learning styles, how to deal with stress and test anxiety as well as academic integrity and decision making.
"The best parts about the program aren't just the content we received, but the relationships we have built and skills we developed during the program," Nelson said.
Christina Cho, director of the program for the College of Science, emphasized that the BioFit program is not a remedial program to help students catch up.
"It's for all students, regardless of their academic preparedness from high school," Cho said. "They learn very quickly that freshman year of college is not the 13th grade. The FIT academic boot camp flattens the learning curve in making the transition from high school to college. We've had so many people tell us they wish they had this sort of program to help them get ready for their freshman year.
"After you have experienced what a week of lectures, homework assignments and exams at the University are like, you've learned what works and what doesn't work to be successful academically. I'm confident that BioFit students will feel more confident and comfortable starting their first year of college."
The transition to college can be overwhelming, even for the best high school students.
"While the rigor of this program was immense and may have caught most participants by surprise, including myself, I would fully recommend every incoming biology and neuroscience major to take part in this academic workshop," freshman Dan Gow from Fair Oaks, Calif. said. "My confidence for the upcoming academic year has increased dramatically. Without a doubt, after this intense academic experience, every participant has come out ahead because of it."
Jeff Thompson, dean of the College of Science was pleased with the pilot project and is looking forward to expanding it next year.
"Students at all levels of preparation enroll here," Thompson said. "Studies show that if students struggle their first semester, it's very hard for them to keep up and succeed. I'm pleased to see this program, which we're piloting in the College of Science, work so well. It's been an intense week for those students. They struggled this week so they won't have to during the semester. There's a reason they call it boot camp."
Attending the boot camp is voluntary and this year enrollment was limited to freshmen who plan to major in biology or neuroscience. The College of Science hopes to quickly expand the program to all freshmen entering the college and the University will then expand the program to other colleges.
Provost Carman made starting a boot camp here one of his top priorities when he arrived in February. "It's gratifying to see the students engaged and enthusiastic for the program," he said. "This week of boot camp will serve them well."