A look at first-year learning

Every family in the U.S. has a story of migration. Some look back hundreds of years to find that one person who came to the U.S. from another country, while others don't have to look any further than America itself.

Isabel Wilkerson
Pulitzer Prize-winning author Isabel Wilkerson speaks with students from UNI's Cornerstone course about migration and its impact on America.

Migration is something University of Northern Iowa students recently discussed with Pulitzer Prize-winning author Isabel Wilkerson as part of UNI's Cornerstone course and Reaching for Higher Ground series.

UNI's Cornerstone course was developed as a first-year experience to maximize student learning and retention.

"A student's first-year experience, which includes the Cornerstone course, sets a strong foundation for success, connects the student with faculty and peer mentors and surrounds them with resources," said Kristin Woods, coordinator of new student programs.

Cornerstone gives first-year students the opportunity to experience integrated programs and was introduced during the 2011-2012 academic year as a six-credit, two-semester course with three goals in mind for students – communication, student success and civility, or the ability to interact well with others. There are 21 sections of Cornerstone this year, taught by faculty members from a variety of disciplines.

With Cornerstone, instead of students taking an oral communication or writing course separately, the two are integrated, so writing and speaking assignments are tied together.

"We wanted to design a class that would help students become more successful," said April Chatham-Carpenter, a professor of communication studies.

"During the first semester of Cornerstone, I have grown as a student, not only academically, but also as a person. This [Cornerstone] class has laid the foundation for our future as leaders."

This year, students in the Cornerstone course were assigned a common read, "The Warmth of Other Suns" by Wilkerson. Assignments throughout the year will be tied to Wilkerson's book. Students will be encouraged to find their migration story, write a paper on it, and then give a speech on one portion of the story. The common read also helps link the Cornerstone students to events that are planned for this year's Reaching for Higher Ground series – "The Search for an American Dream."

Wilkerson's recent visit to UNI to talk about migration and its impact on America gave students the opportunity to connect what they're reading and learning from Cornerstone to their personal experiences.

"So many things Isabel Wilkerson said were specific to first-year students," said Chatham-Carpenter.