Building a Firm Foundation

August 22, 2023

In 2023, Baylor was ranked in the top 10 in U.S. News & World Report’s list of the best first-year student experiences in the country. This ranking was built on a number of intentional efforts to help students succeed and thrive throughout their time on campus.

As a part of those efforts, first-year students are required to take a New Student Experience (NSE) course, designed to help them build a firm foundation for college life.

Victor J. Hinojosa, B.A. ’96, Ph.D., is associate professor of political science in the Honors College at Baylor and one of several professors who lend their time and talents to teaching the NSE courses. The following Q&A offers his reflections on this unique opportunity to invest in the lives and wellness of his students.

How would you describe the NSE course to someone who may not be familiar with this concept?

“Our new student experience programming, which is bigger than the courses, is designed to set our students up for success academically, but also socially, physically, emotionally, spiritually. The NSE is an academic course, and I am trying to help my students practice the academic skills they need to be successful at Baylor — careful reading of texts, thoughtful participation in discussion, research and writing — all the things students need to be able to do well during their time at Baylor. But I also carve out class time to pay attention to other aspects of their development and to help make sure that they’re flourishing here. The classes are small. My class typically has had eight to 10 students. Students get to know each other and they get to create a community with other students who are experiencing what they’re experiencing.”

What are some ways the NSE course would differ from a typical academic course?

“I wouldn’t be able to do this in a junior- or senior-level course where I’m trying to cover a lot of specific material. But I spend the first 20 minutes of class, at least once a week, checking in with my students, seeing how they’re doing, and also encouraging them in these other forms of flourishing. I tell them right up front, I’m interested in their academic work, but I’m much more interested in this course setting them up to flourish at Baylor. I’ll make sure they’re carving out time to exercise, time for friends, time to pay attention to their spiritual needs, time to get to know the campus and the broader Waco community. I do want my students to get outside the Baylor campus and explore town.”

Why is it important for first-year students to take these NSE courses?

“We are always more than our performance, and we are always more than our academic achievements. What I want is someone to be healthy and whole. Yes, you’re going to work hard in college, but that’s not all of it. I want students to be healthy. One of the things Baylor has done really well in recent years is pay attention to these needs. Since I’ve been here, we’ve drastically increased our mental health resources. The Counseling Center has grown exponentially since I’ve been here. The Student Success Center has really grown in recognition that we are trying to help our students flourish holistically. I’ve been at Baylor a long time, and one of the advantages I have in teaching a course like this is that I know where those resources are and can help point my students to them. I also know who to call to ask for help when I don’t know where some of those resources are. If there are specific things that students need, I can help track down those resources.”

What have been some of the highlights from your time teaching NSE cohorts at Baylor?

“I love teaching this class. It’s one of my favorite classes to teach. I’ll see students on campus even years later and still talk to them and see how they’re doing. Often, students will say that the New Student Experience course was one of their favorite classes during their time at Baylor, and that is really encouraging. The class I’ve been teaching for the last several years focuses on child and family migration in and from Central America. It’s an issue that is important and timely and that matters. I think the students are excited to do academic work that matters and to see that their research and learning matters and makes a difference. I love introducing students to these problems and helping them think through them.”