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Easing the Transition

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First-year deans see parents as partners

"Yes, I know I keep missing my morning class, but I can never get up in time," the first- year student tells the dean. But what's really being said?  Gail Zimmerman, dean of first-year students, offers a handful of potential translations:  "I'm partying."  "I'm depressed."  "I'm just REALLY bad with time management."  "I'm avoiding my morning class because I don't understand what's going on in it."

Gail Zimmerman, dean of first-year students (Photo by Joseph Mehling '69)

Zimmerman and her colleagues in the First-Year Office are available to help resolve such situations and guide students in the transition to college life. "Some students seek us out; we reach out, too," Zimmerman says. "And then there are times when we tell a student, ‘You have called yourself to our attention.'"

Academic questions are the most common: "We can help students sort out what they want to accomplish while they're here, and identify the best route there. Part of that is helping them understand the College's policies and procedures." It's most gratifying for the deans, she says, when they help students see new possibilities and realize their potential.

"This is a generation of students comfortable initiating and building relationships electronically," Zimmerman notes. "We're learning how to use that as we work with them." For example, deans send weekly emails to the five housing clusters they advise.  "Over time, online familiarity can ease encounters in real life. Students have a sense of already knowing their dean, even before spending much time face-to-face."

Zimmerman considers parents as partners in the advising process. "All through a child's K-12 education we ask parents to be involved-and then that's supposed to just stop at the college gate? Of course not." She points out that Move-In Day during fall orientation includes programming for students' families. "It's a way of acknowledging that students didn't get to Dartmouth all on their own."

Parents phone the office as well, says Zimmerman. "We're acting as translators for the parents, too: clarifying how the D plan works, or explaining some Dartmouth shorthand."

"We also very much appreciate calls from parents alerting us to changes in a family's situation," she continues. "That knowledge helps us support the student fully."

Contact the First-Year Office via email or at (603) 646-0027.


Questions or comments about this article? We welcome your feedback.

Last Updated: 7/24/18