Photo Exhibit: Unique Project Helps UT Freshmen Reflect on College Transition

photovoice2 (2)Professor Anne Smith has a good picture of how some students transition to college life at UT.

For three years, she taught a First-Year Studies 129 course on photography called Capturing Your Transition to College. FYS 129 classes are one-credit pass-fail courses on a wide range of topics selected by faculty to engage with freshmen and help them adjust to academic life.

Smith, the Flaskerud Professor in Business and Professor of Management, chose photography. It’s a tool she often uses in research.

After teaching her students photography basics, Smith had each of them make a twenty-photo Pecha Kucha–style presentation with embedded narration describing their transition to UT.

photovoice3Midway through the first class, Smith realized she was on to something. She decided to follow her students through the course of their university studies.

Smith taught the class each fall, from 2011 through 2013, and then maintained regular contact with most of the forty-seven students who took the course and consented to be followed.

Her first class of students is graduating this year and to celebrate, Smith will stage an exhibition using more than sixty of the photos her students have taken over the years. The photos will be displayed with quotes the students used in their presentations as well as some comments from her interviews with these studies over the years. A dozen or more of Smith’s students plan to be there, too.

The event, which is open to the public, will be held from 2:00 to 3:30 p.m. on Friday, April 24, in Room 227 of the Carolyn P. Brown Memorial University Center. The event is being sponsored by First-Year Studies.

photovoice4Smith said she created the assignment to answer two simple questions: “What characterizes the first-semester experience? Does a student’s first-semester experience have any bearing on their future college success?”

She suggested her students snap photos illustrating aspects of their day-to-day life—”where you go to find peace,” “a frustration,” “how you cope,” “friends,” and “how you spend your time.”

In follow-up interviews with students over the next three years, Smith talked to them about their continued adjustment, their academic progress, and their involvement in campus activities.

Smith said most of the students in her study have continued at UT, with many involved in visible leadership roles. Only two have left UT to study elsewhere, and one has already graduated. She’s maintained contact with all but a handful of students since they were in her class.

Smith said she hopes to publish the findings from her study, but for now wants to share insights she’s gleaned with UT faculty, administrators, and others through the exhibition.

photovoice1“When I see the library, it’s a clear signal there is some seriousness there,” she said, noting that it was surprising how many students didn’t include any photos of the library in their collection.

She said her students have come from a variety of colleges and majors and their work clearly indicates “that some majors really take a toll on some students.”

Smith said it was interesting to note how many of the students’ photos were of their home and family rather than the university; if an overwhelming number of photos focused on life before UT, this might be a signal the student was struggling to adjust to college life.

Smith also said some of the students’ photos were quite emotional and personal­.

“I’ve been brought to chills by some of their presentations,” she said.

“This is a perfect example of how our FYS 129 faculty incorporate their research interests to have deep and meaningful experiences with first-year students,” said Jason Mastrogiovanni, director of First-Year Studies and coordinator of the 129 First-Year Seminar. “We look forward to showcasing more of our faculty and student experiences in the future.”

Trey Johnson, of Tazewell, Tennessee, a junior in honors ecology and evolutionary biology, he enjoyed the class and is still friends with some of students he met there. He’ll be at the celebration.

“The presentation gave me a chance to reflect on the things I had learned and the ways I had grown throughout my first semester in college,” he said. “I had a lot of fun making it and may even go back and watch it when I complete my undergraduate degree to see how I have changed.”

Rachel Bain, of Pulaski, Tennessee, a senior majoring in public relations who will graduate next month, also will be attending the event.

“Dr. Smith’s FYS photography class was the first very interactive class I took at UT where fellow students were actually talking to one another and sharing pretty personal thoughts and opinions on how life in college was really like for them,” she said. “This class was also my first class where I had a project and learned really how to be creative and use technology efficiency.

“Going into this class I had no idea what to expect and I had no idea that I would find a mentor in Dr. Smith, whose office has always been open to me for the past four years.”

CONTACT:

Amy Blakely (865-974-5034, ablakely@utk.edu)