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Helping Students Succeed

September 10, 2021
group of people standing outside
Manager of UW’s Learning Resource Network (LeaRN) Mollie Hand (front) with students (L-R) Nathaniel Bertschinger, Beret Renfro, Leighkaren Labay, Ian Fletcher, Andrew Ker and Amarissa Geis.

As manager of UW’s first-year interest groups, Mollie Hand helps incoming students find community. 

By Micaela Myers 

On any given day, Mollie Hand may end up talking to personnel from all of the University of Wyoming colleges offering undergraduate degrees as well as multiple departments. Her job is by definition interdisciplinary. As manager of UW’s Learning Resource Network (LeaRN) programs, Hand manages and coordinates UW’s first-year interest groups, better known as FIGs.

FIGs bring together incoming freshmen by major or interest. Each FIG has a faculty sponsor and trained resident assistant (RA). Students registered for FIGs then take two to four classes together their first semester and live on the same floor, which creates a sense of belonging and improves retention rates.

“They work because students get to form a community of like-minded people, and that helps with study groups, having someone to explore Laramie with and more,” Hand says. “We work with 30–40 different departments to coordinate about 17 different FIGs.”

FIG themes include criminal justice, outdoor recreation, art, exploring health careers, animal science and agriculture, and construction management. Faculty sponsors and RAs attend a special training. Hand works with Residence Life and Dining to identify FIG floor locations and with the Office of the Registrar to reserve seats in the grouped classes. Some of the classes are specific to the FIG theme, while others are general education requirements.

Hand also sits on the committee for the design of the new residence halls, working on incorporating living-learning communities with spaces such as group kitchens for meetings and community meals.

Hand’s background is in linguistics, and each fall she teaches a fall bridge first-year seminar course on the language of food and culinary linguistics. She loves being in the classroom while also helping hundreds of other freshmen find community though FIGs.

“I love working with students and helping them succeed,” she says. “Retention is really my goal in this position. Through FIGs, students are so much more likely to stay on campus and graduate on time.”

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