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College of Arts and Sciences Gives Students 'FastTrack' To Success

by Sarah Geegan

The College of Arts and Sciences created a new program this fall designed to help incoming freshmen get on the right track for calculus — the FastTrack. 

FastTrack for Calculus is a two-week, on-campus residential academic preparation program for highly qualified incoming freshman students at UK. The program is designed as a refresher course to prepare students for Calculus I.

"All over the country it’s a challenge for students to come out of high school and do well in very demanding  STEM majors: science, technology, engineering and mathematics," Mark Kornbluh, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, said.  "So our goal is to help the transition to some of our most rigorous science and mathematical majors."

Thirty-eight students participated in the program this year. The cohort moved into the Kirwan Tower residence hall two weeks before regular move-in day and engaged in the preparatory coursework, led by a combination of faculty, graduate students and undergraduate mathematics majors.

Mathematics Outreach Professor and A&S Director of Undergraduate Studies David Royster said that the instruction focused on the common mistakes that faculty see freshman students make after the gap between high school algebra and college calculus.

"Students will often come, and they will have forgotten a lot of their algebra skills," Royster said. "Their forgetfulness of skills tends to get in the way of their learning the concepts. We do see a lot of students 'hit the wall' so to speak, early in the semester when they have a lot to do, and we come to this first test in calculus, and a lot of them make mistakes that we hope we'll be able to keep them from doing. The idea is to get them a little more self-confident."

Royster said that another benefit of the FastTrack program is the speed of the instruction. The environment is not overly fast, and the students have small groups in which to learn.

In addition to the calculus instruction, the student cohort also got the opportunity to explore both the UK campus and the Lexington community. The group went on various excursions to hot spots throughout Lexington, such as a Legends game. They were also introduced to academic resources on campus.

"By all indications, the program was an enormous success this year, and our plan in the college is not only to do FastTrack again, but to expand its availability to all students who will be starting calculus in the fall," Kornbluh said

Royster said he was pleased with the program as well.

"The deans of the colleges of arts and sciences for the SEC meet twice a year in Atlanta and we put our heads together to think what can we do to improve students' success," Kornbluh said. "Here at UK in the College of Arts and Sciences, we are really interested in experimenting and finding ways to help our students succeed better." 

To listen to a podcast, produced by the College of Arts and Sciences, in which Kornbluh and Royster discuss the course, click here.