Creating Opportunities for Connection: How purposeful relationship building in an FYE program increases retention

With the rise of tuition nationwide and the value of higher education coming into questions, universities must become more focused regarding how to recruit, retain, and develop purposeful relationships with students. At Texas Christian University, the focus on developing and maintaining relationships with students has translated into higher retention numbers and helped increase the yield of incoming students. Through Orientation, Frog Camp, and Frogs First, students experience a comprehensive transition process.

The Agenda

Student Development Services (SDS) maximizes student potential through individual and community development. By overseeing leadership development, community and international involvement, organizational membership, experiential learning, mentoring, transitional programming, and the cultivation of a culture of care, SDS provides students with the opportunity to learn, to lead, to achieve, and to contribute.

Now that you know more about SDS, we plan to discuss the FYE timeline, programs, retention initiatives, and why our programs work at TCU.

First Year Experience

Every student comes to TCU with high potential. Who they meet, what they do, and how they think determines what we become.

In SDS we educate on and advocate for the developmental needs of first year students. We help
cultivate individual student growth and success while fostering purposeful relationships. We communicate and influence TCU culture through various programs that are embedded throughout the first year experience. Serve as mentors for upper-level students as they lead, influence, and educate others. Lastly, we begin relationships in the summer but continue them into the fall and spring by partnering with other offices.

Who they meet, what they do,and how they think determines what we become.

FYE Timeline & Programs

Orientation (Summer and January)

Prepares new students and their families to successfully transition into the Horned Frog Community. At Orientation you’ll be advised, enroll in classes, meet new and current TCU students, faculty, and staff, and learn what it means to be an ethical leader and responsible citizen in the global community.

  • 93.5% of students said they felt more connected to other TCU students after participating in their small group at orientation
  • Faculty Expectations
  • 94.5% said they were more likely to approach their faculty during the academic year after this session

Frog Camp (Summer)

Prepares new students for life outside of the classroom at TCU. Whether it’s rafting down the Taylor River in Colorado, walking along the Berlin Wall, line dancing in the Fort Worth Stockyards, or conquering Grimy Games, each camp lets new students make friends, discuss college issues, and prepare for life as a Horned Frog.

  • 8 states: CO, TX, GA, AZ, WA, OR, NM, MD/Washington, D.C.
  • 6 countries
: Costa Rica, France, Italy, Spain, United Kingdom, Germany
  • Educational small group activities
  • Expectations & Phobias, Resiliency, Dealing with College, Markers, More Than Words, R.A.G.
  • Camp-specific activities
  • Dance parties
  • Free time

Frogs First (Fall)

A welcome program for new students the weekend before classes begin. During these four days, students are challenged, connected to the campus and their peers, and prepared for what it means to be a successful and fulfilled member of the Horned Frog family.

  • Training Frogs First Leaders
  • Small group time
  • Building RA/Resident relationships
  • Building relationships with faculty


Building relationships and increasing affinity for TCU are an important factors that we have analysed in an effort to better understand the impact of FYE programs.


  • 96.9% of fall 2015 baccalaureate first-time, full-time students returning spring 2016
  • 90.4% class of 2018 from first year to second year
  • 99% developed friendships at Frog Camp

Mattering vs. Marginality

  • 97.4% of students said they gained confidence in their ability to succeed as a TCU student as a result of attending Orientation
  • 98.6% felt better prepared to attend TCU after Orientation
  • 96% of students who attended Frog Camp were able to develop meaningful relationships with faculty and staff

Why Our Programs Work

Our programs are centered around relationships. Students create relationships that carry them from program to program and leaders develop relationships within SDS through FYE programs. As an office we have established various assessment practices for all of our programs. We don’t just collect data, we use it every time we make a change to a program. We have learned that 98% of campers were affirmed in their decision to attend TCU by attending Frog Camp. We always share our information during an annual stakeholders meeting through a summarized version so others can learn about the effectiveness of our programs and gain a sense for how to use assessment data while working with campus partners.


Challenging and Supporting the First-Year Student: A Handbook for Improving the First Year of College. M. Lee Upcraft, John N. Gardner, and Betsy O. Barefoot (Eds.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2005.

Marginality and Mattering: Key Issues in Building Community. Nancy K. Schlossberg. New Directions for Student Services, No. 48, 1989.

Sinek, S. (2011). Start with why: How great leaders inspire everyone to take action. Portfolio/Penguin.

To learn more about SDS programs that create connection visit:

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About the Presenters

Trung Nguyen earned a B.A. Public Justice from the State University of New York at Oswego, a M.A. in Student Affairs in Higher Education from Indiana University of Pennsylvania, and is a doctoral candidate in High Education Leadership. Trung joined the Student Development Services staff in the fall of 2012. Prior to coming to TCU, Trung developed first year experience programs at a private liberal arts school in New England and at community college in NY. In addition to working with new student programs, Trung has over ten years of student affairs experience including residential life, student activities, Greek Life, and leadership development. In his current role, he oversees the First Year experience program at TCU, which includes Orientation, Frog Camp, and Frogs Firsts.

Lindsay Knight earned a B.A. in Political Science and Criminal Justice from the University of Richmond and a M.Ed. in College Student Personnel and Counseling from the University of Maryland, College Park. In Lindsay’s current role she is primarily responsible for new student orientation and the first year experience within TCU Transitions Programming. Lindsay has previous experience in admissions, student activities and organizations, leadership development, and student conduct but her professional passion is working with first year students transitioning into college life. Lindsay is an active member of the National Orientation Director’s Association (NODA) and is MBTI certified.

Annie Bures earned a B.A. in Psychology and a M.Ed. in Educational Leadership from Southern Methodist University. She joined SDS in 2015 and is primarily responsible for Frogs First and first year experience programming. Annie previously worked in admissions at a private university in Texas and in development for a Dallas area non-profit foundation. Prior to coming to TCU, she completed a NODA internship with the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. Annie has previous experience in Greek Life, student organizations, honors programs, scholarship programs, and orientation.

Tyler L McClain

Assistant Director, Office of Research & Strategic Initiatives, Campus Labs

Dallas, TX