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The Scarlet

The student newspaper of Clark University

The Scarlet

The student newspaper of Clark University

The Scarlet

Navigating Navigator: Clark’s First-Year Experience

Leo Kerz
The faded lettering “LEEP” on the entrance of Clark’s Dana Commons. Clark’s Liberal Education and Effective Practice (LEEP) is an academic framework launched in 2012.

If you’ve arrived to Clark only recently, you might have shuddered upon just seeing the word “Navigator” again. We may recall long lines, confusion, finding out what Pathway requirements were two weeks before finals, and other such frustrations. Yet, Navigator was also the program that connected me to some of my closest friends, an advisor that I knew I could count on and a Peer Mentor to advocate for me and help me acclimate to college life. 

We all have an opinion on how Navigator went, and sometimes those opinions border on strong. I recall the many fiery rants from one of my roommates during this time period. Because of this, I set out on an investigation to find out what exactly this program is, who is running it, and what we can expect to see for the future for other incoming first-years onto campus. How do we make sure we are getting the most out of this program, and what improvements can be made to it? Through several interviews with the people involved, I sought answers to these questions.

First and foremost, what exactly is Navigator? According to its 2023-2024 Canvas page, “The Navigator is a first-year experience program for incoming first year students…Students discuss ways to acclimate to Clark University through a social, academic and personal lens.” 

This program is multifaceted, with three major components. First, the students in a First-Year Intensive (FYI) course will have the same Navigator session. Essentially, you will be spending a lot of time with the people from your FYI. It operated like a class session, with your Peer Mentor (PM) rather than your FYI professor. My Navigator session was on Wednesdays from 1:30 – 2:20 p.m., but others had Navigator on Thursdays from 12:00 – 12:50 PM, as the Canvas page notes. In these in-person sessions, a PM directed the students in activities related to how college life works. 

Another component to Navigator was the outside activities. “In parallel with the Navigator Journey,” the Canvas explainer reads, “students will be required to participate in at least 10 experiences as a part of Navigator.” Some of these activities “will be completed as a group during the scheduled time,” but others “will be more individualized where students can choose their own experience.” 

Students in the Navigator program were required to attend the Involvement Fair, Community Engagement Fair, Fresh Check Day and the Majors Fair. These were scheduled during in-person Navigator time. Students also had to attend other events, to make sure that they were getting involved in campus life. 

The third component to Navigator were the assignments, which were reflections submitted onto Canvas to receive feedback from your First-Year Success Advisor (FYSA).

My second question that comes after the what is surely the why. Simply put, Navigator is trying to support students in their transition from high school to college. “The first semester as a new incoming student will feel differently for every person,” Wesley Boucher, the Director of First Year and Sophomore Experience, explained to me. “The goal is to create a common and shared experience among peers.” 

This program has existed at Clark since 2018, and only started going by the name of “Navigator” in 2020, according to Danielle Morgan Acosta, the Associate Dean for Student Success, Student Engagement and Belonging. 


Many may remember Fresh Check Day from the fall semester. We associate this day with long lines tucked in the small corner of Atwood Plaza for the entire freshman class, and of course whoever else wanted to participate. I remember the line of kids stretching out across the grass leading to the plaza.

In figuring out what went wrong for this specific example, it’s important to recognize the separation of powers here. I asked Boucher if Navigator has to go through other organizations to plan their events. 

“It has to be a collaboration, so we make sure we are paying attention to the experts in the room,” he told me. Acosta had also informed me that Wellness Education in particular plans Fresh Check Day. 

I sought out Leah Hall, the new Director of Wellness Education, and asked her about the planning of Fresh Check Day. She became the Director in August, when plans for Fresh Check Day were already solidified by administrators. She was apprehensive about there being enough room in Atwood Plaza. “The Fresh Check plans were already made, and I was just told what to do. I was told, ‘yes, the space will be big enough.’” Despite Hall’s concerns, Fresh Check Day was set to be held in that tiny space.

Now, what of the content of Fresh Check Day? Hall gave me important context: Fresh Check Day is not just a “Clark thing.” It’s an initiative of the Jordan Porco Foundation, a non-profit that promotes mental health. The Foundation designs most of the programming. “It happens at Clark, Holy Cross, WPI, and across the country,” Hall said. “It can give students information on how to recognize suicidal ideation within themselves or friends.” 

But, Hall also emphasized that it was not just about suicide. For example, she explained the “Know Your Limit” booth, which was to make people aware of how alcohol affects them, without judging their habits. 

Despite the mayhem of that day, Hall wanted to point out the successes of Fresh Check Day as well: “It was really nice to see students interacting with staff and other students.” She also has plans to improve upon the event. “I want to have a committee of both staff and students, which is more helpful in terms of having more hands in the event,” Hall said. “The event is supposed to be uplifting, affirming. Students don’t necessarily get that context until they’re there. We should focus on making it more clear what the event is about, and its overall nature.” 

On the space, Hall told me: “Atwood Plaza is way too tiny. I would like to see [Fresh Check Day] moved to Red Square, if it continues to be required.”

Should Fresh Check Day be required for Navigator students? If we want mental health to be a part of the conversation, it is worth discussing how it should be explored. “Peer Mentors used to talk about mental health with the students in the past, but people thought a Fresh Check Day was better,” Acosta told me. 

Indeed, a Fresh Check Day would be the better option of these two. It allows students to come or go as they please, as long as they check-in at some point. If the space was handled more efficiently, I can see this event being important for those who need it and easily escapable for those who do not. 

“For some folks who maybe have not had the space to think about mental health,” said Boucher, “it’s an opportunity to have that moment to promote self-reflection.” 

Communication between the different organizational levels of the Navigator program was essential for making that day happen, too. 

Evan Berry, a First-Year Success Advisor, told me that the Division of Student Success and FYSAs co-create plans often. From there, FYSAs will bring plans to the Peer Mentors. 

“FYSAs will frequently email their PMs with regards to updates/information that is pertinent to their role,” said Berry. “FYSAs also hold weekly meetings in a one-on-one or group setting.”

PMs then will tell the students the plan. Theola Ofurie, a Peer Mentor, thinks that this communication could be improved upon. “The FYSA was mostly always available, and there was an ability to bond. The problem was with the people at the tippity top. Sometimes the FYSAs didn’t even know what was going on.” 

Ofurie described the chaos of Fresh Check Day to me: “There was no communication between the FYSAs and directors and us,” she said. “There were people giving out different instructions. I felt bad for you guys, I didn’t know what was going on.” 

I asked Ofurie how she would fix the communication from Student Success going forward. “They need to ask PMs what students need,” she replied. “We are more in contact with the students. Throughout the semester, we’re with you guys. They’re not in any direct contact with the students,” she said, in reference to administrators. 

PMs can make observations about students that the Division of Student Success and sometimes the FYSAs cannot make. They know their students, and in order to run the program efficiently, they need to be able to have access to accurate directions. 

The role of Peer Mentors is also worth investigating. As a first-year’s first contact with Clark, Peer Mentors are the backbone of the program. 

I asked Ofurie what kind of training she needed to do for this position. In addition to some summer assignments, she described being on campus two weeks prior to classes starting and being up in the morning training until night. 

“It was mainly presentations, listening to people talk. I wanted to be more hands-on, to know what it’s actually gonna be like,” she said. She preferred being given a list of what was necessary to do. “I need a list of things that would be helpful for me and my mentees. We should’ve spent time going through week-by-week. We never really went over the pamphlet of activities.” 

I asked Ofurie if she received any payment for her work. She received a $1,500 stipend. “I was up from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. doing work, running events for Clark After Dark, which was not in the job description. [The stipend is] significantly lower than what we should be getting,” Ofurie said. 

Despite the grievances she had with some of the aspects of the program, she said she enjoyed the position. “I’m glad I became a PM. I wanted to provide a good experience for students. I hope to see the program evolve.”


Navigator’s biggest requirement was the Pathways, called “experiences” on the Canvas page: “students will be required to participate in at least 10 experiences as a part of Navigator,” it reads. 

The options are supposed to be listed in Canvas and on Engage. But the Canvas page never directly stated where on Engage the Pathways information was. I kept expecting to see it on a sidebar, and my friend had to inform me at dinner around the end of November that I actually had to click on my profile picture to find it. 

Ofurie said someone had to tell her how to find the information, too. 

Berry, the FYSA, clarified to me that the Pathway requirement information was introduced at orientation and was included in various reminder emails. However, during orientation, some information can be lost. “It’s orientation, a lot of information is being thrown at you,” Ofurie admitted.

Whether the Pathway requirements are necessary is a different conversation entirely. “When students are engaged in programs, they feel a stronger sense of connection to the institution and community,” Boucher told me. It can be very important for students to leave their dorm and attend events. Yet, there may be a problem with tracking them. 

“Only 30% of clubs in Engage took attendance through Corq” Associate Dean Acosta said. “There are 370 programs in Pathway that students can choose from. Which seems promising. But, we are working to cultivate more options.” 

Students were encouraged to go to events in five different categories. Acosta told me that these categories were “the Clark Five,” which included “Explore, Connect, Discover, Develop, and Reflect.” This can complicate the search for things to do. I had events covered in some categories, but not others. I attended a lot of talks by professors, but those were not counted. Acosta informed me that FYSAs could count events individually, which I wish I knew sooner. 

As always, programs struggle with the concept of what should and should not be mandatory. Ofurie told me that these requirements can create more stress. “It can be seen as peer pressure. You need to be this successful, or have made five friends by this time. Not everybody can be at the same pace,” she said. 

This can be a valid concern for those who feel constrained by requirements. On the other hand, they can be helpful for those that need a little coaxing to go out into the community. There needs to be a balance between encouragement and leeway. I think Navigator did this well for me, as I was not punished for not technically completing all of the Clark Five. Both my FYSA and my PM were well aware that I was out in the community. I think this case-by-case basis is a good way to go about things, and perhaps the Clark Five can serve as a suggestion rather than a requirement.


The Navigator program is one that continues to evolve. Boucher started his role as the Director of First Year and Sophomore Experience in January of this year, and Hall (the Director of Wellness Education) has a plan going forward about Fresh Check Day. “You all deserve to have an event that is going to work for what is needed for all of you,” she told me. 

Acosta is hoping to make goals for improving the program. “Having better communication and a better sense of ‘why’ is a big goal of mine for the upcoming year,” Acosta said. “We continue to get feedback from students and FYSAs,” she said. 

The novelty of the leadership and the emphasis on improving these plans helps me feel optimistic for the future of this program.

I hope to see Navigator become more personalizable. Students’ needs must be met on a case-by-case basis, I believe, and PMs and FYSAs should be more involved in making that happen. If first-years only want to answer one or two prompts on the Canvas page, they should know that they are allowed to do so. If students fulfill their Pathway requirements in certain types of events but not others, we should recognize that they are still getting involved. PMs especially know their students, and should be given some more leeway in how they handle class sessions and events. 

Navigator helped me meet some of my best friends. It helped me form a trusting relationship with another student whom I knew I could ask anything. It gave me a connection to a faculty member that can help me find my way through the tumultuous changes of my first year of college. It helped me in getting to know my FYI professor. It introduced me to the community and the clubs that this school has to offer. 

“People tend to focus on the bad things more than the good things” when it comes to this program,” Ofurie told me. Although Navigator annoyed us first-years in many ways, it did help us. I think there is considerable hope for this program going forward, and I look on with interest to see what the class of 2028’s experience will be.

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