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First-year students flock to FLC

First-year students flock to FLC

Before Amaya Terry (Ojibwe) had even graduated from high school, she knew she wanted a bachelor’s degree in engineering. However, because of the pandemic, she was struggling in her college search. College fairs were canceled and since her high school was 100% online, she couldn’t drop in to see guidance counselors. 

Without events and chats with counselors, Terry felt a lot of the information she needed to make her college decision was missing. It wasn’t until the summer, just weeks before classes started, that she learned a community college track recommended to her wouldn’t set her up with the transferable credits she wanted for a bachelor’s program. So, she made a game-time decision to attend Fort Lewis College. As soon as she connected with FLC, things started to feel much easier for Terry.

“I had so many people from Admission call me to just see if everything was going OK and if I needed anything, and I Zoom-called Patrick Fredricks (assistant director of Admission) a lot,” she laughs. “He was my go-to and helped me figure everything out—housing, meal plans, what my classes would look like, and finances.”

Being on Zoom speed dial is certainly a product of the pandemic, but the Admission team is happy to enhance their one-on-one support for prospective and incoming students. As a result, the Fall 2021 first-year class is the largest in 17 years, with 960 new students.

Admission experience mirrors academic experience

Current students know well the many benefits of attending FLC: smaller classes that are individualized, countless opportunities to connect with peers inside and outside of the classroom, and getting to work and build relationships with faculty. With those unique advantages in mind, the Admission team has been focused on creating a close-knit experience for prospective students as well.

“We’ve been working really hard to make sure the experience prospective students have in learning about FLC is authentic to the experience they will have as students,” says Jess Savage, director of Admission. “The Admission team is open and accessible, and happy to meet one-on-one and in person—all things students can expect in their academic experience.”

For the last year, FLC has been one of few colleges consistently offering in-person campus visits. Prospective students can meet with knowledgeable counselors, many of whom are FLC alumni, as well as professors. A tour of the stunning campus mesa convinces a lot of prospective students to become Skyhawks, but it’s the people who help students fall in love with FLC. 

Fredricks says families often tell him how meaningful it is to bump into faculty, staff, or administrators while on a tour and hear candid takes on what makes campus so great. 

“Students and their families are so grateful they can see us in person and love that they truly get to know faculty and staff,” he says. “One parent emailed us to say FLC is a ‘shining example of what it means to be inclusive, kind, and engaging.’ That compliment affirms that we’re not just talking about these things, but actually making sure our families and students are experiencing them.”

In class and in person

Even though Terry’s first time on campus—and in Colorado—was move-in day, the community felt familiar and full of friendly faces. With the preparation from Admission, she was ready to jump right into her academics and start her engineering degree head and hands-on. After spending her senior year of high school taking classes online, Terry is excited for in-person interactions both academically and socially.

“I’m a visual learner and I’m a people person,” says Terry. “Online learning [in high school] wasn’t too horrible, but it was definitely challenging. I’m so excited to be actually interacting with my teachers, and not just through a screen. It’s so much less stressful.”

Terry has been delighted to get calculus help at the Peer Education Center, which according to Michelle Bonanno, director of the Academic Hub, has seen its busiest opening three weeks ever. 

“This new group of students is really open and excited to connect with resources and a community of support,” says Bonanno, who also directs the First-Year Experience and teaches English. “For this class, in particular, they’re looking for support coming out of COVID. It feels even more pressing to have instructors, staff, and peers who care about you and will reach out to you across a distance.”

Everyone on campus plays a role in the FLC support system, and after a year of distance learning without in-person engagement, there’s a particular warmth and welcomeness that current and prospective students alike can feel.

"The pandemic taught us about the importance of community. We’ve always known Fort Lewis to be close-knit, but COVID has helped us discover again the importance of caring."


“The pandemic taught us about the importance of community,” says FLC Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs Cheryl Nixon. “We’ve always known Fort Lewis to be close-knit, but COVID has helped us discover again the importance of caring.” 

The most diverse student body ever

Thanks to the large incoming class, FLC’s enrollment bumped up to 3,550, with 3,443 undergraduates and 107 graduate students. This year’s Skyhawks are from all corners of the country and across the globe. Students of color now make up 59% of the student body, representing 185 Native American tribes and Alaska Native villages, all 50 states, Guam and Puerto Rico, and 27 countries. 

For years, FLC has seen an annual increase in student body diversity and a nearly 10% increase since 2018 when students of color first represented more than half of all students. Diversity, equity, and inclusion are central aspects of the strategic plan adopted in 2019, as well as a major focus for the Board of Trustees.

Just last week, the U.S. News & World Report ranked FLC in the top ten for campus ethnic diversity at national liberal arts colleges. FLC is also one of the top 25 public liberal arts colleges in the country, providing unmatched learning opportunities in a culturally inclusive environment. 

“A lot of our students may at first doubt their success or their position in class, but as faculty, we make sure to show them and tell them that they do belong here,” says Bonanno. “We have so many successful students of color and first-gen students who have found a wonderful academic home here. College might feel scary, and they may be the first in their family to attend, but FLC feels like the place they can give it a try. They know we can help them make it happen here.”

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