Being a teaching assistant changed Thia Wolf’s life. She was a PhD candidate in English literature at Miami University in Ohio, tutoring struggling undergraduates, when she asked questions that grip her to this day: Why is it that people learn? How can that be translated into course work to make them better learners? She was struck by the “fascinating change students make from a struggling freshman to a confident student in a major, in two short years. What happened?”
Wolf convinced Miami to let her do a doctorate in composition, and she began a career helping students with literacy and learning. While directing writing programs at CSU, Northridge, Wolf saw there was an opening at CSU, Chico. “I’d met [Chico State professors] Lois Bueler and Tom Fox at an English Council meeting, and thought at the time, ‘They would be great to work with.’ Once I got the job, I realized I was right.”
After joining the Department of English in 1989, Wolf eventually headed the University Writing Center and worked on interdepartmental programs such as Course Link, which establishes common classes that groups of freshmen can take. Those experiences, coupled with her interest in student learning, led Wolf to take on the leadership of Chico’s First Year Experience program in 2005. She saw an opportunity to blend President Zingg’s call for increased civic engagement by students with her growing conviction that people learn best when focused on a common endeavor.
The result has been the Town Hall Meetings, organized the past four semesters by freshmen. Wolf says she “knew that first-year students did not see themselves in the larger public arena that the University aspired for them to be in—this was a way for course work to connect with the world beyond the classroom.” Surveys to date show freshmen find the town halls rewarding. If that translates into excited students and successful college careers, Thia Wolf will be much closer to untangling the mysteries of student learning.