Innovation Nation is our first-year experience program for new business students. Innovation Nation unites all of our freshmen in a living-learning community headquartered at the Weatherford and Poling residence halls. Living-learning communities create intentional and casual collisions for student entrepreneurs, business leaders and mentors.

We sat down with Sandy Neubaum, the director of student engagement, to get the inside scoop on the program. 

 Oregon State College of Business



What are the key aspects of the first-year experience, and what benefits do they provide to our new students?


  • One of the main aspects of Innovation Nation is the living-learning communities, where the vast majority of incoming College of Business first-year students live in one of two business residence halls. These living-learning communities allow like-minded students to live, learn and build community together.
  • Living-learning communities also allow for a lot of face-to-face time with first-year instructors. The instructors’ offices are within the student residence halls, giving students easy access to a point person who is able to support and refer them to resources (both on and off campus) for academic, professional, personal, and social well-being and growth.
  • From the moment they step on campus, Innovation Nation students are introduced to business by taking the B-Engaged series in fall, winter and spring terms of their first year. In the fall, students take a course designed to help them transition into the university and explore resources available to them. The class, taught within the residence halls, allows students to explore themselves as leaders and gives them an opportunity to work in teams to solve problems in our community as well as in their personal lives. In the fall and spring, students form teams and are introduced to foundational business knowledge through managing community projects or launching and running their own microenterprises.
  • Students in Innovation Nation are connected with programming and events across campus as well in the College of Business. While attending these events alongside their peers and instructors, students are encouraged to explore their new campus and build community. They'll hear from business leaders and College of Business alumni every week, and will be involved in engagement activities related to health and well-being, career and college readiness, and cultural competency.

Do other colleges on campus have similar programs, or do any business colleges at other universities?

  • Higher education trends show that if students are going to leave an institution, it happens between their first and second years. To combat this issue and increase retention and graduation rates, many universities have turned to intentional first-year experience programming.
  • Programming related to the first-year experience is an increasingly common practice across the nation. Focusing on students' transition to college and providing ample resources throughout their first year have proven to be important to student success.
  • There are plenty of colleges, universities and even organizations leading this type of work specifically the National Resource Center (for first-year students and students in transition) & NODA (a higher education organization focused on orientation/transition/retention).

What does the research say about living-learning communities?

  • “Participating in learning communities is uniformly and positively linked with student academic performance, engagement in educationally fruitful activities (such as academic integration, active and collaborative learning, and interaction with faculty members), gains associated with college attendance, and overall satisfaction with the college experience.” – Zhao & Kuh

Wouldn’t it be better for students to live among students from lots of colleges rather than just business?

  • Living among like-minded peers in a community that promotes engagement, civic-mindedness, creativity and a variety of other skills allows students to work together toward a common goal and study and learn in the same space, and allows ease of access to a variety of services and resources. Last year in our smaller cohort (2016, roughly 109 students), students claimed living in the LLC as their favorite experience since they were all “going through similar experiences together.” Importantly, our students interact with the full OSU community in all bacc core courses for their first two years. 

Will researchers study our first-year experience programs to measure their impact?

  • We have our own assessment built in throughout the program. Our students will be assessed coming into their first week, at the end of each term, and at the end of their year to analyze learning and growth and also to provide us with more information on how we can improve the experience for future students.
  • Over time, we will also be able to track larger outcomes related to the program such as retention and graduation rates.

What led to us to expand our existing programming to include all first-year students?

  • Over the last 10 years, the Austin Entrepreneurship Program has served as a first-year experience program for a number of incoming first-year College of Business students. Students lived in the Weatherford Residential College and went through their first-year business classes together as a cohort.
  • Over the years, the College of Business has seen a dramatic difference in retention from first-year students who participated in the Weatherford Residential College versus those who did not (a 20 percent difference). At the end of the 2015-16 school year, approximately 90 percent of these students planned to return to the College of Business for a second year. This retention rate is much higher than you’ll see within the college or campus-wide. This is our goal for all students. 
  • Because of its success, this year we are expanding the programming so that all incoming first-year students in the College of Business can receive the benefits associated with an intentional program like Innovation Nation.

What happens if a second-year student likes living at Weatherford or Poling so much he or she wants to stay there as a sophomore, junior, etc.?

  • If a second-year student loves his or her first-year experience so much that they want to come back, we count that as a sign we’re doing something right. Second-, third-, and fourth-year students who are interested in returning to the living-learning communities are welcomed back. Having upperclassmen engaged in the activities and serving as mentors to first-year students can only strengthen the program.