Student Success

By Sherry Bithell

Students walking into Garrison Hall South, the home of the new Center for Student Success, find themselves faced with three doors: to the right, the Office of Student Success; directly ahead, the John L. Stasiak Academic Link; and to the left, the Experiential Learning Center. It’s like a Choose Your Own Adventure story: Which doorway should they enter? Because of what the new center’s centralized location offers, the answer could be “all of them.”

Although the Center for Student Success is new, the University has long offered the services that now are all found in Garrison Hall South. As Christine Moran, Ph.D., Dean of Student Success, points out, what the center really offers is a centralized location for easy access to coaching, advising, and support.

“In universities across the country, student retention often drops between freshman and sophomore years,” says Moran. “We believe the center’s services and resources will help students maximize their academic potential, persist in their studies, and go on to graduate. For example, our Student Success Coaches assist traditional freshmen with their transition to college, educate students about University-wide expectations and resources, and guide them through a process of developing individualized plans for success.”

Additionally, she says, the center gives students a way to explore other resources that promote their academic success, such as tutoring and experiential learning opportunities, and to engage and connect with other members of the campus community.

The Office of Student Success

Terra Hall, Director of Student Support, was quick to learn one immediate benefit of the center’s location. “With the greater visibility of our offices, students and faculty are more prone to dropping in. We’re between the Brown School of Business and Leadership and the Rockland Center, so students walk past us all day. If there are students walking by whom I’ve been trying to contact, I can see them and walk out the door to talk with them.”

Because of this centralized location, Hall says, the center connects Stevenson’s mission of meeting students where they are—physically as well as personally.

The Office of Student Success, which helps transition freshmen students into college life, provides a holistic and comprehensive support network, says Moran. “Our success coaches help students develop individualized plans for success and supports them in all aspects of their college lives: academic, personal, social, and career. The goal is that by their sophomore year, students are equipped to navigate their college experience.” During their sophomore year, students work with faculty advisors who can use their discipline expertise to share information about their specific academic programs, coursework requirements, internships, research opportunities, and more.

As noted earlier in this article, retention is a national issue when it comes to getting students to return for their sophomore year. Yet Tasha Gooden, Director of Student Success, says that the office drills down even further, focusing on freshmen retention from fall to spring—and that Stevenson’s doing well in that area with a 93.6 percent retention rate.

“Having one person you can go to as a resource, I feel, is what has kept some students here,” she says. All freshmen are assigned to a Student Success Coach with whom they have four mandatory meetings in the fall and three in the spring. Within the first 10 days of school, the office saw 86 percent of the freshmen student body.

Gooden, who currently serves as one of the office’s five coaches, says that the goal is to build a relationship with the students. “I see the success coaching team also serving as life coaches to our students. How do we get students settled here and empower them to make the choices that will allow them to transition successfully in to their sophomore and later years? We want to get to know them. If students feel connected, they tend to do better. We build trust and in return they are pretty honest with us.”

Disability Services is another resource located in the Office of Student Success, providing individual services and support to students with disabilities. In addition, this office collaborates with various campus partners to ensure equal access to educational opportunities and facilitates accommodations that assist students in achieving their academic and professional goals.

Overall, Moran says of the Office of Student Success, “Our approach empowers students to take ownership of their academic success from the very beginning and provides a pathway for students identify and overcome obstacles that may impede their individual progress while allowing them to set goals and follow through on steps to achieve those goals.”

The Academic Link

Building on that model is the office’s new proximity to the John L. Stasiak Academic Link. Philip Gillett, Manager of the Academic Link on the Owings Mills campus, says he’s already seen change for the better, calling the new location “more prominent.”

It also helps with one of his goals, which is to increase awareness of the Link’s complimentary services, which include tutoring, testing, and mentoring.

When it comes to tutoring services, Gillett says, students can actively address their academic needs with a trained, upper-level peer. And setting up an appointment couldn’t be easier. “They can stop in, call our front desk, or make an appointment online.”

Maximizing tutors, resources, and the subsequent impact on student learning success, the specialized courses the Link provides tailored tutoring for courses identified as being among the most challenging. For the spring semester, for example, tutors were available for classes ranging from Organic Chemistry and Human Anatomy to Introduction to Statistics and General Physics.

The tutoring program is staffed by qualified peer tutors through the College Reading and Learning Association training program as well as several professional tutors in particularly challenging courses. The tutors themselves attend training workshops each semester to earn individual beginning, advanced, or master levels of certification. “We’re one of the largest student employers at the University,” says Gillett. “We have 45 peer tutors, 15 front desk receptionists, and three graduate students to support students.”

The Link’s testing services cover both make-up exams as well as exams requiring special accommodations, which are coordinated closely with the Office of Disability Services. Testing services in the Link also include placement testing for incoming freshmen during Mustang Days.

Comprising the mentoring aspect of the Link’s services for freshmen students is the Partnerships and Student Success (PASS) program, which is directed by the Academic Link and supported by the Admissions Office. PASS students work with Stevenson faculty and staff who have agreed to serve as mentors. The primary goal of PASS is to provide a one-on-one opportunity to help students transition to a college landscape.

“We already serve a large number of undergraduate students through all three services,” says Gillett. “Specifically, since the start of the 2016-2017 academic year, 758 students have utilized the Academic Link for more than 3,000 appointments. Our new location will give us even more exposure, so we hope to see those numbers continue to rise.”

The Experiential Learning Center

The concept of experiential learning is for students to take what they’ve learned in the classroom and apply that to real-world situations. In the Center for Student Success, opportunities to do so are offered through the Office of International and Off- Campus Study and the Office of Service-Learning.

Rebecca Pisano Ph.D., Associate Dean of International and Off Campus Study, firmly believes in the value of experiential learning when it comes to study abroad and domestic study away options. “These experiences equip students with firsthand knowledge and skills that enhance their Stevenson education and give them an edge in their future personal and professional pursuits.”

She, too, believes that the office’s new location in the Center for Student Success can only be advantageous. “Our new location is convenient for students to access and allows for obtaining information on multiple complementary experiences within one centralized location,” she says. “The Experiential Learning Center is also beneficial in that it enables our office to host events and meetings about the many study away options, both domestically and internationally, on site. We also host drop-in advising hours for students who have quick questions or want to connect with peer advisors that have knowledge and/or personal experience in study abroad/away.”

In addition to her administrative role in the Center for Student Success, Moran oversees the Office of Service-Learning, which she calls a powerful form of experiential education. “It enhances opportunities for learning and student development—academically, personally, civically, and professionally,” she says.

Service-learning offers both short- and long-term opportunities, Moran adds. “Students in service-learning courses are actively engaged in authentic, hands-on experiences which help them become skilled in relating theory with practice, ultimately, making them competent and competitive in their respective fields, while enhancing their employment opportunities.”

Steering Students in the Right Direction

The most important takeaway about the new Center for Student Success, in Gooden’s opinion: “We serve as a compass for all students to help them navigate successfully at Stevenson. We can direct students to the resources they need to be successful. And they can then map their own direction, not just in college but in life.”

Thanks to the new center’s set-up, a freshman student can now walk into Garrison Hall South, take a right, and meet with his or her Student Success Coach. Based on that conversation, the student could then decide to drop in at the Academic Link and make an appointment for tutoring or testing. Finally—and possibly inspired by the visits to the other offices—the student can walk into the Office of Experiential Learning to find out what opportunities will enhance his or her education. And all as soon as day one of class.

As Moran says, “This one-stop-shop model truly helps us meet our students where they are.”