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Supporting Students

January 4, 2018
four students talking
Student Olivia Cole (center)—a peer mentor and a resident assistant—meets with students Tanner Young, Leslie Podjun and Ismael Jimenez in the common area of McIntyre Hall.

Student success and support services help UW students achieve their goals.

By Micaela Myers

As a first-year student, Abigail Madden participated in Fall Bridge (formerly Synergy), a program that provides a learning community complete with small composition and first-year seminar classes, peer mentors, priority enrollment and first-year advising. After experiencing the program firsthand, the kinesiology and dance science major, now a junior, signed up to be a peer mentor herself.

“I liked how they had an upperclassman in the class with you to learn some ropes,” says Madden, of Laramie. “They helped with college life in general. After I finished my fall semester, I thought, ‘I’d like to do that.’ ”

There are currently 25 peer mentors in Bridge programs. The mentors help in first-year seminar classes and organize out-of-class activities—from study sessions to fun get-togethers—to help new students gain a feeling of community and support. Incoming students often feel more comfortable talking to peers about issues they’re having, so peer mentors are trained on all campus resources.

“The demographics of students have shifted nationwide, and no less here,” says Anne Alexander, associate vice provost for undergraduate education. “We have a lot of first-generation students. If you don’t have a support system, it’s a lot more difficult. You’re thrown in to figure it out on your own. We want to change that.”

Fall Bridge is one of a suite of programs designed to help UW improve student success and retention. As part of the five-year strategic plan, UW hopes to increase student participation in support services from 16 to 25 percent by 2022. The university also hopes to bring retention of first-time, full-time bachelor’s degree-seeking students from 78 to 80 percent and four- and six-year graduation rates for undergraduates from 25.8 and 54.4 percent, respectively, to 33 and 60 percent, respectively, by 2022.

“Those things will be good for Wyoming, and they will pay dividends to the state,” Alexander says, adding that additional college graduates will help diversify the state’s economy.

Learning Resource Networks

UW’s Learning Resource Networks (LeaRN) oversees a set of programs focused on academic success and student engagement, including Fall Bridge, Summer Bridge, Freshmen Interests Groups, STEP Tutoring Center, supplemental instruction and resources for faculty members.

April Heaney, director of LeaRN, says that the programs focus on the four pillars of student success: financial capability, personal wellness, academic preparedness and sense of belonging.

“I think that’s LeaRN’s real mission: trying to hit as many of those pillars as we can with our programs,” she says.

LeaRN’s first-year programs, which currently include around 700 participants, have a track record of success. Students who participate in Freshmen Interests Groups (FIGS) are grouped by their major or interests. They live together and take courses together. FIGS produce around an 11 percent gain in first-year to second-year retention. Fall Bridge creates a 6 to 8 percent retention boost. New to the lineup is Summer Bridge, which targets incoming students who are math underprepared. The students study math during a summer intensive and then are able to retake the math placement exam. Experienced faculty members teach Bridge courses, and the classes include an associated adviser to connect students with financial services and academic and career counseling.

two women looking at a laptop computer
STEP tutor Stephanie Mapes (right) helps Carolina Chong Liao with physics during a tutoring session in Coe Library.

The STEP Tutoring Center, another successful LeaRN program, offers free tutoring in Coe Library for highly challenging lower-division courses. Since it opened in 2014, more than 17,000 tutoring appointments have been made with trained tutors. STEP’s data show that students who spend between three and seven hours in tutoring for a class improve their grades.

Stephanie Mapes of Buellton, Calif., who will graduate this May with her master’s degree in astrophysics and STEM education, is one of the STEP tutors. “I think having a free tutoring place on campus is really important,” she says. “It’s really good for people to have that resource, and most college students can’t afford to get a private tutor.”

Madison Davis, a junior geology major from Cheyenne, has visited STEP for a variety of classes. “I feel like it’s definitely improved my grades. They know where you’re at and what you need help with,” she says, adding that individual instruction helps different types of learners succeed. “It’s also very convenient. They have vast hours, even on the weekends.”

LeaRN also facilitates supplemental instruction—a series of study sessions led by a student who has taken the class before. “Approximately 90 percent of students who go to supplemental instruction three or more times get a passing grade in the class, versus 60 percent of students who don’t go,” says Jess Willford, who coordinates the program as well as the STEP Tutoring Center.

LeaRN now also oversees eTutoring and online supplemental instruction and helped launch Poke Notes—a weekly digest to keep students informed of important dates and events each week.

Transfer Success Center

Taking the lead from LeaRN’s successful programs, the planned Transfer Success Center will offer services to improve the retention of transfer students, who make up 42 percent of UW’s incoming students.

“Their persistence and retention are lagging behind that of our freshmen, so we have a lot of opportunity to help meet transfer students’ needs,” says Mary Aguayo, who took on the role of director of transfer relations in August. “I’d like to work with students from when they confirm their enrollment all the way through to registering for their third semester of classes at UW.”

Programs will include peer mentors, a communication plan and increased onboarding services. For example, as a new onboarding service, UW representatives now visit Wyoming community colleges to provide orientation and registration services on site. They also plan to offer online orientation.

Aguayo says they will use predictive analytics to target interventions. “A great example is that we know when students come in with very few earned credit hours, they’re more at risk,” she says. “One thing I’d like to do right away is deliver a first-year seminar class specifically for them.”

This spring, UW is piloting an academic recovery class specifically for transfer students who are on academic probation during their second semester.

“We’ve seen that the targeted interventions have made a difference in student success, which is so critical to our access mission,” Aguayo says. “Now, it’s really time to turn our attention to the transfer students and deliver that same kind of service, intervention and support so that they can achieve their goals as well.”

The center will also continue to refine and update the 2-plus-2 articulation agreements made with Wyoming community colleges and work to make the transfer process as seamless as possible. Articulation agreements ensure that community college courses transfer to UW and count toward students’ degrees.

Advising, Career, Exploratory Studies

The Advising, Career, Exploratory Studies Center (ACES) also plays a key role for both first-year students and transfer students. The center will coordinate the training and evaluation of academic advisers on campus to ensure best practices, including consistent, available and student-success-centered advising. Like the peer mentors, the advisers will help students navigate the university system and find the resources they need to succeed.

“They will work with students to understand what their aspirations are for after college,” Alexander says. “They’re going to be able to help them navigate financial aid deadlines and scholarships. It will be a relationship that develops over time. That relationship piece is really where we’re changing things.” (Click here to learn more about ACES in the “From College to Career” article.)

Students First

Increased efforts aimed at student success and retention are part of how the strategic plan is placing students first.

“I think as you read through the strategic plan, you’ll realize that it’s a road map with the student in the driver’s seat. It is very much a plan to help us be better at serving students,” says Kyle Moore, associate vice provost for enrollment management. “The plan’s empirical value is that it’s absolutely focused on getting the student from wherever they’re at when they reach UW to where they are improved, empowered and uplifted when they leave. We hope that journey includes growth, development and graduation as a member of the great force of UW alumni.”

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