Meeting Students Where They Are
Student Success Initiative uses decentralized approach to help students be academically successful and career-ready
This fall, students at the University of Idaho have a new guide in their higher education journey.
But it’s not a person, a department or even a place that will help UI students reach their educational and career goals — it’s a mindset dedicated to taking student support services across campus and meeting students where they are, physically and in their academic journeys.
UI Provost & Executive Vice President John Wiencek launched the Student Success Initiative in January 2017. Led by Strategic Enrollment Management Vice Provost Dean Kahler, the initiative’s focus is on helping students graduate from UI, going on to have successful lives and careers.
One of the central components of the initiative is the Vandal Success Center on the third floor of the Idaho Commons. Opening this fall, the center serves as home base for tutoring and academic support, supplemental instruction, the Writing Center, Career Services, the Honors Program, Ravens Scholars, Veterans Services, and other programs. But the initiative goes beyond reorganizing offices, Kahler said.
“The Student Success Initiative is wrapped around a common space, where students can go study in a lab, have a resource room, talk to an employer, interview for a job, learn how to write a resume,” he said. “Then, it’s really important for us to take that entire wraparound service model and be able to provide it all over the campus. The more we can provide it all over campus, the better.”
Connecting with a Career
Career Services is playing a central role in the initiative. Under Director Chris Cook, Career Services is reaching out to students in new ways — from embedded career advisors in colleges, to an increase in employer visits and workshops, to traveling to UI’s centers statewide. Through that effort, Cook said Career Services saw a 37 percent increase in student engagement.
“We’re committed to going to where those students are,” Cook said. “It’s easy to push messages out electronically, but individual, face-to-face interaction is at the core of our educational mission.”
UI is using a new software by Starfish Retention Solutions, which allows advisors across campus to track a student’s progress and identify students in need of academic intervention. It’s all part of bringing industry standard best practices for student services and retention to UI, as well as emphasizing career readiness and successful outcomes.
“We’re going to be looking at how do we best serve our students in getting them started into their careers,” Kahler said. “The end result will be from the day that we start recruiting a student, we’ll be talking about career paths and salaries and making good decisions about where they want to go. We’re looking at connecting them with employers early in their college careers, so they can write good resumes, go to career fairs and talk with employers.”
Too many students wait until their senior year to engage with Career Services, Cook said. The new approach will show them how the office — along with UI’s other student support services — can help Vandals explore their options earlier and learn skills that will prepare them for life after graduation.
“Career exploration and finding your occupation is a journey. It’s not a static or one-time outcome. You’re always going through phases,” Cook said. “We’re trying to create awareness, and hopefully that leads to engagement and positive outcomes for all. Career Services’ goal remains steadfast in helping UI students and alumni connect to the next transition in their life.”
A Commitment to Students
The initiative’s goals speak to Kahler’s own passion for helping students find success in life.
“When we admit somebody, we are committed to that student — to graduating that student and helping them reach their educational objective. When they drop out, then we fail. And I can’t have that,” he said. “The Student Success Initiative is all about addressing that — taking every student seriously and helping them reach their educational objective.”
Article by Savannah Tranchell, University Communications & Marketing