Courtney Loos was feeling disconnected from her fellow first-year students at St. Ambrose, concerned about her academic standing, and overwhelmed by the challenges of combining work and school.
"I was struggling," said Loos, a commuter student from Davenport. "And I didn't know if there was any help for me."
There was help, ready and waiting.
Sherri Erkel, Loos' academic advisor and staff instructor in the New Student Seminar, had a sense Loos was adrift but said she couldn't pinpoint why. When the student detailed her problems via a MAP-Works early intervention program computer survey, Erkel knew how to respond.
"There were a lot of factors that were hampering her ability to succeed," said Erkel director of the First Year Experience office. "When I got her survey results, I could say, ‘OK, here's how we can help.' I introduced her to the Student Success Center to get tutoring and helped her have a conversation with her employer on the number of hours she could work. All these things came together."
And at the end of the school year, Loos happily phoned Erkel with the news she had earned a passing grade in the math class she had feared she would fail. "And she was so excited to come back," Erkel said. "That was good for all of us to have that experience."
Bringing first-year students back as St. Ambrose sophomores is a primary mission of First Year Experience.
Much of what constitutes First Year Experience-New Student Seminar, Welcome Week, service learning, faculty advising and peer mentoring-pre-dated the program, but none of those operated under a single umbrella.
"Prior to strategic planning, we were finding this group was over here doing this and this group was over here doing another thing," said Tracy Schuster-Matlock, PhD, dean of university academic programs. "Sherri is the air traffic control person, making sure that the right hand not only is talking to the left hand, but that they complement each other's work."
Part of that coordination is fostered by the use of MAP-Works, a program of voluntary web-based surveys to assess college success indicators such as personal adjustment, level of homesickness and hours devoted to study.
SAU response rates to four surveys issued during the 2011-12 school year shattered national response rates, said Paul Koch, PhD, vice president of academic and student affairs.
More importantly, Erkel said, MAP-Works and the coordinated focus placed on first-year students helped keep Courtney Loos and other struggling new-to-college students from packing their books and calling it quits.
"At the end of the day, the number that matters most is retention and then, more than that, the number that matters will be persistence in our graduation rates," she said. "Because if a student stays from first to second year, they are more likely to continue to graduation."
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