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Student Success projects information

Spectrum Volume 19 Issue 30 - May 1, 1997

The Committee for Student Success was appointed by Virginia Tech Provost Peggy Meszaros to recommend efforts that will enhance undergraduate-student success. The committee is charged with identifying ways to mold the culture of the university to focus on learning. The intention is to build Virginia Tech as a model land-grant learning community.

In particular, a major change lies ahead--the new academic-eligibility policy is scheduled to be implemented beginning with the entering class of 1997. The policy states that the "minimum standard for academic good standing is a cumulative QCA of 2.0." Passage of this policy was contingent on assurances to enhance support for students.

Delores Scott, director of the Center for Academic Enrichment and Enhancement said, "We should not make the assumption that students come to the university possessing the skills that are required. Rather, we should enable students to make sound academic choices."

The Committee for Student Success is working to develop a learning-focused support system. Chaired by John Fulton, vice provost for academic affairs, the committee intends to identify intervention strategies that can be used university-wide. In the 1996-97 academic year, 18 pilot projects were funded for the purpose of testing methods that foster student success. A total of $400,000 funds these projects.

According to Felica Blanks, coordinator of Student Success Projects, the 18 programs began operating this semester and are working towards specified goals and objectives. "The projects can be categorized as developmental interventions or preventive interventions," Blanks said. "The developmental interventions enable students to acquire the attitudes, behaviors and skills that are required for student success. Developmental activities include peer-group mentoring, tutoring, recitation, and intensified coursework. The preventive interventions enable students to make informed choices to avert academic difficulty. Preventive measures include profiling students by courses, summer bridge sessions, study-skills workshops, and improving faculty/student interaction."

Blanks said, "Clearly, all of the project directors are committed to the student-success initiative. This enthusiasm transfers to the students who are participating."

"The Student Success Projects have energized the campus community to focus on how we can improve undergraduate learning and performance," said Elizabeth Guertin, director of the University Academic Advising Center. "A significant number of faculty members and administrators from across the university are devoting energy and creativity to developing programs that will enhance the success of our undergraduate students and programs."

The Physics Department developed a special pilot section of Physics 2175 that meets five hours per week for the standard three hours of credit. According to physics Professor Dale Long, "Three things are making a difference. It is an intensified course with more class time required, personal interaction, and availability of course notes. There are some students for whom there seems to be a clear success. They are blossoming. On the other hand, there are a few for whom it has not worked primarily because they have not put the necessary time into the course."

"In general, we are testing ideas and some are going to work. My impression is that the class-based projects are very successful. The structure of being connected with a specific course has positive implications," said Ezra Brown, a mathematics professor. The Mathematics Department operates a Student Success Project called the Emerging Scholars Program. In this project, Math 1205 is augmented with two problem sessions per week which translates into four additional hours of class interaction. The concept has gradually gained acceptance by students. At this point, participants are excited about the course.

When asked about his involvement in this course, Damien Richburg said, "When I first heard about the extra four hours, I was somewhat disappointed. But it gave me the opportunity to do more problems that I normally would not do. Now I understand and know the material rather than memorizing. Besides learning for myself, I am able to help others in my class. Teaching it [calculus] to other students helps me to learn even more." Richburg believes that participating in this class will have long-range benefits. "What I have learned in this class, I will remember for time to come. I'm still not happy about the extra hours, but it certainly is helping me. My grades are good, so it's very beneficial," he said.

This student's comment about grades captures the primary mission of the Student Success Projects. While the projects do have a positive impact on student self-esteem and confidence, the main objective is to generate measurable results. The bottom line is determining how these projects effect academic performance.

For more information about the Student Success Projects at Virginia Tech, call Blanks at 1-2350.