Helping students find their place and achieve success at a large institution like Concordia University Montreal—with a total student body of more than 40,000 at two locations—presents challenges, points out Marlene Gross, manager of Services for New Students and the Student Success Program Centre. A long-time Concordia staff member, Gross was charged with developing programs that would help students, particularly new ones, become more deeply connected to the university while helping staff members better understand their needs and concerns.
The Student Success Program Centre, created in response to that challenge, is a unit in the Counselling and Development department, which provides service in three critical areas: learning support, counseling, and career services. “The program we developed looks at all of these areas and addresses student needs in a holistic way,” says Gross. The Centre has also served as the launch pad for several student success initiatives for first-year students.
The heart of this effort is a mentoring program through which upperclass students representing the university’s diverse faculties and age groups serve as mentors to first-year students, sharing their own success strategies and directing students to campus resources as needed. The mentors staff the Student Success Centres on both campuses and host campus outreach activities such as workshops on ways to get involved in the campus community. In addition to being available for face-to-face interactions, mentors send their mentees regular e-mail postings with reminders about deadlines, workshops, and campus events. They maintain a Facebook page and are featured in a magazine called The Bridge, produced by the Student Success Program Centre to acquaint new students with university people and departments.
The mentors also play a key role in three specialized orientation programs created for first-year students, who may attend any or all of the orientations depending on their needs and interests. In the Start Right orientation, students attend a mini-conference of instructional modules on topics such as time management and goal setting. The Mentor Connection is a small group orientation where students meet with mentors, receive information on strategies for success, and are given a campus tour.
A third orientation program, called Student Success Check-Up, employs the Noel-Levitz College Student Inventory (CSI)™, an assessment tool through which incoming students identify their own strengths and concerns in the areas of academic motivation, general coping ability, and receptivity to support services. Students complete the online survey prior to the orientation, then receive their results in a group setting with a counselor who explains how to interpret the report. Mentors provide campus information and a tour, then encourage students to set follow-up appointments with appropriate campus services based on their CSI results.
Starting a conversation
Gross says that issues and concerns revealed through the CSI led to the development of another initiative, a series of First-Year Experience Workshops focusing on topics such as connecting to community life, time management, and managing money. “The CSI is used in our department in a variety of ways,” she adds. “It has been part of a special orientation for student athletes, a readmission program for students who had failed out and wanted to return, and a program for students with a conditional GPA to help them identify what they needed to do differently, working with the counseling staff and faculty advisors. It’s a useful tool because students can gain insight, and it gives us insight as to how we can reach out to them. It starts a very good conversation.”
The success initiatives developed through the Student Success Program have raised the department’s profile on campus, generating referrals to the Centre from faculty members and other staff. Even more satisfying is the overwhelmingly positive feedback from students, who appreciate the safety net of having a mentor and are grateful for being able to overcome fears, build confidence, and find campus resources.
“Being proactive is important because most students are passive about their own success,” says Gross. “If we don’t reach out to them, they sometimes think ‘it’s only me with this problem’ or they feel overwhelmed and may slide into inertia. We’re trying to offer a lot of different inroads so students can connect with us and we can help them get the most out of their university experience.”
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