When international rescue and relief major Madison Kamarad started her junior year, she knew two classes—Microeconomics and International Relations—were going to be challenges for her. She also knew sometimes the answer to difficult problems is finding better tools. Tutoring made available through Union’s Student Success team gave her those tools.
“I’m never usually one to ask for help, but I realized I needed to learn from people who know more,” said Kamarad. “My tutors were willing to work at my pace and my level. The Student Success team is doing a phenomenal job at making sure students feel helped and encouraged to do our absolute best with what we have.”
Expanded tutoring for a wide variety of courses across campus is just one way Union College’s new Student Success team is radically expanding support for students so they successfully find and live out their God-given calling.
“Our goal is to make sure Union students have the personal mentorship and educational experience they need to be highly sought by employers,” said Vinita Sauder, president of Union College. “That’s why we are prioritizing a team who will help make sure our students have everything they need to be successful.”
Life coaching for every freshman
Starting in the fall of 2020, every incoming freshman will have a certified life coach. The coach will help the student line up courses, work through deciding on his or her major by using learning diagnostics such as the Focus 2 assessment, and help with the adjustment to college life … pretty much any help a student needs to be successful in their first year.
Union will have four full-time coaches in place to assist the incoming class as they transition from high school. “I want their life coach to become ‘their person’ and help them transition into college in whatever capacity that entails,” said Taryn Rouse, Union’s executive director for student success. “The coaches will provide personalized plans for each of their students to help them focus on their needs and goals.”
Embedded tutoring for the tough courses
In addition to one-on-one tutoring for any course that students need help with, the college also embeds tutors in the really tough courses. “We find students who took the class before and did well, said Rouse. “Then we hire them to sit in on the course again and tutor the students who need some extra help.” The Student Success team will expand the embedded tutoring program to include 15 more first-year classes. Rouse has already seen success after starting the embedded tutoring program in Fall 2018—some courses improved pass rates by more than 15%
Career and calling
“Many students don’t really understand how to look for jobs, how to interview, or maybe even what to study. That’s where the Career Center comes in, and it’s part of our Student Success initiative,” said Rouse. The Career Center has been staffed by one part-time person for several years, but the role will expand to full time allowing the center to provide more career-finding assistance—through planning career fairs, providing assessment tools such as the Clifton StrengthsFinder, and helping students learn to create resumes and perform well in interviews.
But Union will also take career prep one step further. “We believe that the practical experience and networking provided by working outside the classroom is vital to developing the skills employers crave—such as communication, problem-solving and grit,” said Sauder. “Starting next school year, every student in every major will be required to complete at least one semester-long internship before graduation.”
Bringing it all together
In September, Union was awarded a $2.1 million Strengthening Institutions grant to focus on student success. In addition to funding many of the new student success initiatives, “the grant will allow us to bring several services together in one location—a one-stop location for coaching, tutoring, first-year advising assistance and disability services” said Rouse.
Funded over a five year period, the grant will provide salaries for two additional life coaches, move the Career Center director to full time, allow the college to add extra focus to disability services, fund a student success coordinator, and add more student tutors. It will also fund renovating a portion of the library into a new Student Success Center where students can take advantage of all the new services as well as those traditionally provided by the Career Center and Teaching Learning Center in one location.
The grant will also fund a variety of software systems to improve student learning and help track student success, including a new Learning Management System and a new early alert system to help the Student Success team spot students who are struggling and provide the support they need.
“Union College has always had academic support services offered by truly amazing educators, but what makes this different is the scope,” said Sauder. “The new Student Success initiatives are comprehensive and fully integrated, reaching every single student in an intentional and focused way. Receiving this grant funding is a gamechanger for our ability to make a difference for students.”
For Rouse, Student Success is all about getting to know each student and helping them grow. “Every student has unique needs and goals,” she said. “One of Union’s greatest advantages is that we are small enough to treat each student as an individual. Our new Student Success Center will help us be that much better at connecting with every student and helping them grow into the person they were created to be.”
Story by Emily Roque Cisneros, a Union graduate and
freelance writer based in Colorado.