NEAS&C Fifth-Year Review Standard Six – Students
With respect to our student body, Wesleyan has been focused on several key areas since the last accreditation visit. These include enhancing advising and academic support, engaging and supporting a diverse and multicultural campus community, and identifying ways to bring campus constituents together to foster community-building and co-curricular learning.
Admissions – Greg Pyke to draft this sub-section
The 2005-2006 academic year saw the start of a new class deaning arrangement whereby the deans travel with their class from new student orientation through graduation. This allows each dean to know their students better and be able to assist them in a more effective way. The deans send notes to their respective classes about issues and University regulations specific to the class year as well as about class-oriented activities in order to keep students better informed and to strengthen deaning relationships and class identity.
The First Year Matters program, which extends the programming that takes place during New Student Orientation, has been enhanced in several ways. A “common reading” component has been added to the program to create a shared intellectual experience for first-year students. We created an electronic monthly newsletter that is sent to all first-year students and their faculty advisors to improve communication and to create an organizational umbrella for the various offices that contribute to the program. Finally, we have improved the visibility of First Year Matters by providing access to the common readings and publishing the first issue of the newsletter prior to the arrival of students on campus for New Student Orientation.
The Faculty Advisor Handbook has been revised to provide better information and clearer expectations of the role of faculty advisors, and the rotation of first-year student advisors has been changed to reduce the demand on faculty who may have been over-taxed with too many advisees. A new peer advisor program has been developed where fifteen students are selected and trained to make referrals for their fellow students to the various academic and student life support services on campus, and to answer questions about course scheduling and major selection. Peer advisors are available on school evenings at satellite advising centers located in the residence halls. During the summer, peer advisors are available to new students through a web discussion board that is accessed through the e-portfolio. A student companion to the Faculty Advisor Handbook entitled “A New Student’s Guide to Academic Advising and Planning” is now on line and is made available to new students over the summer to help them plan their course schedules and prepare for their meetings with faculty advisors. An oversubscription calculator, which will improve the speed and accuracy of the degree certification process, also has been developed.
With a dedicated dean to support its development, the Student Academic Resources Network (SARN) is a sustainable institutional structure that coordinates programs for intellectual enrichment and academic support. Partners in the network include class deans, the math and writing workshops, peer tutoring, career resource center, disability services, and the language resource center. SARN’s goal is to facilitate greater student use of academic support opportunities by ensuring that all network partners from across campus can refer students to appropriate academic support programs. Peer advisors are trained to facilitate academic support workshops in residential halls, including time management, note taking, and other study skills.
Based on findings of national research, efforts are underway to investigate the connection between classroom experiences and co-curricular programming and the impact on student learning, especially for students of color and other marginalized populations. National research suggests that co-curricular opportunities play an important role in students’ development, especially when disengagement occurs in the classroom. Further research needs to be conducted to better understand this connection.
During 2006-2007, the newly-created Office for Diversity and Academic Advancement (ODAA) developed a comprehensive diversity framework that articulates a clear vision, drives alignment, and maximizes success for its initiatives. The framework has four interrelated components: Institutional vitality and viability (i.e., mission, strategic plan, and policies); Education and scholarship (i.e., curricula, scholarship, and research); Campus climate (i.e., collaborations between academic and student affairs); and Access and student success.
In order to have positive impact on these areas, ODAA draws on three elements to help ensure the effectiveness of diversity initiatives at all levels. These are: building capacity to foster dialogue among different social identity groups, conducting inter-group dialogues, and documenting impact using qualitative and quantitative data. ODAA has facilitated a series of diversity speakers and campus events, established the Diversity and Academic Advancement Fund which provides modest awards to enhance the leadership capacity of students, and created a Campus Climate Log which is an on-line list of campus hate incidents and educational interventions and prevention efforts.
We have conducted a comprehensive review of Wesleyan’s Office of Behavioral Health for Students (OBHS). Student demand for mental health services has been increasing for several years and the current staff is working at capacity. In order to meet clinical demands as well as provide outreach and critical prevention work. The organization of the staff is being re-envisioned to include full and part time staff. We hope that the use of part time professionals will assist in increasing the diversity of the staff.
The opening of the new Usdan University Center in September of 2007 will generate tremendous interest from across the campus in being a part of this wonderful new core. In addition to becoming the primary dining location for students, staff and faculty, the Usdan Center and Fayerweather will provide several new meeting rooms including the 4,000 square foot Beckham Hall, and theater, dance and music rehearsal rooms. While the dining program will be a prominent attraction to the Usdan Center throughout the day, we are planning for other key programs and events that will draw members of the Wesleyan community during evening hours. Bon Appetit Management Company will begin a new dining contract in 2007-08. To ensure the most successful integration of the Usdan Center and campus life, the Office of Student Activities and Leadership Development has been reaching out to students to develop a Student Programming Board. This board will create and support programs, including activities at night and on weekends, that in conjunction with late night dining will bring students together. In addition, an Advisory Board for the Usdan Center that includes staff, students and faculty will be meeting to serve as a sounding board for policies and programs at the Center.
Institutional Research met with student focus groups in Spring 2006 to gather possible reasons why students report poor satisfaction with Residential Life on the senior survey. Concerns included communication, confusion between Physical Plant versus Residential Life responsibilities and coordination between the two departments, need for more input from residents, improved lounge facilities, the poor condition of many of the wood frame houses, frustration with room selection processes, bureaucratic paperwork and procedures, maximizing utilization of the website, housing locations for transfer students and students returning from study abroad, and internet availability in the wood frame houses.
Students also shared what they believed to be the positive aspects of residential living, which included the broad array of housing options available, the notion of progressive independence, the relative autonomy granted to upperclass students, the interaction with their Resident Advisor or House Manager, the programs and community building provided by the student staff, and their ability to integrate into the larger community as a result of their earlier residential experience. In response to this feedback, Residential Life has developed a strategic action plan to address these issues and undertaken several initiatives aimed at improving student service and satisfaction. It is clear that close collaboration with Physical Plant and Public Safety will be essential in order to realize our goals in this area.
The Wesleyan Student Assembly (WSA) has sought to be the critical junction between the university administration and the student body by establishing new avenues through which sustained dialogue might be realized. This has been accomplished in several ways, including effective and veracious representation. Each year the WSA holds various online elections for membership at which time the opportunity is ceased to poll the student body regarding significant issues. Furthermore, to ensure that the WSA is adequately representing student voices it has, at disparate times, sent out and collected surveys, which ask students to indicate issues that are most important to them as well as assess the effectiveness of the WSA in its general and specific endeavors.
Also, the continued growth of the WSA’s representation in the most pertinent affairs of the University campus has subsequently created a sure channel for the recognition of student voices. WSA has recently formed a new committee, the endowment advisory committee, to monitor institutional investments as it relates to the goals and integrity of the university. Two representatives from the WSA also sit on the Faculty Educational Policy Committee, helping to maintain close connections between student life and faculty involvement. Furthermore, six student members from the WSA are student representatives to the Board of Trustees where they have voice and vote on the standing committees of the Board and voice at the Board meetings.
Another critical development has been the participation of University officials in predominately student governed spaces. At the beginning of the 2005 academic year, at least one member of the Office of the Dean of the College has consistently been present at WSA weekly general committee meetings. Whereas student impromptu meetings have happened, administrative officials have made efforts to attend. This has engendered a greater awareness of cross-entity initiatives and continued collaboration and communication.