The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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February 25, 2013

WVU Tech’s Student Success Center aims to be clearinghouse for support

MONTGOMERY — Administrators say that a brand new Student Success Center on the campus of WVU Tech will become the school’s clearinghouse for social and academic support.

Through the facility, they hope not only to push student success, but also success for the school itself in the areas of retention and recruitment.

The center’s new director, Kelly Hudgins, says she will try to teach freshmen, especially first-generation college-goers, how to “speak college” so they know what opportunities and options are available on Tech’s campus.

“I think it’s going to have a real, substantial impact on how students experience Tech for the first time as new students,” says Academic Dean Richard Carpinelli.

“If students can manage the first year, they are much more likely to persist. It comes from the idea that we need to help students understand their college experience.”

In 2010, Tech saw a 50 percent one-year retention rate, compared to a 69 percent rate system-wide. The graduation rate reported in 2011 was 33 percent, according to data supplied by the school. These indicators were both cited in a revitalization study performed on the school at the request of the state Legislature in 2011.

Located on the third floor of the library, the center includes a six-station computer lab with engineering software, cafe area, group study space, Wi-Fi and laptops. Its hours run later than the rest of the library to encourage late night study sessions.

All in all, it’s a comfortable area to hang out — which administrators say is lacking on campus — but it’s also a space in which students will be surrounded by educational resources.

All first-year advising will be coordinated through the center, with each student assigned one of three advisers as their primary point of contact with the university. Once they choose a major — typically at the end of the first year — the student will transition to a faculty adviser in their major.

Previously, students were advised right out of the gate by faculty members who may not understand broader issues about transitioning to college.

“What we saw was students were receiving different types of treatment across campus,” says Carpinelli.

The new system will lighten the advising burden on faculty in terms of sheer numbers, says Carpinelli, but it will ultimately shift the advising workload to a different emphasis.

“Now the faculty can spend more intensive time with their students and help them with the rigors of their major and in thinking about careers in that major,” he said.

Center staff plans to work with the financial aid office, business office and other student services to become the “clearinghouse” for student success.

They also want to offer instruction and programming around academic success. Workshops on study skills, tutoring, time management, test taking and dealing with stress will provide students with an arsenal of good habits that will serve them well at university, says Hudgins.

But the point isn’t all academic. The school says it’s important to create a space that will feel comfortable and homey to students.

“Research in retention shows that students often leave not out of a dissatisfaction with the college ... but because a high percentage do not have any meaningful contact with a person on campus and are lost in the shuffle,” said Hudgins.

“We want to ensure that every student knows a location where they can connect, from the time they are admitted to the time of graduation.”

As campuses go digital, sometimes the human touch gets lost, says Hudgins. Students go home and choose their classes online, often in isolation and without the guidance of school staff.

“The more information we can give them before they start pushing buttons, the better the mesh we’ll have between their academic skills and the academic program,” she said.

Carpinelli hopes to involve faculty in the center’s activities so that students can get to know them outside the classroom and see them as people.

“This really gives us the opportunity to build a campus community,” says WVU Tech spokesperson Adrienne King.

The model for this center isn’t anything new in higher education. Talks about such a project have been going on since 2010, and Carpinelli says it has buy-in across campus. Hudgins has directed similar centers at Austin College and Southern Oregon University, and her academic background is in English literature. She moved to West Virginia from Texas just a few days ago.

“I feel energized. I don’t have a lot of history with the institution. So far I’ve seen a vibrant and committed staff and very accessible leadership. There is very much a sense of shared goals and purpose,” she said.

Hudgins says she sees the center becoming a home base for first-generation college students, whose experience she understands, being one herself.

“You really feel like you’ve stepped through the looking glass and everyone knows the system and you can’t call home because your parents can’t necessarily help,” she said.

First-generation, commuter or other students with nontypical backgrounds often don’t know where to go to get questions answered and are sometimes hesitant to reveal what they don’t know, said Hudgins.

“Being able to reveal their needs is a big hurdle,” she said.

“One of my driving goals is to eliminate any stigma around seeking resources and help. We really want to have a feeling of equal footing in here.”

The Student Success Center is scheduled to open approximately April 1.

—E-mail: cmoore@register-herald.com

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