The spring semester has posed a lot of challenges to higher education and IUP. But, from those challenges, new opportunities arose to better engage and support our students.
One such opportunity came in the formation of the Student Support and Engagement Team (SSET). Developed by programmers from across the university, the Team’s goal is to better engage IUP students in activities and events that had to move to a virtual platform. Another key purpose of the Team is to better support all students at IUP.
With collaboration from the Office of the Vice President for Student Affairs, SSET hit the ground running. Staff and faculty were encouraged to reach out to SSET to refer students experiencing a variety of difficulties ranging from academic to personal.
“Since March, we have reached out to 885 individual students,” Associate Director of the Office of Student Conduct and co-chair of SSET Adam Jones said about the committee’s work during the last seven weeks of the spring semester.
Of the students they contacted, the team found the following:
254 were referred by faculty members concerned by the level of engagement they saw in students since the shift to online and digital learning.
168 of the students engaged with SSET, when contacted, received the assistance, encouragement, or support they said that they needed to finish the semester.
“Some students needed financial assistance, some needed tutoring and other academic assistance, some needed counseling services, some just needed someone to talk to,” Jones said.
SSET’s work in supporting students was not a division-wide effort, but one that was intended to engage staff and faculty across IUP, Jones said. “We could not have helped the students on our own. We had the support of the assistant deans and the faculty. Together, we were all willing to do whatever we could for the students.
“In particular, one student was already having difficulty due to circumstances outside of her control. Then COVID-19 came, making life even more difficult for her,” Jones said. “The associate dean of her college and her faculty worked with her to come up with a plan for her to complete every course in which she was enrolled. It was unconventional, but it shows the dedication of everyone here at IUP to do the right thing for our students.”
The work of SSET, in collaboration with other offices across IUP, immediately proved to be of incredible use to students. With this important groundwork laid, SSET turned its focus to the fall semester.
SSET leadership started to imagine a holistic approach beyond the current advising model to education that breaks down barriers that can be frustrating for students, and made the decision to expand the Guide program to all incoming freshmen students.
“All students are assigned an academic advisor to assist them with their academic, career, and personal goals to ensure their success at IUP,” Director of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Other Drugs (ATOD) and SSET co-chair Ann Sesti said. “The IUP Guides will function alongside academic advisors and as an additional resource for students.”
“A Guide does not replace an academic advisor; rather, it is a complement to this role,” Vice President for Student Affairs Tom Segar said. “In fact, faculty advisors can also serve as Guides. Guides do not provide students with academic advisement; they serve as another point of contact and layer of support for students. Guides can help direct and connect students to additional campus and community resources to ensure their holistic success,” Segar said.
“This program started because members of the Student Affairs team recognized the need to provide students with someone who can provide individual support to students throughout their time at IUP. The university’s leadership supports this new program as it complements and strengthens IUP’s ongoing efforts to support retention, persistence, and student success. This program will function as part of the new ‘normal’ at IUP, demonstrating our commitment to student-centeredness,” Segar stressed.
SSET is proud to begin recruiting efforts for its Guide program. Guides will function as support and contact points between students and campus and community resources. Each Guide will be assigned a group of incoming students who they will “follow” through graduation.
The Guide’s purpose is to minimize searching for appropriate campus and community resources on behalf of the student and to foster a deeper and more meaningful connection to the university. SSET encourages any faculty and staff member of the university or the Student Co-op to consider becoming a Guide. Interested staff and faculty should read through the description below for more details:
The role of a Guide is solely volunteer. Guides should want to do the work, as opposed to being assigned (or “voluntold”) per their supervisor.
Guides are not counselors. If a student needs counseling, they should be referred to the appropriate campus or community resources.
Guides are not to provide academic advising. If a student has an academic issue, they are to be referred to their advisor or college dean.
Guides’ supervisors will be notified of their appointment from the vice president of Student Affairs.
While students have a wide range of questions and needs, Guides don’t have to know the answers to every question. But they should know and be willing to find the answers, and where to refer students.
Guide training will equip volunteers with the necessary campus and community resources to be successful.
All Guides will be supported by the University Guide Coordinator.
At minimum, Guides will be asked to contact the list of assigned students at least three times per semester (welcome week, around mid-terms, around final exams). Guides may also wish to share university news or events on an ongoing basis, as it reflects the interests of the students.
Guides should respond swiftly to students concerns and questions (preferably, within one business day). If Guides are away from the university and/or not checking email, they should provide an away message that directs students to the firstname.lastname@example.org account for assistance.
Guides should refer students to University Police or 9-1-1 for emergencies.
Guides will be required to attend one initial four-hour training. As new technologies emerge and current technologies are upgraded, further training may be required to ensure best practices.
Director of Communications for Student Affairs Caitlin Aiello, who is co-chair of SSET, encourages anyone who has a desire to help students to consider being a Guide.
“You don’t have to be a Student Affairs professional to become a Guide,” Aiello said. “You don’t have to be a faculty member. You don’t have to work with students every day—but you do have to care. That is it. Pure and simple. A desire to help students is the main credential for becoming a Guide. If you are interested in moving our university forward by removing silos and being an active part of the solution because it is the right thing to do, then we want to encourage you to join in this effort.”
Staff and faculty interested in serving as Guides can sign up via the Guide Application.
For questions, please reach out to the SSET co-chairs:
Caitlin Aiello: email@example.com
Adam Jones: firstname.lastname@example.org
Ann Sesti: email@example.com