I became Co-Chair of the Awards and Recognition Committee in the Student Affairs Partnering with Academic Affairs Knowledge Community the year after I received the Promising Practices Award 2017. Prior to that, in 2015 I had moved from a Student Affairs director role to an Academic Affairs AVP role on a campus that was new to me. Both roles were cross-divisional in nature.
In my new role my colleagues and I were able to tell a compelling story of innovation in our Promising Practices nomination. Even shortly after the initiation of our Student Success Team model, we were able to detect improvements in student outcomes, such as closing equity gaps and improving graduation rates overall.
However, as I look back I see that I underestimated the exciting developments that would lie ahead for us as an organization.
The project that I had nominated comprised the development of our Student Success Teams model. This was a newly implemented structure. In it, each one of our eight colleges houses a Student Success Center, and the experts there include: Career Specialist and Assistant Dean (Student Affairs); Retention Specialist and Graduation Specialist (Academic Affairs). These team members are experts who work together to support the faculty in their respective colleges, who provide the advising in their majors.
Since receiving the recognition from SAPAA, I was able to continue building the visibility and credibility of our innovative structure, both internally and nationally. Prior to the construction of physical spaces in each college, where Student and Academic Affairs professionals were co-located, the awareness of how to refer students to different services was not widespread. Faculty complained often that they would dedicate hours to helping a student locate internships (duties of the Career Specialist), or support a first-year student struggling to overcome academic probation (duties of the Retention Specialist), or help an ambitious student find a leadership opportunity in a club tied to their major (duties of the Assistant Dean).
I was not employed here in the era prior to the development of the Student Success Teams, but my perception is that everyone was working hard, in isolation. The disconnected operational units posed my biggest challenge, as I had staff in parallel roles reporting to me from within each Success Center. My mission was to unite them campus-wide.
When I first took on this effort my supervisor presented me with the diagram that he had produced over a year of painstaking meetings with associate deans and others. He told me that what he gave me was the 24th draft.
Although I found this vision intriguing, I also detected some serious challenges. First, the students are nowhere in it. Also, the diagram does not depict any connectedness between one team and another, nor does it imply any unity of leadership between me and my Student Affairs peers who lead the Career Specialists and Assistant Deans. Furthermore, the Academic Advisement Center, a central resource to all for General Education advising, is not even integrated into the model.
This is where the spirit of SAPAA and the mission that drives my own motivation came into play. It was why we were able to tell a compelling story to Promising Practices in our nomination. I strived hard to create partnerships and collaborations to advance this molecule-like model’s growth.
One of the activities that I lead each year is the annual Student Success Teams Retreat. I plan it with my Student Affairs Partners: the Director of Career Services and the Executive Director of the Assistant Deans.
For the 2017 retreat, I planned a session during our retreat where every participant would sketch out their idea for a visual depiction of the Student Success Teams. I was thrilled with the results.
There were images that resembled spider webs, swirls, plants and trees. I then instructed the attendees to share their sketches with their group, and design a composite or group-generated sketch.
Immediately, all began to comment that students appeared at the center of every design. Also noticeable is that the teams were shown to be connected to many campus resources rather than working in isolation from one another and the rest of the campus or community.
Even the Academic Advisement Center showed up not off to the side, but rather, at the center of several sketches.
I delivered the collection of composite drawings to our graphic artist, and she produced something that I would say captures the very notion of what is meant by the “promise” of Promising Practices. Our collaborative structure has taken root and we continue to break down administrative boundaries.