Innovative Programs Grant Awards

As part of the First-Year Academic Experience, the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs and Provost invited colleges to submit proposals to implement or enhance innovative instructional or programmatic efforts aimed at bolstering student preparedness and mitigating the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on student learning. The objective of providing this funding was to assist units in implementing strategies that address the learning loss of students such as:

  • implementation of teaching innovations;
  • unique instructional efforts in introductory courses with large enrollments of first- or second-year students;
  • enhancement of an existing program; and/or
  • launching of a new program or activity designed to support student learning.

The colleges listed below have been awarded funding. Review their project summaries below.

Innovative Programs Grant Summaries

Gies College of Business

Department of Accountancy:  To mitigate the effects of the pandemic on student success as well as enhance equity and access across student background and status, the Department of Accountancy’s Innovative Program will develop and deliver two related instructional innovations for accountancy students. The first initiative involves the creation of an intensive foundational study skills “clinic” applicable to any Accountancy student, but especially geared towards those enrolled in our introductory courses. The second initiative involves the creation of a “content refresher bootcamp” that accountancy students can complete before enrolling in 300-level Accountancy core courses. Collectively, these initiatives will provide intentionally curated resources that enable students to catch up or refresh essential skills as well as transition back to in-person learning.

Undergraduate Education: The Gies Peer Advising Program has a total of 59 members with 13 Team Leads (Peer Leaders) for the fall 2021 semester. We host hours weekdays from 9am-5pm, with extended virtual hours on Mondays from 7-9pm. I feel that our hybrid program is having success so far. As of September 24th, we’ve managed 339 student visits to either peer or professional express advising through our hybrid program. Of those total visits, 226 were specifically for peer advising. 

Team Leads are stationed in the Undergraduate Success Lab (1041 BIF) managing in-person student visits while simultaneously managing the virtual front desk check-in procedures for both professional express and peer advising through Zoom. Each Team Lead is responsible for mentoring the 2-3 Peer Advisors working their shift in addition to managing the front desk. Team Leads are also preparing for the required Freshman Spring Semester Planning Workshops that they co-facilitate with the professional advisors October 18 – 22nd.

College of Education

The outstanding efforts of our faculty and staff (Lynn Burdick and Ann Jones) in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction (and others across the College of Education) have resulted in an amazing, community space for undergraduates. McCarthey asked all faculty to remove the materials that had been stored in the room for years (or have them discarded). Once this was done, Lynn and Ann scouted surplus for usable furniture and enlisted F & S within the College of Education to assist with moving some furniture. (This is still in progress). The room now has books, chairs, tables, and materials available for undergraduates to have a community space with games and resources and for preservice teachers to have a “make and take” area to design classroom instruction. There are also spaces for one-on-one tutoring to occur.

Grainger College of Engineering

Department of Aerospace Engineering: With the Innovative Programs Award funding, we have been able to expand both the capacity and the quality of the first-year Spatial Visualization course that has been offered previously in the Grainger College of Engineering.  The team increased the number of available seats in the class, and we sent two rounds of personalized e-mails to students who were identified to need extra spatial-visualization support through the placement exam.  With these efforts, we have enrolled approximately 30% more students than in 2020.  Additionally, with the extra course staff, we have been improving the classroom experience with more hands-on drawing and sketching.

Department of Computer Science: In this pandemic, the students would benefit from having access to an effective online learning platform that can allow them to conveniently review pre-requisite course materials or learn new topics at their own paces at any time and from anywhere. Leveraging our research results in information retrieval and artificial intelligence, we will develop and deploy EducationalWeb, an innovative Web-based online learning platform that would enable any student to learn or review any topic in a course by searching and navigating on a special “Educational Web” at any time and from anywhere. On EducationalWeb, all the lecture slides about a topic, including those from different courses and from the Web, would be linked together to enable easy navigation into any slides covering related concepts and discussions (which are currently scattered in different lectures or different courses and thus not easily accessible to the students). Artificial intelligence techniques will be used to provide real-time explanation of any concept that students want to understand in detail. EducationalWeb will initially support elementary computer courses in Computer Science and related courses in Mathematics and Statistics with additional courses being added over time. Our long-term vision is to eventually cover all the courses offered by UIUC. 

School of Information Sciences

The iSchool’s program consists of two major components and is positioned in a way not only to address learning loss, but to do so for students who have entered a college with no previous existing majors or other undergraduate students.  The first component is to analyze first year students in IS 100, with additional data from IS 101 and IS 202 using both qualitative and quantitative data over part of the fall 2021 semester.  Variables to be addressed will include: reading and writing comprehension, social interaction (including group work), and time management and self-awareness as it relates to asking for help and articulating need.  The second component will be using both data from the Student Success Initiative and our own findings to address gaps and adapt and produce academic support services.  We anticipate developing or recommending study and peer support groups, information that will inform course placements and pedagogical approaches, and resources for tutoring.

College of Liberal Arts & Sciences

Department of Anthropology: The Department of Anthropology is using the Innovative Programs Award to develop the LEAD (Learning Environments in Anthropology Disciplines) program. The LEAD program is aimed at early career undergraduate students but open to all students in the Department. The LEAD program is centered on two complementary components: LEAD Student Mentoring Groups and LEAD Critical Skills Clinics and Informational Sessions. The LEAD program facilitates social interactions with peers with the goal of learning from each other, promote a sense of belonging and engagement, provide additional opportunities to bolster skill building, and increase institutional knowledge including campus resources available to assist students. Activities to date have centered on building and promoting the LEAD program including developing infrastructure, hosting informational sessions and recruiting participants into the program. Once all applicants have been reviewed and participants accepted, the program is slated to begin 2021 Fall Semester POT B.

Department of Astronomy: COVID has had a major negative impact on many student’s preparation for success at Illinois, but it has been especially detrimental for students in STEM majors with significant prerequisites (e.g., calculus and physics) to prepare them for their major core classes. In Astronomy, we lose most of our URM students before they even step foot into an Astronomy classroom due to these prerequisites   To combat this, we are building a support system that incorporates the Astronomy advisor, as well as graduate and undergraduate student mentors and tutors to create a cohort of students in the first year of the major, focusing on students who are struggling the most.  The goal of this project is as a pilot to expand engagement of our first year students and increase retention of URM students.

Center of Latin American & Caribbean Studies: Latin American and Caribbean Study Club is envisioned as a series of extracurricular activities designed to expand student learning opportunities beyond the classroom.  We will provide interactive activities (movie nights, cooking demonstrations, discussions about current events, etc.) where students can experience how what they are learning about in the classroom impacts everyday life in Latin American.  This program will support educational success and mental wellness through leveraging opportunities to debate, discuss, dance, sing, and cook to help students redevelop their campus social networks after 18 months of remote learning while also creating opportunities for undergraduate students to meet with both faculty and peers from different disciplines.  In sum, the LACSC will create space where undergraduates can learn, connect, and receive support while expand their professional and personal networks

Department of Communications: Speaking Fundamentals aims to fill in the varied communication deficits that CMN 111/112 students have experienced due to the pandemic through the creation of online and in-class activities. Thus far, our team of CMN TAs has created several modules, one that helps students prepare their speeches through collaborative preparation materials and interactive videos for overcoming stage fright. Our team has also created a module for teaching argumentation: Toulmin in Everyday Life, that guides students in their analyses of controversial public policy questions through collaborative activities and interactive videos. We are also developing modules that provide students with safe spaces to learn how to discuss complex, academic topics and give students practice in addressing disagreement in ethical and respectful ways in oral conversation.

School of Earth, Society, & Environment: Environmental and Geoscience programs thrive when students get hands-on research, community, laboratory, and field experiences, and new students rely heavily on the educational benefits of supportive social networks. But these programs and networks were disrupted by the pandemic. By implementing a formal mentoring program that connects incoming undergraduates with senior students we aim to accelerate the restoration of the student community that underlies student well-being and academic growth.

Department of Gender & Women’s Studies:  No update.  Just hired their new candidates week.

Department of Latina/o Studies: Upon receipt of this Innovation Grant we followed through in item a (LLS 100) and b (LLS 242) and immediately extended the hours of some of our Tas and hired additional doctoral students to provide the support for after class tutoring.  Faculty work closely with graduate students to provide enhanced after class support to undergraduate students.

For item c (LLS 250), we hired two senior undergrad students whose excellent academic record and social skills made them ideal candidates for the Peer Mentoring Program.  We have open office hours during which students can drop in, do their work, and consult with peer mentors.  We provide snacks, which are highly appreciated by students.  We have been keeping track of attendance, which began at 1 person and is increasing every week—we are up to 8 per session.

For items a-c, faculty are reminded in the Chair’s Weekly Newsletter and all faculty have included information regarding these enhanced services in their syllabi.

For item d (all 100-200 level courses) we also rolled out the Latina Latino Studies Film Series, in conjunction with our class The Bronze Screen, with screenings on Wednesday nights required of students in the class, open to the entire department, and available to anybody else who wants to attend.  We have been keeping track of attendance, ranging from 28-45 students plus staff and faculty.  The series is advertised in our website, and we produced a poster for the entire series as well as for each individual film.  Each film is advertised in our weekly newsletter to students and faculty and faculty are reminded in the Chair’s Weekly Newsletter.

Department of Linguistics:  Our initiative seeks to address social isolation and anxiety among students affected by COVID-19. We seek to resolve student concerns quickly by providing extra opportunities to communicate with the instructor and TAs; offering supplementary assessments; recording audio lectures for review outside of class; and providing extra support on the course project. We will also hold interactive dialogues with faculty members from across campus who will be interviewed by the instructor with the assembled students as audience. Students will interact with these faculty members by asking questions at the end of the interview.

Dept of Mathematics and Dept of Statistics:  The Mathematics and Statistics Student Support Center provides walk-in academic support and tutoring for students enrolled in core introductory mathematics and statistics courses. The 2021-2022 academic year presents unique challenges for both first-year and second-year students, who are adjusting from remote learning to traditional in-person learning while at the same time becoming familiar with a new campus environment. The Student Support Center provides a space for students to build on-campus support networks, consult with experienced teaching assistants and advanced undergraduates, and benefit from the opportunity to work together in an in-person setting to improve outcomes in critical mathematics and statistics courses.

School of Molecular & Cellular Biology:  Through our 2021-2022 Innovative Programs Award, the School of Molecular and Cellular Biology is providing academic support for our first-year and second-year students through specialized tutoring for the foundational principles introduced in the first three courses required for our major. Additionally, our tutors are providing our students with assistance in the integration of biology, math and chemistry as it relates to our major. To provide additional opportunities for our students to gain hands-on laboratory experiences that they may have missed during the pandemic, we are offering two 8-week laboratory techniques courses which complement our second-year core laboratory courses and allow students who took the lab courses remotely to have hands-on practice with the equipment and techniques utilized in these courses. Finally, we will encourage community amongst our students through three social events duration this semester. One event will be similar in format to our new student welcome, which the second-year students missed, while the other events will promote study groups and a sense of belonging.

University Library

Program Overview: Library FUNdamentals is a collaboration between the University Library and the Writers Workshop to create a series of workshops focused on first- and second-year undergraduate students.  Planned topics include developing academic research, reading, and writing skills; building resilience through stress management support programs; planning for success through organizational, time management, and college-level study skills development; understanding expectations and preparation needed for college-level work; and building community through opportunities to connect with peers in a series of semi-structured, informal conversations.

Progress-to-date: 7 workshops are currently planned through early November, alternating between academic skills-focused sessions and stress-management and community building sessions.  Topics include a three-part introduction to academic research, which is paired with a three-part introduction to academic reading strategies; a session on overcoming writer’s block; a session introducing campus classroom culture; and a series of stress management workshops including dog therapy, Zumba, and mini-Zen garden creation. Marketing materials are in progress, and a graduate hourly position is being hired to support the program’s workshops.

College of Media

Department of Journalism: Learning how to approach and interact with news sources with sensitivity and confidence is essential to success in journalism – but, even before the pandemic – a difficult skill for many undergraduates to attain. Having spent more than a year interacting primarily virtually or remotely with others, students are likely to have even greater hesitation than usual about approaching “strangers” in the course of doing media work. The Department of Journalism has created a peer tutoring program in which juniors and seniors provide opportunities for first- and second-year students in two core journalism skills courses to conduct practice news interviews and receive feedback. Instructors of the targeted courses are working with tutors to establish goals, encouraging participation by their students, and gathering feedback about how to improve the program.

School of Social Work

SOCIAL WORKS! is a drop-in program that provides up to four hours of supplemental weekly programming to support freshmen, sophomore, and transfer students in the School of Social Work.  The goal of this resource is to address the educational and social-emotional challenges and loss experienced due to the COVID-19 pandemic. SOCIAL WORKS! offers one-on-one and small group tutoring and mentoring provided by upper class undergraduate and graduate level students, as well as skill-based workshops and groups with faculty and staff.