Student Success Initiative Symposium

Stylized photo of a student participating in a conference setting.

Planning for the 2023 Student Success Initiative Symposium is currently underway. If you’d like to receive updates about the symposium or engage with the initiative, share your information.

2022 SSI Symposium

The Inaugural Student Success Initiative Symposium was held on Friday, February 4, 2022 and engaged over 200 faculty, staff, and students in thinking critically about undergraduate success, ways to bolster retention and graduation rates, close equity gaps and enhance the Illinois experience. 

Dr. Cia Verschelden, Special Projects Advisor for the Integration of Academic and Student Affairs at the Association of American Colleges and Universities, gave the Keynote speech at our inaugural Student Success Initiative Symposium. To hear Dr. Verschelden’s speech, you can watch the recording here.

Dr. Cia Verschelden

Dr. Cia Verschelden is Special Projects Advisor for the Integration of Academic and Student Affairs at the Association of American Colleges and Universities. She recently retired as Vice President of Academic and Student Affairs at Malcolm X College – City Colleges of Chicago. She taught for over 25 years at two- and four-year institutions in social work, sociology, women’s studies, nonviolence studies, and first-year seminar. Her administrative posts have included department chair, institutional assessment lead, and vice president of academic and student affairs. Cia has a B.S. in psychology from Kansas State University, an M.S.W. from the University of Connecticut, and an Ed.D. from Harvard University. Her book, Bandwidth Recovery: Helping Students Reclaim Cognitive Resources Lost to Poverty, Racism, and Social Marginalization, was published in 2017 and her new book, Bandwidth Recovery for Schools: Helping Pre-K-12 Students Regain Cognitive Resources Lost to Poverty, Trauma, Racism and Social Marginalization, in 2020.

Breakout Session Topics

Accountancy Student Success Educational Toolkit (ASSET)

Mitch Fisher, Instructor of Accountancy, Gies College of Business

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 developed and launched two related instructional innovations for accountancy students. The first initiative involved the creation of a repository of “Tools and Tips for Academic Success” applicable to any Accountancy student, but especially geared towards those enrolled in our introductory courses. The second initiative involved the creation of an Accountancy “content refresher” that accountancy students can complete before enrolling in intermediate 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.

Becoming an ‘Ally’ to Military-Connected/Veteran Students in Higher Education

Ingrid Wheeler, Assistant Director, Behavioral Health Programs, Chez Veterans Center
Jason Sakowski, Assistant Director, Veteran Student Support Services, Chez Veterans Center

What images come to mind when you hear the term “Student Veteran” or “Military-Connected Student”? How might the perception of these identities be affected by media sensationalism and stereotypes? How many students identify with one of these subgroups at Urbana-Champaign, and how many share additional intersecting identities like race, ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation, religion, or spirituality? This presentation shared best practices and strategies in working with the diversity of student veterans enrolled at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. The goal of this presentation was to provide an overview of the military-connected students at UIUC and resources available for them, communicate the latest knowledge on military-connected students in higher education, and offer best practices for building rapport and trust through knowledge of multiculturalism. Through these practices and strategies, we can develop a better understanding of the core challenges student veterans face and how to be an ally to increase access and promote timely degree completion for this subgroup.

Firsthand stories from FirstGen Students: Adopting a “Student Ready” Approach

Kristine McCoskey, Interim Director, Scholar Support Programs

Vincent Tinto once wrote, “Access without support is not opportunity.” Following years of scholarly and policy debates about students being “college ready” what would happen if we were to flip the script and develop higher education milieus that, instead, focus on institutions and their agents becoming “student ready”? Participants of this session heard from a small group of low-income, first generation students — their challenges, the barriers they’ve encountered, the victories they’ve achieved, and how we, as practitioners, can best support them in their undergraduate journeys by adopting “student ready” strategies and approaches.

AHS I-LEAP: Helping Underrepresented Students Recognize and Reach Their Potential through Academic Support

Gretchen Adams, Senior Assistant Dean for Undergraduate Recruitment, Advising, and Enrichment, College of Applied Health Sciences
Elizabeth Mason, I-LEAP Academic Skills Specialist, College of Applied Health Sciences
Joe Cross, I-LEAP Academic Skills Specialist, College of Applied Health Sciences
Ivette Camacho-Perez, I-LEAP student, College of Applied Health Sciences
Luther Solis, I-LEAP student, College of Applied Health Sciences
Jayla McGhee, I-LEAP student, College of Applied Health Sciences

The Mannie L. Jackson Illinois Academic Enrichment and Leadership Program (I-LEAP) provides academic support to students enrolled in the College of Applied Health Sciences (AHS) who are from underrepresented minority groups, first-generation, student athletes, and those recognized by the President Awards Program (PAP) and Educational Opportunities Program (EOP). Students voluntarily participate in the program and are in the program from their freshman year through graduation. While in the program, students receive various support services such as a first-year orientation course, bi-weekly one-on-one counseling, peer mentorship, career development and personal development workshops, academic skills development, referrals to resources and community with one another. They also receive leadership training and participate in community service. Data suggests that I-LEAP is making an impact on retention, especially for underrepresented minority, first-generation, and PAP/EOP students. I-LEAP is in its 14th year of operation and is continuing to provide a strong base of support for AHS students. This panel presentation consisted of I-LEAP students, I-LEAP staff and college administration. Learn more about I-LEAP’s impact.

IUC Merit Program: Improving STEM Student Success

Jennifer McNeilly, Director, Math Merit Program, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences
Elise McCarren, Director, Chemistry Merit Program, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences
Alejandra Stenger, Senior Coordinator for Instruction-Diversity, Equity & Inclusion, Molecular and Cellular Biology Merit Program, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences
Lily Arias, Director, Integrative Biology Merit Program, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

The Merit Program at the University of Illinois has been successful in improving undergraduate performance in introductory chemistry, biology, and mathematics courses for over thirty years. This is a non-remedial program focused on building community between students who are from historically underrepresented groups in STEM. In this interactive presentation, participants had the opportunity to experience the Merit style of teaching from the student perspective. Additionally, recent successes of the program were shared, including both quantitative results and testimonials from students and teaching assistants, and some mechanisms for implementing and managing the program were discussed. This presentation aimed to be helpful for units interested in creating Merit-style courses or sections in other disciplines, instructors curious about the Merit teaching style, departments looking to increase Merit Program offerings, and advisors and those who work directly with students who would like more information about what Merit participation entails.

Helping Student Recover Bandwidth for Learning and Life Presenter

Many students arrive in our classrooms with depleted bandwidth – available cognitive capacity – due to the negative effects of economic insecurity, racism, classism, homophobia, xenophobia, ablism, and other “differentisms.” We can attempt to create learning environments in which they can reclaim at least some of their bandwidth so they can learn and thrive, beginning with a strengths perspective about what skills and abilities they are bringing to the table. The interventions include values affirmation, connecting the known to the unknown, growth mindset, and high-hope practice. Through this session, participants were challenged to think about the ways in which we can increase certainty for students (or at least not add to uncertainty); understand that students have “funds of knowledge” and that beginning with those strengths will help them recover bandwidth and increase the likelihood of academic success; be introduced to several evidence-based interventions that show promise in helping students regain bandwidth; and reflect on the potential of the interventions for use in the classroom and in other settings with students.

Strategic Interventions for Enhancing Success in Gateway STEM Courses

Dana Tempel, Assistant Director, Center for Academic Resources in Engineering (CARE), The Grainger College of Engineering
Melissa Kisubika, Academic Advisor and Coordinator of Educational Data, The Grainger College of Engineering

Student success is the primary focus across campus, but how that success is fostered can impact the effectiveness. Early outreach to students who may be academically struggling can help identify issues that advisors can address early in an academic career. Our early outreach tool identifies courses that impact degree completion, collaborates with multiple campus affiliates to manage early progress reporting, and allows advisors that have a rapport with students to contact them directly.

Leveling Up: Gamifying the First Year Experience to Meet Student Needs and Build Community

Kimberly Powers, Academic Advisor, School of Chemical Sciences, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

One key goal of a first year experience course is to meaningfully connect students with appropriate campus resources. Achieving this can be challenging given the diverse experiences and needs that incoming students bring to their first semester in college; some students may already know how to get involved in undergraduate research while others may be unfamiliar with the purpose of instructors’ office hours. How do you provide enough information and structure for first year students who need it the most while keeping the course engaging for students who think they need less guidance? In this presentation, Kimberly Powers proposed that gamifying the first year seminar may be one way to effectively meet individual student needs while building a sense of community. In particular, she examined how to use student feedback on a required first year experience course for Chemistry majors (CHEM 150) to re-conceptualize the course as a multiplayer game that features cumulative grading, student choice, and peer-to-peer learning opportunities. Inspired by recent research and resources like Games @ Illinois, this presentation included activities that allowed participants to brainstorm how they can introduce community-building game elements into their own first year experience courses.

Helping Students Learning How to Learn (LHtL)

Shelly Schmidt, Professor of Food Chemistry, College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences
Cheelan Bo-Linn, Senior Specialist in Education, Center for Innovation in Teaching & Learning
Jim Wenworth, Associate Director Educational Innovation, Center for Innovation in Teaching & Learning

Thinking about the question, “What do I need to do to become the best teacher I can be?” is only half the story. The other question to consider is, “How can I help students become the best they can be?” The specific question this panel began exploring was “How can I help students learn?” Along this journey, they have garnered partners from ACES, the Center for Innovation in Teaching & Learning (CITL), and the Siebel Center for Design (SCD). The purpose of this presentation was to share the various approaches taken to help students Learn How to Learn (LHtL), as well as discuss future endeavors. Approaches taken include embedding LHtL principles and strategies into the context of my content courses, teaching a LHtL course for students (ACES 199), presenting LHtL talks in ACES Teaching & Learning Academy and ACES Student Success Workshop series, and creating a CITL Student Success Resources website. Future endeavors include partnering with SCD and CITL to create LHtL workshops for students, faculty, and teaching assistants. The goal of this session was for participants to leave with concrete, implementable practices to advance student learning.

Human-Centered Design for Complex Collaborative Problem Solving

Saadeddine Shehab, Head of Assessment and Research, Siebel Center for Design

In the last decade, the number of UIUC courses that included a group project that aims to engage students in complex collaborative problem solving have increased tremendously. These projects are usually authentic and very similar to what students may encounter in their future workspaces. Human-Centered Design is a problem-solving approach that provides students with a flexible structure that can help them navigate and implement complex collaborative problem solving processes. Empirical evidence shows that implementing these processes results in more equitable participation among the group members and in more relevant, meaningful, and innovative solutions to problems. This panel presentation featured UIUC students from multiple disciplines who experienced the use of the Human-Centered Design approach to solve complex problems collaboratively and iteratively. The panel showcased different design thinking tools that students learned and applied and how these tools helped them make progress on the problem at hand. The panel also shed light on important mindsets, such as collaboration and creativity, that students may have developed as they engaged in human-centered design experiences.

Supporting Students with Disabilities Success at Illinois

Kim Collins, Interim Director, Disability Resources & Educational Services, College of Applied Health Sciences
Brian Siemann, Learning Disabilities/ADHD Access Specialist, Disability Resources & Educational Services, College of Applied Health Sciences
Tina Cowsert, M.S.ED, MSLIS, NBCT, Access Specialist/Interpreter & Live Captioning Coordinator, Disability Resources & Educational Services, College of Applied Health Sciences
Rachel Jackson Green, MSW, Mental Health Access Specialist/Co-Coord Disability Ally Program, Disability Resources & Educational Services, College of Applied Health Sciences

Participants of this session learned about best practices in accommodating and supporting students with disabilities at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. A panel of experts from DRES and several students with disabilities presented a brief overview of DRES services, disability law, accommodations, and student experiences and answered questions. What do advisors need to know to get their students connected for accommodations and services at DRES? How does DRES support faculty in providing accommodations to students with disabilities? What do students with disabilities want you to know about supporting them? What are the big picture and small changes that can best support students with disabilities success at Illinois?

First Generation Transfer Students in the Time of COVID-19

Tasha Robles, Academic Program Coordinator, Gender and Women’s Studies, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences
Jose Del Real Viramontes, Assistant Professor, Department of Education Policy, Organization, and Leadership, College of Education

Currently, a study is being conducted to highlight how first-generation community college transfer students confronted the transfer conditions from their community college to Midwest University (MU) during COVID-19. This study is part of a larger case study at MU, a four-year university in Illinois. Data was generated from semi-structured interviews with students, staff, faculty, and administrators and publicly available documentation on transfer policies, practices, and programming. Preliminary findings show how students developed and used aspects of their cultural and social capitals to gain the knowledge, skills, and contacts to information and resources needed to become transfer eligible, apply and transfer to MU. Based on the study’s preliminary findings, this study calls attention for four-year institutions to enhance or develop a transfer receptive culture that prioritizes promoting transfer policies, programming, and practices that are culturally responsive with Latinx students in mind, to ensure the number of Latinx students who transfer and complete their bachelor’s degree increases during a time of a global pandemic like COVID-19. Participants of this session were engaged in discussion around ideas and concerns related to supporting under-represented first-generation transfer students.

Supporting Students on the Autism Spectrum – Orientation to Graduation to Employment

Jeanne Kramer, Teaching Assistant Professor & Director of the Autism Program (TAP), Human Development & Family Studies, College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences

It is estimated that approximately 38% of university students on the autism spectrum continue through to graduation. Moreover, up to 80% of adults on the autism spectrum are under – or unemployed due to social structures that discriminate against and chronically misunderstand issues of autism. The literature is peppered with statistics about discrimination, ostracization, chronic loneliness, difficulty organizing classwork, sensory difficulties, and mental health crises among autistic university students. The evidence points to best outcomes for students whose universities provide autism-specific supports in addition to those offered by disability service offices. Through this discussion, we hope to increase awareness of the needs of our autistic students, and open up dialogue about barriers and potential solutions to supporting the success and inclusion of these at University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.

Breaking Barriers to Student Success: Learning Centers and the Illinois Experience

Carolyn Wisniewski, Director, Writers Workshop, Center for Writing Studies, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences
Grace Casillas, Assistant Director, Tutoring and Instructional Services, Office of Minority Student Affairs

Campus learning centers are key sites of academic support that contribute to a successful undergraduate experience (Colver & Fry, 2016; Kuh et al., 2010; Topping, 1996; Yomtov et al., 2017). However, the decentralized nature of our campus often leads to frustration in navigating resources. This roundtable featured four long-standing campus learning centers: the Center for Academic Resources in Engineering, Chemistry Learning Center, Office of Minority Student Affairs Academic Services Center, and Writers Workshop. These centers teach foundational concepts and skills, and their directors are founding members of the Illinois Learning Support Professionals, an ad hoc group that fosters collaboration among UIUC’s academic support centers. During the roundtable, each presenter spoke to these questions: Which student populations benefit most from tutoring? What methods are used to support students? How does tutoring contribute to student success for both learners and tutors? In their responses, presenters discussed how learning centers foster active and collaborative learning through peer interaction, tailor instruction to specific learning styles, create engaging and judgment-free learning environments, and liaise with mental health resources to promote self-care. The roundtable included remarks from a health and wellness liaison and concluded with audience questions and discussion.

Supporting Student Success in the Illinois App

Rachel Switzky, Director, Siebel Center for Design
Mel Fenner, Associate Director of Health Technology Innovation, ROKWIRE & the Smart Healthy Communities Initiative

The Illinois App is being designed as a comprehensive tool to support Illinois students. In the coming year, we will focus on building support for student health and wellness and academic success. For our beginning students, we want to provide tools and experiences that aid orientation to campus and invite them to participate in events designed to get first-year students off to a compelling start. We are also designing opportunities for thoughtful direction-setting and feedback throughout the entire undergraduate journey. Focusing on the digital tools that support the undergraduate journey, how might we improve upon health and wellness and academic and advising support for students, along with considering the needs of health practitioners, advisors, and faculty in the process? Through the proposed effort, a mix of students, health and wellness practitioners, advisors, and faculty have been gathered together in teams, and we will engage our campus subject matter experts to discuss, brainstorm, and prototype several digital tools that support wellness, academic and advising processes. Starting in the fall of 2022, we have continued to test, evaluate, and revise these new tools with groups of students and campus experts.