In August, the SMSU and greater Marshall communities welcomed a new class of freshmen to campus. Although final numbers are not available quite yet, the Admissions Office is confident the Class of 2016 is one of the largest in many years.
A lot of work went into that. Interim President Ron Wood brought in an old friend and colleague Gary Gillin from Minnesota West Community and Technical College - the two worked together there for years - to help with the recruitment effort. Gillin oversaw the admissions effort.
And while a lot of work went into getting students in the front door, a plan was in the works to help ensure they didn't go out the back.
That planning led to the Office of Student Success. It's in its first full year, and is headed by Brittany Krull. She worked halftime in admissions and the Office of Student Success last year. This year, she's full-time in the OSS.
The office is a place where students can come if they have questions or concerns about their experience at SMSU. It's an office that also works with new strategies to help with retention initiatives. "We're trying to ensure the students have success both inside the classroom and out," said Krull. "We want them to enjoy time here and ultimately graduate as Mustangs."
New students are learning about the OSS through emails and flyers in their residence hall mailboxes, social media and old-fashioned word-of-mouth.
One innovative program being implemented targets students who may need some help in particular classes. "It's an early alert warning system," said Krull. Working with the Office of Institutional Research and Reporting, the OSS looked at historical data and identified high-risk classes. These are classes that, data shows, that up to 20 percent of the students have had trouble with in the past. "We need to reach out to students and intervene, giving them the support they need before they fall through the cracks," said Krull.
On the third and eighth week of those classes, emails are sent to faculty members with a link to their class roster. Faculty have the opportunity to identify students that may be struggling in some way. "It could be any type of issue - attendance, academic, behavioral, social, personal or financial," said Krull. "Once the results come to our office, we reach out to the students to see how we may assist, how we can connect them with the appropriate student support services and personnel on campus."
Another new initiative is Building Connections, a one-credit, four-week discussion class taught by SMSU faculty. "It's a retention initiative," said Krull. Its purpose it to, well, Build Connections between SMSU students and faculty. "Because of its success, I foresee it being added to our first-year seminar course," said Krull.
Another retention initiative to originate out of the OSS is the Mustang Mentor program. New students are paired with upperclassmen, who give tours of student support areas, engage in three activities per semester with the mentee students and just check in regularly with them to see how their college experience is going. "We started last year, and came to realize it works best if students can opt in or out - let us know if they want a mentor."
It's been a huge success. This fall, 300 freshmen and transfer students have asked for a Mustang Mentor.
The mentor students "are ambassadors, orientation leaders, students who have had leadership roles on campus and who are well-respected,' said Krull.
An online magazine, Student Health 101, is also being distributed to new students electronically. With help from the Health Center, the publication talks about student health issues common during particular times of the year. "Student health, dealing with depression, getting involved - there's a new topic every month. We try to localize it so it's relevant to our SMSU community," said Krull.
There are other ideas brewing in the OSS that will be rolled out in the future, she hopes. The office's efforts go hand in hand with the University's theme of "Where You Belong."
"We want our students to know that we care, and we can help," said Krull. "The university has so many support services to help our students, this is another important piece to the puzzle. We're happy that students choose to go to SMSU and we want them to succeed while they are here."