New college awaits new students

July 19, 2013

When new students arrive at Indiana State University this fall, some will live in a newly renovated residence hall while others will enjoy a new gym floor in the university arena.

But the new offering on the Terre Haute campus that is expected to have the most impact on their futures is a new college set up to ensure a smooth transition to higher education and help them stay on track to graduation.

The University College will undertake that task without a single professor. Classes will remain in the university's five existing undergraduate colleges. What the new college does feature is a new approach to student advising with about one dozen staff members whose sole responsibilities are to help first-year and transfer students with course planning, monitor their progress and guide them through any rough spots.

Full-time professional advisors will practice "intrusive advising," said Linda Maule, dean of the college.

That doesn't mean advisors will magically appear in students' dorm rooms or cars during times of crisis like insurance agents in TV commercials.

What it does mean, Maule explained, is that advisors have already reached out to students who attended orientation sessions in June and that outreach will "continue throughout the upcoming semester, either with face-to-face meetings or e-mail contacts. Whether or not there are more of those would be dependent upon how the student is doing in terms of attendance, grades and those kinds of things."

Using MAP-Works, a nationwide tool that assesses student preparedness and tracks their academic progress, advisors can reach out to faculty members and alert them when they see that students need assistance, she said.

"This allows for advisors to be better trained, which they desperately want to be, and I think it allows us to hold them to a greater level of accountability, and to make changes more quickly if there is a problem," Maule said.

The new approach already shows signs of paying off - even before this year's new students begin classes in August.

Advisor Melissa Benningfield has already contacted all the students assigned to her - 239 at last count - and has received "an overwhelming response by phone, e-mail and personal visits."

Incoming students are hungry for information, Benningfield said, about issues ranging from acquiring textbooks to roommate assignments and what to bring to campus. The biggest issues so far center on class scheduling and the new approach will ensure that those issues are resolved before the start of classes.

Maule and Benningfield are longtime fixtures at Indiana State. Maule has been a faculty member since 1996 and has served as coordinator of foundational studies, a post she still holds. Benningfield has been an instructor in the criminology and criminal justice department for 19 years and has helped students plan their academic careers as a scheduler.

"It's great that we're here and able to assist students now and that will reduce the amount of anxiety when they step on campus. They will feel prepared and that's what we want is a prepared student," she said. "I'm so excited to be on the forefront of University College. I'm excited because it's new but also because I know in my heart it is something that is needed and will be helpful for the university as a whole."

Susan Johnson, director of academic advising, is another veteran staff member who embraces the new college.

"I'm thrilled to play a role in University College because I sincerely believe it is a great asset to our new students," she said. "In my 16 years of advising experience, I have tremendously enjoyed working with our first year students to help them make the transition to college. The first year of college can be overwhelming and intimidating, but our students are already connected to their academic advisor to help them navigate the process."

Faculty are still connected. During this year's New Student Orientation, advisors used data that a faculty member had collected and analyzed to help them determine the optimum time for a student to take a particular class, Maule said.

"If there was a class that was very difficult for a student in a specific kind of area, where you might look at SAT score, grade point average and science and math background, instead of having them take it their first semester, we would say ‘Complete this, and then we'll have you take it next semester'," Maule said. "So instead of just saying ‘Oh, it looks like you need to take X, Y and Z," they're really looking at the student and seeing where they're at and helping them to make choices that will allow them to be successful that first semester."

Incoming students now also benefit from lower student to advisor ratios.In the past, faculty members in each student's chosen area of study served as advisors, juggling that responsibility with day-to-day teaching and often having no contact with students until midway through the fall semester, Maule said.

Each of University College's 11 advisors will serve about 250 students, she noted, while faculty advisors may have been responsible for as many as 375 students apiece.While some institutions restrict University College advising to "at-risk" students or don't allow students to declare a major, "We're in between that," Maule said.

Faculty and/or staff members in each student's chosen area of study will also work with students. Students will be assigned to University College for a minimum of two semesters before transitioning to the appropriate academic college housing their declared major and receiving advising from professors.

Photo: http://isuphoto.smugmug.com/Other/ISUphotoservices/new-student-orientation-2013/i-SgcFGvj/0/L/20130619-DSC_2940-L.jpg - Linda Maule, dean of University College at Indiana State University, speaks with criminology major Andrew Milner and other incoming students June 19, 2013 during New Student Orientation. (ISU/Sam Barnes)

Contact: Linda Maule, dean, University College, Indiana State University, 812-237-3940 or linda.maule@indstate.edu

Writer: Dave Taylor, media relations director, Office of Communications and Marketing, Indiana State University, 812-237-3743 or dave.taylor@indstate.edu