All posts by Gretchen Caughman

Career Services making key strides to keep students engaged

EDITORS NOTE: This is part one of a three-part series that examines student engagement and maintaining our student population. Part of the growth of GRU will depend on recruitment, but another key figure will be keeping them on campus and making sure they graduate. Guest writer Julie Goley examines some of the steps Career Services is taking.

Students often start college with great enthusiasm; they are excited about the new world, their freedom, and ideas about their future major and career afterwards. It is colored by the lens of their current knowledge about the world, coupled with expectations influenced by parents, their peers, and themselves to get to this point called college. Sometimes, the reality of the college world and the real world beyond does not meet expectations, and students become unhappy, or worse, disengaged from the learning process completely.

“Jane” wanted to be a nurse for years, only to discover she is unable to handle the rigor of science courses required to get her to that point. Or she determines it is not a passion for her, as Jane’s viewpoints and experiences of the profession expand and her self-knowledge truly begins to take shape.

The financial pressures of “getting in and getting out” of college to move forward in society and minimize college debt collide with an expansive lens of life many young students are just discovering and can’t quite zoom into focus. They realize that major selection and career planning are critical for their success. Unfortunately for some, this realization hits after several terms of academic struggle, confusion, and disengagement before they are propelled to figure it out.

Who are you? Why are you here? Where are you going? What are you doing now to ensure your success to get there? This explosion of inquisition is where Career Services can come into play by helping students (hopefully early in their college experience) explore more about themselves to make better decisions about their future, both at the university and for their career. Unlike Academic Advisement, the Career Services Office is not a mandatory service, but it offers many assessment resources for students of all types and sizes. We offer career, skills, and personality assessments online to help students get an early advantage. Couple this with a team of career advisors committed to meeting with students to review the results and the journey of discovery, and planning begins.

One of the assessments used is the Compass test, a five-minute online survey where students answer a brief series of visual questions designed to get a “snap shot” of their interests and potential careers to compliment them. This is a great starting point, and it is relatively simple for students to take on their own time as a precursor to some of our other assessments. It’s also effective for the procrastinating student who has to register on the same day and pick an alternative major “right now.” Another assessment, called Focus2, helps students assess their career interests and narrow down their major selection, while incorporating goal-setting exercises into the plan. Focus2 can be an effective bridge for students working with their academic advisor on the academic plan, while determining an overlay of their career plan.

Products like SkillScan target the student’s natural skill sets as it ties to career development. The Knowdell Cardsort determines values and motivating factors that can impact career choice or the ability to sustain in a major or career. We need to remember these students are often very young and they are still discovering things about themselves, making it difficult for them to make large choices when they are still learning who they are.

We also have a program called the DISC Index that we often use with nontraditional undergraduates and our graduate/professional students who have more self-knowledge to apply. The DISC assists students with honing their insights for professional and career development as the instrument determines strengths and behavioral tendencies in natural and stressed states of work. The department also offers the Strong/MBTI Career Report, a synthesized analysis of the two most popular career inventories that targets multiple factors which impact career and major planning, including behavior in group dynamics.

While these assessments can sound like a lot of work, we find that students typically enjoy the tests and the self-discovery, once they commit to seeking the help to begin with. Career advisors in Career Services meet with the students to guide them through which resources might be best for them, depending on their unique situation. If academic obstacles threaten a student’s perceived dream job, Career Services can help them determine alternate paths they may be more successful with that correlate to other majors and careers the student is not even aware of. Career advisors can help the student work through potential options to find one that works for them.

The reality of the career life cycle is changing in society, and Career Services is working to make sure the students understand that. It is not about “I’m going to do this job with this one degree in that field.” It is about aligning a major and career path to one’s strengths, interests, values, and abilities while they are keenly aware of their marketable and transferable skills that will serve them long after they graduate GRU.

The careers we prepare students for now may not even exist in 20 years, and if they do, they certainly won’t look and function like they do today. If students understand who they are, what they enjoy in a discipline, and how and where they uniquely add value, those are the marketable skills to help them navigate the uncertainties of their career path for life. The more they understand how GRU fits into their life and the real world, the more likely they are to see the value and graduate, even if they have some problems. In the end, it’s about building a better “you” with each student at GRU. If Career Services can help students discover how their unique talents, skills, interests, and personality can best integrate with a meaningful major and career plan at GRU, we are equipping them for success here and for the journey long after.

Julie Goley is the Director of Career Services and if you would like to learn more about Career Services visit gru.edu/careerservices.

Welcome to the beginning of a new academic year

As we gear up for a new academic year, I find myself thinking about how this time of year signals a critical beginning for our type of organization. For us, beginnings include new students, residents, and faculty and even new programs and courses. What other type of organization begins its new year with such exciting advancements?

I am particularly enthusiastic about 2014-15, when we’ll reach milestones that will have a lasting impact on GRU for many years. Further, these are milestones that we must reach together, because they will be our achievements.

In the weeks ahead, you’ll receive invitations to engage in various institutional endeavors. I understand how easily we overlook messages, emails, and other communications when we’re so engaged in our day-to-day obligations to students and to each other. However, I genuinely desire broad-based involvement in these major efforts to be assured that we’re heading in the right direction.

I hope you will take the time to participate in any institutional questionnaire or other feedback opportunity that you receive. However, the initiatives described below are particularly – and equally – crucial to our university’s success in 2014-15:

Academic Strategic Plan 

While we have adopted “Transition Forward” as GRU’s first strategic plan, I believe we need to articulate the strategic direction of academic affairs more specifically. I hope you will participate in this process by sharing which core issues you believe should be included in this plan.

Employee Engagement Survey 

Following last spring’s campaign to solicit participation in phase 2 of the Press Ganey Employee Engagement Survey, we achieved a 62 percent response rate from our GRU faculty and staff. The results of the survey have been analyzed and will be rolled out in stages over the next few months. In the early stages between now and early October, vice presidents and deans will review the results for their respective programs. Then, department chairs and managers will communicate results with their respective faculty and staff, culminating in the development of action plans by mid-December.

  • You can expect to learn about the survey results and next steps from your leadership by early October.

GRU Campus Master Plan

During the summer, we made great strides in understanding our desires and needs and assessing our systems to develop our University and Medical Center into a cohesive whole. With this information, we can bring out the crayons and start drawing scenarios for a Campus Master Plan that covers all three GRU mission areas of academics, research, and clinical service. We will need your help as we move to this critical stage in the process.

  • You can expect to receive an invitation to participate in a Town Hall Meeting to discuss our Master Planning efforts from the University Faculty Senate in September.

Quality Enhancement Plan

The QEP Core Team has evaluated the theme suggestions received last spring and identified a set of themes to be incorporated in our Quality Enhancement Plan proposal process. Between now and mid-September, you’ll be invited to explore the themes via a virtual dialogue. Then, in mid-September through October, the QEP Core Team will call for proposals for your ideas of what our QEP should look like. I hope you will be as engaged in this next phase of the selection process as you were in the theme gathering efforts last year.

  • You can expect to receive communications on how to participate in our QEP selection efforts via email and presentations beginning this week.

As you can see, we have much to accomplish in 2014-15, and getting there depends on your engagement in the early stages. I look forward to all of your contributions to these important efforts at advancing GRU.

GRU’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion: Three Years from launch to leader

Three years ago, we launched GRU’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion, under the direction of Dr. Kent Guion, to centralize and energize initiatives to foster a climate of inclusion across our campuses and to prepare our students for success in an increasingly global economy.

In that short time, I am tremendously proud to say that GRU has emerged an industry leader of inclusive excellence, garnering national recognition for our robust and innovative program. We received the 2013 Higher Education Excellence in Diversity (HEED) Award as well as the 2014 Award for Diversity and Inclusion by the National Collegiate Athletic Association and the Minority Opportunities Athletic Association — and we’ve only just begun.

Here are some ODI highlights:

  • Cultural competency training — Since launching the Healthy Perspectives program in 2013, more than 9,000 physicians, staff, and students have participated in cultural competency training designed to foster the delivery of high-quality health care that is respectful of and responsive to the needs of our diverse patients. Before-and-after tests show organization-wide cultural competency and inclusiveness across all groups has improved from 68 percent to 89 percent. Plans are in place to build on these successes with continuing education modules, a certificate program, and more. Thanks go out to the Health Care Georgia Foundation and the John and Mary Franklin Foundation for their funding support.
  • The GRU Healthy Respect website — Going live in a matter of weeks, this site will contain tips, webinars, an events calendar, and other resources to help cement our commitment to institutional civility and ensure an environment of respect and inclusion for all.
  • The annual GRU Diversity and Inclusion Summit has sold out for the past two years. Mark your calendars now for Sept. 12 and come be inspired by keynote speaker J.R. Martinez, a U.S. Army veteran who, while serving in Iraq in 2003, suffered an IED explosion that burned over 34 percent of his body. He not only survived, but he has thrived as a successful actor, effective advocate for burn victims and veterans, and inspiring motivational speaker.
  • Recognition as a national leader in inclusive excellence — As our reputation has grown, other organizations have reached out to us. This year alone, we are collaborating with Goodwill Industries, NCAA Division II college presidents and conference commissioners, Minority Opportunities Athletics Association, Sodexo, the American Dental Education Association, the Health Initiative, and more to both share what has worked for us and to learn of other opportunities to advance ODI values and goals at our institution.
  • Heritage-Themed Events — GRU’s heritage celebration events, from a dragon boat race to celebrate Asian-Pacific American heritage to Latin dance demonstrations to showcase Hispanic heritage, have been informative, fun, and popular.

Other initiatives in the works include implementing GRU Safe Zone training to create a safer, more inclusive environment for LGBTQ individuals; developing and disseminating a cutting-edge interactive, simulation-based online learning tool to teach health professions students best practices for communicating with patients through interpreters; integrating the GRU international employee and student visa programs into a single office; creating the infrastructure and data elements for our first formal GRU Diversity and Inclusion annual report; and hosting the first Georgia Association of Diversity Officers in Higher Education meeting.

As you can see, GRU’s ODI has been busy. Please join me in thanking the many people across our campuses and community who have contributed so that we can continuously improve our level of cultural competency, create a climate of inclusion, and make best use of our diverse talent.

Dr. Kent Guion was the 2014 NCAA Diversity and Inclusion Award recipient and most recently was acknowledged by Insight into Diversity magazine as a 2014 Diversity Visionary Award honoree.

Make your voice heard on QEP Theme

Last week, we bestowed degrees on more than 1,000 new GRU graduates. These men and women will now take the knowledge and skills they gained from our faculty and contribute to their communities in meaningful and productive ways. For the last few years, we’ve imparted on them the knowledge that one expects of a university graduate and the skills expected of a competent professional.

But did we give them everything they need for this next phase of their lives? Is there anything else we could have taught them? Could we have taught them in a different way?

These are exactly the kinds of questions we must consider as we begin to select our next Quality Enhancement Plan, or QEP. If you don’t know by now, a QEP is a course of action that will positively impact student learning or the environment that supports learning. We must submit our plan to our accrediting body, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC), in 2016 as part of the process for seeking reaffirmation of accreditation.

When our SACSCOC evaluators review our QEP, they will be looking for a few key elements. First, they expect to see that the QEP we’ve developed is aligned with our mission and our strategic plan. Second, they must be convinced that our QEP is realistic and can be implemented and assessed. And finally, our evaluators will want to understand that both selection and development of the QEP involved a broad-based process with participation from our key stakeholders.

To me, “key stakeholders” are those members of our university who are passionate about education. So basically, everyone. After all, who better to ask about quality enhancement related to student learning than you – the faculty, staff and students?

Therefore, a “broad-based process” to select a new QEP is currently underway and we need your involvement. There will be many phases in the process to selecting a QEP. Right now, we are looking for overarching themes that capture ideas with a new and inventive influence on student learning, an impact on large parts of the student population, alignment with the mission and priorities of the university, and the potential for outcomes that can be measured.

We not only want to hear about your specific ideas for a theme, but we also want your vital feedback on the themes that have already been submitted. Understanding others’ perspectives on the theme submissions, such as how you see a suggested theme as applicable to your program or what you foresee as a theme’s impact on resources, is extremely valuable as we progress toward choosing a QEP.

We currently have over 40 theme submissions from all constituent groups on the campus – students, staff, and faculty. We have created a website, gru.edu/qep/, for you to offer your ideas and serve as a clearinghouse for thoughts on the themes that have been submitted.

How we select the QEP is as important as how we execute it. Your involvement at this early stage will lay the groundwork for a dynamic, inclusive process involving all components of our institution.

The deadline to submit new themes will be May 23, and you will be able to submit feedback on the submitted themes until May 30.

The new QEP will be a multi-year initiative and truly a plan for the future – a chance to create a legacy that will enhance education for generations to come. The more input you can provide will allow us to make better choices, ultimately provide greater the benefit to the university as we aspire to greatness.

A distinctive Confucius Institute at GRU links the world

Technology and intercontinental mobility flattens the world in all aspects of our lives, and higher education must prepare its graduates for a global workplace. The University System of Georgia addresses this goal in its strategic plan, specifically strategic imperative 2: “Make Commitment to International Education.”

The USG is committed to increasing international education opportunities through student and faculty exchanges and to ensuring that all students in the system graduate as active and aware participants in the global economy and society.

Considering the vast world we inhabit and the fact that GRU students herald from approximately 90 countries in any given semester, it is imperative we offer students opportunities to understand different cultures and their interconnectedness. World superpowers are a particular focus in curricula, and China is one of the current economic superpowers — a 2012 Gross Domestic Product of $9.227 trillion (USD), placing it second in the world behind the United States at $15.6 trillion USD. Forbes magazine predicts by 2020, China’s GDP will be $24.6 trillion (USD) and surpass the United States at $23.3 trillion (USD). The population impact is also tremendous, with China being the world’s dominant at 1.351 billion people and growing at a 7.8 percent annual rate. Our graduates will need to understand China, its people and culture. It is therefore timely that GRU launched a Confucius Institute at the end of last month.

There are over 100 Confucius Institutes in the United States, with many at top-tier universities. The core component of all Confucius Institutes is to offer Chinese language, culture, and arts education opportunities to students, and nearly all Confucius Institutes offer an additional component other than language and culture. The GRU Confucius Institute is a global pillar of distinction as the only one in the world with a focus on Traditional Chinese Medicine and associated with a public academic health center. This distinctiveness addresses values and imperatives in both the USG and GRU strategic plans to globalize curricula and improve health and health awareness of Georgians. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is recognized by the National Institutes of Health as an effective complementary and alternative medicine modality. Therefore, the intention is to offer curricula and educational programs to health care practitioners about these modalities for the management of their patients’ health. As the GRU Confucius Institute-associated curriculum and community education programs develop, it is important to keep in mind that all curricula are developed, approved, and delivered by the institution’s faculty, and so will be the curriculum of the GRU Confucius Institute.

The GRU CI was launched under the charter directorship of Dr. Joseph Tsien and includes the only museum focused on Traditional Chinese Medicine in the Western Hemisphere. The CI is not only for the GRU community, which includes many individuals of Chinese origin (31 students, 71 faculty, 4 residents, and 148 staff), but will be a cultural centerpiece for our region, highlighting the rich Chinese heritage in the Augusta community with the first Chinese in the area involved in the widening of the Augusta canal, begun in 1873 and completed in 1875.

The GRU Confucius Institute is a significant step toward expanding our global awareness and cultural competency strategic efforts. International initiatives such as this will enhance GRU’s  global presence and have profound positive benefits on our tripartite mission in the future.

Reaching out and showing GRU CARES

GRU CaresThe college experience is often characterized as one of the most exhilarating and enriching times in life, and indeed, I think most of us would agree that is the case. But it also can be fraught with challenges, unforeseen obstacles, and in some cases, outright tragedy for students. And while a particular challenge or obstacle may be individualized, its impact goes far beyond that single student. A student’s distress affects our entire campus family – students, faculty, and staff. Likewise, it is everyone’s responsibility to CARE. –

Students in distress are a critical issue on most college campuses around the country. College students are highly susceptible to adjustment difficulties, especially those in the age range of 18 to 24 years who are on their own for the first time.

We like to say it takes a university to graduate a student, but more importantly, it takes a caring and supportive academic and student affairs community to help students through situations that impact their performance in the classroom and their well-being outside of it. GRU is committed to providing a campus environment that is conducive for students to develop their full potential.

We realize that students in mental, physical, or psychological distress may have difficulty learning and/or functioning in their personal lives, and we offer support to these students. There may be times when the university is required to respond to students who are experiencing a medical crisis or whose mental, emotional, or psychological health status may directly threaten the safety and security of themselves and/or others.

Under the integrated academic and student affairs model, our Vice President for Student Affairs, Dr. Mark Allen Poisel, has created a Campus Assessment, Response, and Evaluation (CARE) team to help educate, manage, and refer students who need assistance. The newly formed CARE team provides a mechanism for those who identify students in distress to communicate their concerns, and then, after appropriate assessment, follows up to initiate supportive or interventional actions that will provide the student with the greatest chance of success and the university community the highest level of safety.

Throughout this past semester we have witnessed outstanding efforts from faculty and staff to assist students in need. And the most important lesson learned is that the entire GRU family must make every effort to tell someone when something doesn’t seem right.

To this end, we are launching a campaign of “See SOMEONE, Tell SOMEONE” in an effort to ensure that the CARE team is notified if there is concern about a student’s behavior or condition. The CARE team is made up of student affairs, student health, counseling, and public safety professionals who are working collaboratively to make certain that distressed students are afforded optimal support services in accordance with their need. In order to manage the process, the CARE team meets on a weekly or as-needed basis so that students are connected with the appropriate resources to ensure timely, specific, and comprehensive assistance.

Remember, YOU are critical to the success of the See SOMEONE, Tell SOMEONE campaign. Always be alert and do the following:

  • For a medical emergency, call 911 first, then dial 706-721-2911 to contact GRU’s 24-hour Public Safety Emergency line.
  • For a public safety emergency, call the GRU Public Safety Emergency line at 706-721-2911.
  • For non-emergency incidents, submit an anonymous report through our CARE (Campus Awareness, Response, and Evaluation) system by going to gru.edu/grucares  and clicking the ”CARE” report button. The CARE team will be immediately notified, and someone will follow up to check in on the student.

Academic affairs and student affairs are multifaceted units, each with unique responsibilities and functions, but dedicated to performing in a coordinated, integrated fashion for optimal student success. Each member of these communities — faculty, staff, and students — has an integral role in the overall success of a single student life. The CARE network includes all members of the GRU community, and its success depends on each of us being aware enough and caring enough to act.

I hope each of you will commit to continuing our institution’s rich heritage of putting students first and demonstrate you CARE through “See SOMEONE, Tell SOMEONE.” You may never know how important that simple act is to the very life of a student.

Academic advisement: redefining a key element for student success

Navigating the complex sea of undergraduate academic programs and course selections can be a daunting task for students. A strong advisement program, consisting of professional advisors and faculty working together to chart a course for student success, is essential to ensuring that their journey to graduation is as short and direct as possible. Academic advisement is a key focus of GRU’s efforts to impact positively student retention, progression, and graduation. Prior to June 2013, our undergraduate academic advisement efforts consisted primarily of a decentralized model, in which some academic departments employed a professional staff advisor but faculty advised the majority of students.

Today, GRU has a centralized Academic Advisement Center on the second floor of University Hall to support advisement of students in pre-professional undergraduate programs and for first- and second-year students of any major. This initiative involved the reorganization and centralization of eight professional staff advisors on the Summerville Campus into one location and plans to add six additional advisors this fiscal year. The office is conveniently located near Career Services, providing students with a better integration of career counseling with academic planning.

Aside from the Academic Advisement Center restructuring, faculty will continue to provide vital guiding influences in both early- and late-stage advising. Faculty members within a specific discipline offer the greatest insight into their fields’ curricular plans, or ideal pathways, as well as valuable mentoring. As students declare a major, the faculty will continue to advise the final phase of the student’s successful matriculation.

In addition to reorganizing and bolstering the personnel efforts around student advising, we are strengthening the advisors’ toolkit through the implementation of several software systems designed to capture, analyze, and communicate student performance information in ways not available previously. In October, Academic Advisement launched GradesFirst, an early alert and communications platform to track and engage students in the advisement process. This system interacts with the Banner student information system to provide advisors real-time knowledge of a student’s academic enrollment, coupled with a notes system to log advisor interactions with the students and track student performance.

Additional features, such as the early alert progress reporting and tutor tracking capabilities will allow advisors to see current enrollment and performance trends of students. This, combined with recent updates to JagTrax (Degree Works), can help with degree audits to enhance students’ timely degree completion.

In the coming year, an additional software platform from the Education Advisory Board (EAB) will be introduced and provide yet another link in the advisement process by offering predictive modeling analyses to include the following:

  • A robust analytics platform based on 10 years of our university academic data, including grades.
  • Nightly system updates to keep advisors abreast of critical changes.
  • Predictive analytics on each student’s likely performance across majors and courses.
  • Executive dashboards to identify and drill into the areas of greatest graduation risk within specific colleges and majors.

It is important to note that the efforts to build a new foundation of undergraduate advisement do not rest on staffing and software alone; rather, they must align with policies and practices that advocate student engagement and success. Such policies alignment includes the introduction of a five-term “W” withdrawal limit on courses, the “Four Years for You” campaign to encourage enrollment in 15 credit hours each fall and spring, and determining the pathways and pitfalls that can impact student progress through the curriculum.

These initiatives reach far beyond a centralized Academic Advisement Center and engage every core component of undergraduate education at GRU. Our goal is to integrate increased advisement staffing, technology tools, and the talents of our faculty and administrators to revise the student success platform of GRU.

We want our students to be successful in navigating their academic plans in the shortest time possible and with the highest level of success. Our newly designed Academic Advising Center is just one more commitment GRU is making to enhance student success.

Working together for the best GRU

We speak often around GRU of “Building the Next Great American University.” Such an achievement cannot occur through the isolated efforts of any one group – the administration, the faculty, staff, or the students acting independently. Our efforts must constitute a cohesive approach, with all these groups working together to create a standard and culture to achieve this ambitious goal.

Great universities are great because there is a culture of excellence, an expectation of excellence, and a reputation of excellence. Every member of the institution has a critical role in advancing that reputation and in keeping it in good stead.  It is only through the sustained efforts of each and every one of us that a culture of excellence thrives. And once it takes root, excellence will then permeate through every aspect of the institution, every initiative undertaken, and into specific measurable outcomes, such as several that are near and dear to my heart:  student recruitment success, and student retention, progression and graduation. It may seem too obvious to state here, but I will anyway: without students, there is no university.

We all have a responsibility to be positive ambassadors for GRU, for its success in student education, and in our undergraduate students’ journey toward their ultimate goal of a diploma in four years.  And, since these success measures are also likely to be the performance metrics by which our university will be measured in the coming years, we all have even more reason to be ambassadors of excellence.

The EVP for Academic Affairs & Provost Office’s organizational structure is intentionally designed to integrate academic affairs and student affairs for the success of students.  The objective is to ensure we are all working toward the same vision of success, by recruiting the best students, engaging them fully, and providing them the tools they need to graduate and become valuable members of society.

The concept of an arm-in-arm approach between academic and student affairs throughout a student’s entire GRU life cycle is my vision.  I believe that we are all uniquely positioned and responsible for piecing together the puzzle of academic, personal and professional success of OUR students.  Individually, the pieces will never hold a fraction of the value that an integrated and comprehensive experience can deliver.

We will improve our student outcomes through a thoughtful, strategic and collaborative approach to provide vital elements, ranging from targeted recruitment, efficient and service-oriented onboarding, distinctive programs of study, an arrray of student life and enrichment experiences, and a seamless progression from matriculation to graduation. However, each of these elements requires an interconnected organization with common glue – and that glue is you.  Whether you are students who support and help each other, the staff who creates the bridges and solutions with the exceptional effort you yourself would appreciate in a time of need, or the faculty who imparts the excitement of learning along with the requisite knowledge and skills for a successful journey of discovery and learning, we are all integral spokes in a student’s wheel of success.

Great universities are complex mixtures of ingredients, including distinctive programs, dedicated and productive faculty and staff, an atmosphere of scholarship, innovation, collegiality, commitment, and that culture of excellence.  At GRU our vision is  to enhance each of these over the next few years.  As these changes occur, and as we work closely together to achieve that goal of being the next great American university, I hope you will be as excited as I am about these changes. We all should get excited about the institution we are becoming. And we should make sure other people know we are excited about that future and the great things it will bring not only for GRU, but for the city, the region, and the state. Excitement is contagious, and it will draw other talented people to GRU.   As a community of diverse, talented and dedicated individuals, we have much to be proud of today, and as we forge our future together, we will have even more tomorrow.

SACSCOC is visiting and for a very good reason

A peer review committee from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges – or SACSCOC, for short – will be visiting our Augusta campuses this week as a follow-up to their approval of consolidation last December. Often, a university’s collective tenor regarding such a visit is one of anxiety. After all, it’s only natural to feel apprehensive about a process that can feel scrutinizing. Yet, I can offer a different perspective, having served on both sides of the process as a university administrator as well as on a SACSCOC review committee.

The entire system of accreditation is designed first and foremost to assure the quality and integrity of educational institutions and their academic programs. And while it is true that accreditors serve as the primary authority for enforcing federal requirements tied to government funding (for example, federal student financial aid), the fact remains that the American accreditation system is a voluntary, self-regulating process. The standards and the process of review by which the SACSCOC holds GRU accountable were developed by faculty and administrators from among its member universities.

In the case of our consolidation, I have found the process to be particularly beneficial. The 39 standards that we addressed in the preliminary report sent to our review committee a few weeks ago helped us prioritize some key issues. Frankly, it’s the closest thing to an instruction manual on a consolidation that we had.

I have always found the feedback from an external committee of our academic peers to be extremely enlightening, even when the feedback is a recommendation for improvement. Of course, committees also commend universities for what they are doing well, and that is certainly gratifying!

So when you encounter our review committee this week, whether it is while participating in an interview or merely passing by in the hallway, consider how we all benefit from their time with us. And if you have the opportunity, please thank them for taking the time from their own universities to share their expertise on how we can improve our own.

GRU gives more opportunities for a complete student life

Often when I look back at my university experiences I remember events that occurred outside of the classroom, but were influenced by what I learned in class. As a biochemistry major, I loved the classroom lectures and lab sessions, but what I remember most vividly and what influenced me most were field trips with the Biochem Club to see firsthand what science meant to the real world.

Whether it was touring a food processing plant and learning how to make cheese in dump truck-sized vats, or a carpet factory to see how a batch of hard plastic pellets could be turned into a plush synthetic carpet, these excursions expanded my horizons in ways didactic coursework could not. And I have to credit our visit to the research labs of Oak Ridge National Laboratory Biology Division for at least some of my decision to pursue graduate school and a career in biomedical sciences research.

Memories such as these tell us a lot about the university experience and what graduates take away from it. They remind us how much we are shaped by our experiences, and how much our appreciation for academics is augmented by the opportunity to see a practical use for what we learn. Experiences like these tell us exactly how impactful it is when the academic and student activities aspects of student life intersect.

In the past at many universities, student activities and academics were treated as separate entities. Clubs and organizations over here and academics over there, and never the two shall meet.

But more recently, colleges have been working to blur those lines so that the two entities work together in cooperation to create a complete student life experience, in which the academic and student activities are more often complementary. Prior to consolidation our two institutions were certainly taking many steps in this direction, but we now have a fantastic opportunity to reconstruct the very foundations of these programs and start fresh from a new base of cooperation and collaboration

Already we are seeing some of the fruits of these efforts in, for instance, the upcoming Freshman Convocation. Students will be guided through the Convocation and Lyceum, which are traditionally academic affairs events, by team leaders from Orientation, which is a student affairs program. This cooperation allows new students to have a familiar face with them during Convocation and the extra hands are always welcome when dealing with a large group of students. It also allows the student orientation leaders to gain more leadership experience as part of the process.

Student affairs and academic affairs are also collaborating on the new orientation classes for students in university housing.  Student affairs is responsible for housing, while academic affairs is responsible for the class, but clearly there is value in the two working together to present the full picture to the student.

And there is also an intrinsic benefit that comes simply from the two staffs working directly together. Those in student affairs tend to be aware of one set of issues students may face, while those in academics are likely to be mindful of a completely different set. By working together, the two units draw from the expertise and experiences of both to ensure the students’ interests are always best served.

With collaboration, we can also focus on learning outcomes for student activities, and create easy inks when activities align with in-class work. If reading a story by an author is a particular course assignment, and that author is then scheduled to visit the university as part of a student activates event, it makes the classroom experience come alive even more.

Academics and student affairs have common goals: to provide support to the students and to prepare students to succeed in the world. These goals can be accomplished by these units more readily working together than in isolation.

The Fall should be exciting as this intersection between academic and student affairs becomes increasingly bright with the arrival of our new Vice President for Student Affairs. Planned efforts to expand and engage students in athletics, CURS and study abroad will be underway, while learning communities, peer to peer mentoring, shadowing and ambassador programs will bridge the traditional silos to form a more cohesive, interconnected student life for personal and academic success.

GRU’s academic affairs and student affairs teams are committed to preparing our students for a successful future, together. This is just the beginning ,so stay tuned for more as the year continues.