Gaming the Transition to Post-secondary

“The first week was confusing.”

This was overheard from a student playing the first round of Tabletop University, a game designed to simulate students’ first semester in college or university.

“You know what else can be confusing?” asks the game master.

“The first week of college.”

Social events, the start of classes, and the litany of questions: What’s your name? What’s your major? Where are you from? Figuring out what to do and with whom can be bewildering for students in their first year of post-secondary study.

Players confront all of this and more in Tabletop University, the Blueprints for Student Success college transition board game. The object of the game is for players to manage time strategically with the goal of maximizing GPA and social connections while earning enough money to pay tuition and managing life events and stress. Simulating students’ first semester, it’s a lot to manage in a game. But it’s also a lot to manage in real life.

In addition to time management, players (or teams of 2 to 3) learn about the student success programs and services that exist on college/university campuses. Dr. Seifert’s research team has shown that students may be unaware of these supports and benefit from peers who connect them with campus services. By playing Tabletop University, students are introduced to areas such as Financial Aid and Supplemental Instruction. Players choose whether to allocate time to take advantage of their benefits, like grant monies/bursaries or enhanced peer-to-peer tutoring.

Tabletop University is the result of a collaboration between Dr. Tricia Seifert, Associate Professor of Adult & Higher Education and Principal Investigator of the Blueprints for Student Success project, and Magic Sails game development company. Dr. Seifert approached the Blackstone Launchpad at Montana State University where she met Waylon Roberts venture coach and game developer. After sharing an early prototype, Waylon suggested Magic Sails could bring to life a game focused on the college transition.

After several iterations and game play with hundreds of students in Montana’s rural communities, the verdict is in. The game is fun AND students learn from playing.

Grade 12 students playing Tabletop University

Recently, Dr. Seifert and Wendi Fawns of Valley Oak Education Resource Center played with students at Darby High School, Florence High School, and Victor High School, small rural schools in Montana’s Ravalli County with fewer than 30 students in their graduating class, as part of an #iGraduateMT grant project.

One of the school counselors observed,

Anyone who has ever worked with high school students knows you can tell them a piece of information and a month later some will tell you they never heard that piece of information before. Watching students play Tabletop University, I could see the information being imprinted in a different way than just informing students about college.  For example, students were able to hear about academic advising, and then make a strategic decision about how to spend their time and money that week in the game.

Students at our school were paired in teams, so they were able to discuss strategy with each other.  It was obvious that this information was being imprinted on students watching them play the game for a second time when they were advising each other and talking strategy about the nuances of the game. One student was overheard saying; “Last time I played I did academic advising and my GPA rose, so we should definitely do that.”

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Meeting with an academic advisor and identifying a good academic fit ignites interest in the subject matter and results in a higher GPA. Students learn this and other strategies through repeated play. The first time students play the game they may spend all their time in academics and have no friends at the end of the game. Let’s face it; it is hard to be successful in college with no friends. The next time students play they allocate their time in a way that balances academics as well as social life. Moreover, they realize they don’t have to do it all alone; they recognize the people, programs, and services on campus that can help them along the way.

Games allow students to try, fail, learn, and succeed in a space where the consequences are as simple as a ‘do over.’ This is the beauty of game-based learning. This is not the case when students are flung onto a post-secondary campus without the practice and knowledge of how to ‘do college.’ The consequences in this case can be dire. Students try college for a couple of weeks, fail to connect academically and socially, and deem they are simply not ‘college material.’ The key motivation for the Blueprints for Student Success project is to assist students to develop what David Conley and others refer to as the ‘college knowledge’ they need for early and ongoing success. This contributes to students persisting and achieving the academic and personal goals they set for post-secondary study.

It’s exciting times for the Blueprints for Student Success project with plans to make Tabletop University available for high school, college and university educators. It’s not enough, however, to make the game available. The long-term plan is to follow-up with students as they transition from high school to college, examining if they engage differently as a result of game play. If you find this as exciting as we do, we would love for you to be a part of this project. Let us know of your interest by leaving a comment and stay tuned!

If you would like project and game updates, follow Blueprints for Student Success – Montana on Facebook or @_blueprints on Twitter.

Generous funding to support the development of Tabletop University and the Blueprints for Student Success research project has come from:

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A collaborative grant project of the Office of the Commissioner of Higher Education, Dennis and Phyllis Washington Foundation, Office of Public Instruction, and Montana Department of Labor & Industry

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College of Education, Health & Human Development at Montana State University

Montana State University’s Outreach and Engagement Council

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Lessons from a “One-Stop Shop”

Happy New Year, 2019! The Supporting Student Success blog is trying something new for the coming year. We want to highlight the amazing work that is going on around the world to support post-secondary students to achieve their academic and personal goals. We want to hear from you! Have you, your co-workers, or the students with whom you work done something interesting? Have you developed a new program, enhanced your own practice in a meaningful way, collected and analyzed data that has led to other institutional improvements? Essentially, do you have a story to tell?

To kick us off, I am excited to share a story of a “one-stop” comprehensive student center at a university in Mexico.

It’s interesting when a campus has undergone such a physical transformation that you are unsure if you have been there before. This happened to me as I walked through the halls of Mohawk College. The first time I had been on campus was to collect data as part of Phase I of the Supporting Student Success project. The next time was to collect Phase II data. In the intervening 18 months, the campus had transformed. My memory of 14 or more individual offices where students registered for classes, received financial aid, paid their tuition bill, learned about student clubs and organizations, and met with a career counselor were replaced with a sleek central location that was well-lit and inviting.

This was more than five years ago but I remember that day like it was yesterday. The look and feel of that single, central location beckoning students—many of whom are adult learners—to engage and take charge of their educational experience is something that I haven’t forgotten.

Locations such as the one at Mohawk College have sprung up across North America. Recently, I attended AACRAO’s Strategic Enrollment Management conference in Washington, DC and re-connected with my colleague, Francisco Maldonado, from UPAEP (Universidad Popular Autonoma del Estado de Puebla), who presented on lessons learned from 20 years of running a “one-stop shop” comprehensive student center.

For the last decade, the concept of the “one-stop shop”, which may include registrarial, financial aid, financial services, academic advising, career services, and opportunities for student engagement, has grown in popularity. In fact, it seemed that every attendee in the room either had a “one-stop shop” on their campus or were in the process of developing one. The interest in the “one-stop” concept made Francisco’s list of 15 “musts” even more salient.

I asked Francisco if he would share his slide show for the Supporting Student Success blog and he has graciously agreed. Below are his slides from the AACRAO SEM conference along with his perspective informed by nearly 20 years on the journey.

15 Musts to Design and Keep Efficient & Satisfactory Service in a One-Stop Shop

How did we design, and try to maintain, an efficient and satisfactory service in our one-stop shop? It is important to note that we speak here of our experience and what we have learned along the way. What you see in these slides is not taken from any book, or manual; it is only what we have learned along the way.

According to this, we have come to identify 15 “musts” that we think must be borne in mind when it comes to implementing a service, from assuring the need for it to continuous improvement, going through various stages among which we identify the sale of the idea, what is related to the service processes, the database, the IT tools and the necessary personnel, the branding, the promotion, the fulfillment of the promises, the service evaluation, the participation of the stakeholders and the joint decision-making that leads us to continuous improvement.

NoWayBack

First of all, we had to be sure that this is what we wanted and what our students needed, because once we started and generated expectations among both students and university staff, there is no way back. We could not say “let’s go back to the previous situation”. The fact of implementing almost any service, but especially as a one-stop shop for students, is a point of no return.

It is convenient to remember here that these kind of offices are known as “hygiene” … are any of you familiar with the term or concept?

A department or office of “hygiene” is one that, while it works no one notices, but as soon as it fails or it doesn’t exist anymore, everyone realizes. And that happens with the one-stop shops, particularly in the universities. That is why its implementation is a point of no return.

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It was also important to persuade the various stakeholders of the idea, but especially those who would be affected in their work, their processes and, above all, in their position of power.

It is not a secret that integrating various services for the first time in one place changes the playing field. For some people, they may perceive this change as a loss of “power” if the specialized service they had previously provided in their own offices is moved. Hence the well-known resistance to change and its consequent obstruction by some people who feel affected.

We had to face this too and it was not easy. I think it was even the most complicated to achieve, that even having already started operations in our one-stop shop, we still found signs of resistance to change and, even today, some comment or symptom still emerges from some people who were working during the implementation over 18 years ago.

AnalyzeSimplifyConnectProcess

The next thing we did, which was not the hardest part, but I would say it was the most laborious and took the most time, was to analyze, simplify and connect our service processes.

Before the one-stop shop, each office had its own processes, requirements, documents and even information systems, linked to those of other offices or departments, but not in a systematized way, which represented for the student having to make a pilgrimage from an office to another to get the paper, the stamp or the document that the next office requested.

To avoid and solve this, the first thing that had to be done was to analyze our processes separately, simplify them and connect them, all with a systemic vision, realizing (all of us who participate) that being part of a whole (systemic vision) an amount of requirements, steps and business rules were not necessary.

BuildDatabase

However, the analysis, simplification and connection of the processes would have served little or nothing if that had not led us to build a solid and comprehensive database that contained the information of all our students regarding the different offices that make up the one-stop shop. That is, it was necessary to take the information from the different systems and databases managed by each office to a single central database, which was also necessary for the next stage …

IntegrateIT

… that was to merge or integrate the different systems into one, so that all the requirements and validations that had to be done manually from one office to another, were made directly by the system, without the need for the student to go to each office for the signature, seal or authorization needed.

Among these three steps, I would say this is the core design of a one-stop model. Without an analysis, simplification and connection of processes, a solid and comprehensive database and a single system (or several, but integrated), I do not say that it would be impossible—but surely it would be much more difficult—to implement this service model.

This is how our current SIS was born, called UNISOFT. A comprehensive university management system, both academic and administrative, homemade, which is now also the source from which the rest of our systems are fed.

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At the same time, we recruited, selected, and trained the team with the right profile to give our students the service we wanted. We all know that the soul of any service is the people who provide it and that a person with a profile that is not service-oriented can do more harm than simply not having anyone.

Over time we have also learned that these positions turnover often and that even people with the right profile burn out in much less time than in almost any other position. So the team requires very close follow-up, motivation, and constant training (due to everything emerging and changing within the institution) for a dynamic position that allows them not to get bored or burnt out, and requires a high degree of frustration tolerance.

BrandStrategy

We also found it very useful to create and position a brand within the institution. This was important to do among students and the academic and administrative staff. Branding was key among staff who supported the general strategy of our university as an innovative institution and focused on academic quality as in the service, but who also generated a sense of belonging to something greater, something more important, for the team that participated in this process (those who we had to sell the idea in the first place, remember?)

DesignDevelopBrand

From our brand strategy arose this logo, which was the one we used when in the year 2000 our small student service center evolved into a comprehensive center under the concept of a one-stop shop.

Since its birth in the mid-90s, its name was “Student Attention Center” (CAE for its acronym in Spanish) and since the name was already positioned in our community, we used the same base adding a “+” sign (that, in addition, being in red color, gives the idea of the symbol of the Red Cross, which is where you go for help) and the words “and better”. In this way, we came up the “CAE + and better”.

SpreadTheNews

We also conducted a dissemination campaign through the internal media of the institution, alluding to the simplification, the elimination of queues and endless visits, and systematization, since at the same time our first self-service consultation system for students was released, so that at least they could solve their doubts regarding their academic and administrative information without depending on us.

DoorsOpen

And the moment of truth had arrived; the moment to open the doors, which I remember very well, was on September 17, 2001, that was also the moment of …

FulfillPromises

… fulfilling the expectations and promises we had generated, which is not a single day thing, but every day, student to student, service to service, case by case.

Because as was said before, this is a hygiene service and with only one promise or expectation not fulfilled, 18 years ago or today, it is enough to take down the work of many people and a lot of time.

It is difficult, but it is necessary.

MeasureWhatMatters

Once we started, we also learned to measure everything, because what is not measured, cannot be managed and improved. But with the passage of time we learned to measure what really matters and not absolutely everything.

It is useless to have very accurate measurements that reveal that, on average, it takes very little time to solve a problem. Rather, we have to focus on measuring what really matters, which in our opinion is the particular experience of each customer and the resources that these experiences are costing us. Measurement is meaningless if the results are unknown.

ShareResults

These measurements must be shared with those who matter, both to celebrate what is good, congratulate and reward, and to correct what is necessary, much of which is not entirely in the hands of our team, but it is in our hands to seek the solution with whomever we should do it. For example, when it comes to something related to the systems, or when resources of all kinds are required in order to continue fulfilling our promises, we have to negotiate with whomever is needed in order to solve the problem to our students.

MakeDecisions

But more important than measuring and sharing information is to make decisions based on it. It is useless to measure if that does not lead us to make decisions that allow us to …

Improve

continuously improve. These services quickly become obsolete and have to be renewed continuously to meet the expectations of a changing student body.

StayStudentCentered

And perhaps one of the most important things we have learned is that there is always the temptation, for other stakeholders, but also for us, to put processes or systems ahead of or above the interests of students. It is common that in everyday life we lose focus and look for the simplest or most efficient for us, although this is not necessarily for the student, so we have to be alert all the time and fight against each threat so that, others like ourselves, keep our students at the center of everything.

Wrapping Up

What an honour to share Francisco’s lessons with the Supporting Student Success blog readers. Thank you, Francisco.

It is fitting that the final “must” focuses on staying student-centered. At the end of the day, students bring us to this work. Their stories, their experiences must be at the center of what we do and how we do it.

As we begin a new year and launch into 2019, I invite you to take a moment and reflect on how you demonstrated a student-centered approach in your work in 2018. What will you do in 2019 to maintain and advance your student-centered practice?

If you wish, please “leave a comment” so that others might be inspired by your words and commitments to supporting student success in 2019.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Success Begins with a Blueprint

It is an honour to have the Supporting Student Success research project covered so thoughtfully in the current issue of University Affairs.

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Sparrow McGowan did a great job of sketching the trajectory of this multi-phased project. What came to light over the course of the project was that setting students up for success starts in high school. Interactions with counselors, teachers, peers, and parents set the stage for how students engage the post-secondary application and transition process.

An extension of the Supporting Student Success research has been the Blueprints for Student Success project which seeks to build a bridge between high school and post-secondary. The project demystifies the “hidden curriculum” and helps high school students learn about the people and programs on post-secondary campuses who are committed to student success. One might say the objective of the Blueprints project is

To help students learn how ‘to do’ college before being ‘done in’ by college.

One of the ways the Blueprints project accomplishes this goal is through game-based learning. We have teamed up with Magic Sails game design company to create Tabletop University, the college transition board game.

Rather than being told about time management, players are tasked with managing their time to optimize both their academic performance and social connections. It was amazing to hear a Grade 10 young man comment on how valuable it was to hold “time” in his hand. Tactile and tangible, he could feel time and see how his choices had consequences in the game.

Time In Hand

We are excited by players’ and teachers’ responses to the game. We expect to launch a Kickstarter campaign to support Tabletop University (the Blueprints for Student Success college transition game) by the end of the year. You can learn more about the game and rules here.

Follow the Blueprints for Students Success project on Facebook or on Twitter (@_blueprints).

 

U Pick the Conference Proposal – Transatlantic Gaming for Higher Ed Student Success

Rather than a group of faculty members determining which proposals make it on the conference program, potential attendees at SXSW EDU review proposals and vote on what they want to see presented. Think academic conference meets American Idol; crowd support is paramount for being selected.

Kirsty Wadsley (@KirstyWadsley) and Tricia Seifert (@TriciaSeifert) wish to share the Blueprints college transition board game we have been playing with high school students on both sides of the Atlantic but WE NEED YOUR VOTE!

Voting for our proposal is easy but best done on a computer than phone.
1. Click on the this link: https://www.sxsw.com/apply-to-participate/panelpicker/

2. Create an account. You can do that by clicking Sign In or Sign Up in the upper right. Then you’ll need to verify the account via a link sent in email. If your link isn’t hyperlinked, copy and paste it into the browser.

3. Select “Vote Now”PanelPicker-Select Vote Now

4. Search “Transatlantic”

Search Transatlantic

5. Click “Vote Up”. While you are there, check out the additional supporting materials.Click Vote Up

6. And then leave a comment if you are so inclined.

We are absolutely thrilled to share what we have learned from students who have played the @_blueprints college transition game thus far. Comments like, “this game helped me realize there is more than one way to be academically successful in college” to “the game gave me an idea of what time management will really be like.” Students have raved about the games’ fun, interactive nature.

The Blueprints post-secondary/college transition board game is experiential learning at its finest. Students play, fail, learn, and advance. They strategize around time management and learn of the amazing people and programs that exist to help students succeed.

Going to college and/or university is a tremendous change for students. We hope to share the game with high school counselors and student affairs & services professionals. If the old saying “practice makes perfect” holds into today’s post-secondary context, then there is no better way for students to be successful in college than through practiced play.

SXSW EDU – Transatlantic Gaming for Higher Ed Student Success

Research is a lot like life; it’s an unpredictable journey.

The Supporting Student Success research project began in colleges and universities across Canada with conversations with students, staff, and faculty. We learned that students are often unaware of the programs and services available to support their success until they find themselves in crisis. This got us thinking: how could we help high school students make a more seamless transition to post-secondary education?

We knew that whatever we developed had to invite students to actively engage in the learning process. Our answer to this question has been the Blueprints for Student Success project. We have developed a website and series of tools and resources for the Canadian context. But we know that transitioning to college/university can be difficult whether students are from a small town in Montana or a big city like London, England. Recognizing that college access and success are international issues, the Blueprints project has expanded to the United States and the United Kingdom.

Not only has the Blueprints project spread internationally, now we are harnessing the power of games to help high school students and first-year college/university students make a seamless transition into post-secondary. Our recent venture includes the Blueprints board game. Between social events, academic assignments, and life that just happens, players use their time to maximize social connections and academic performance while managing stress.

Together, @TriciaSeifert and @kirstywadsley are excited to propose a session titled “Transatlantic Gaming for Higher Ed Student Success” for SXSW EDU. Check out the board game’s development here: BlueprintsDeck_IntlBoardgame.

Stay tuned for information on how you can participate in the SXSW “picker process” and ensure that our session is included in the upcoming SXSW EDU conference and festival.

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Finding their Way: Power of Peers

It’s summer on college campuses and there is a different energy in the air. New students are registering for classes and orientation leaders are showing them the ropes. Next month, many of these first-year students will move into their residence hall rooms and meet their resident advisor. In both cases, peers, serving as orientation leaders and resident advisors, are paraprofessionals who are key to supporting student success.

summerPhoto credit: Boston University

The Supporting Student Success team found that peers are coaches, confidantes, and co-constructors of learning opportunities for new students. Their actions inspire those they are helping to do the same, copycatting kindness and welcome, for the class of students who will come behind them. Importantly, it wasn’t just peers in formal leadership roles that make a difference in supporting their fellow students but informal role models as well.

As student affairs professionals prepare to train students as resident advisors, tutors, Supplemental Instruction leaders, peer health & wellness ambassadors, and much more, we invite you to learn more about the power of peers to support student success in our new publication in Higher Education Research & Development.

It’s the perfect summer read whether on the pool deck or curled up in the library.

https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/07294360.2018.1471050

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Our Journey is Our Story

You know a conference has left an impact when you find yourself itching to write while on the early morning flight home. On my 16-hour travel, I continue to think about and process the experience at the first joint conference of CACUSS and ARUCC.

I blogged on Day 1 of my professional learning journey, sharing how much I valued and was humbled by the opportunity to connect with the ancestral, unceded land of the Mi’kmaq people as I walked a part of the Confederation Trail. The walk centered my mind and provided me with a clear intention for the conference.

Stated simply, I was blown away by the depth of learning, vulnerability, and authenticity that was shared at this week’s CACUSS-ARUCC conference in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island. On a more personal note, going into the conference with a very clear intention, I am humbled by the peaks and valleys that I know I will encounter on my personal learning journey to examine my settler/colonial assumptions and biases.

Sitting in Circle

My conference journey began literally on the road. I drove 1000 km from my home to Thompson Rivers University where I learned with the wonderful Faculty of Student Development team. In circle, I shared my name and where I’m from. We were a large group and it took almost an hour to go around the circle one time. I felt myself getting a little antsy and my western/colonial mind wondered if this was a good use of time. I had to quiet my mind and commit to being in the present moment in which Paul Michel, Executive Director of the Office of Aboriginal Affairs, shared the importance of beginning in a good way. By acknowledging our ancestry first, we communicate our connection to the land and our relations. As we went around the circle, we not only learned about each other but new connections were discovered.

I found that two others in the circle have family whose last name is Gunn. They are from the Clan Gunn of Scotland. I thought my grandmother’s family was from the Gunn’s in Wales. Maybe they migrated from Scotland? Spending time in circle in this way, I’m motivated to learn more about the land in which I come and my relations. Irrespective, I feel a new closeness to these colleagues.

Lesson 1

Paul shared that our stories stand on the shoulders of our ancestors. It is what connects us to our ancestors’ journey. All journey is story and our story is our journey.

Skiing, Struggling, Steeling Resolve

From TRU to Charlottetown via Calgary, my conference journey began with story and continued with story front and center at the CACUSS-ARUCC conference.

Candy Palmater took the stage and enthralled the audience with her story. There were moments that were hilarious and others that were heartbreaking. I would hunch that parts of her story resonated differently with each person in the audience. This is the power of story; it invites people to connect with whatever chapter compels a response.

I am a skier and I was mesmerized by Candy recounting when her brother taught her to ski. I know firsthand it is no fun to fall when skiing. It hurts and it’s hard to get up with long planks strapped to your feet. But falling is part of skiing and having to get up is inevitable. If you fear falling, then you ski with fear. If you learn first how to get up, you can ski without fear.

Lesson 2

These were two key lessons that I gained while on my conference journey but I have to confess that I struggled throughout. The US policy of separating children from their parents who were seeking asylum at the border weighed so heavy on my heart. Throughout the conference, I was angry. I was communicating with my Congressional delegation daily through social media. I am still angry and still tweeting, Facebook posting, and calling.

I acutely felt my privilege to be at a conference in which the opening statement acknowledged that the conference attendees were occupying and visiting the ancestral and unceded land of the Mi’kmaq people. The Europeans who came to this land committed horrible atrocities and a taking of the land.

It was not lost on me that at in the same minutes that Pat Pardo, CACUSS President uttered those words, border agents of my home country were forcibly taking small children from their families. Not unlike the forcible taking of Indigenous children from their families and placing them in boarding schools in Carlisle, Pennsylvania and Haskell, Kansas to “kill the Indian, save the man.”

The notion of truth and reconciliation, as painfully imperfect as it is in Canada, feels unattainable in the United States in which the truth is denied, distorted, and dismissed. With truth questioned at every turn, I wonder if we may ever engage a process of reconciliation.

There are moments that I feel helpless and hopeless. But thankfully, most moments are fueled by a passion and persistence to RESIST! I gain strength from my Indigenous colleagues who have resisted and survived in the face of broken treaties and cultural genocide. One of my colleagues shared that he is the first in his family not to go to residential school. His generation and the two previous, if allowed to participate in post-secondary education at all, became lawyers and teachers and social workers. His daughter, the fourth generation, wants to be a rock star.

I do not share this glibly. I share this story because it gives me hope. I am deeply grateful for my CACUSS family who have shared their stories with me. This story and the many others told this past week steel my resolve to examine the colonial assumptions and biases that pervade our post-secondary program. To expose these assumptions and biases in plain light. To name them for the colonial privilege and power that they provide to some and the oppression they impose on others.

I don’t have the map for decolonizing the programs over which I have influence at my institution. But I am on the journey and looking for some good company. Let me know if I you will be on the trail.

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I invite you to “leave a comment” about your learning journey. There’s great value in having friends to share with along the way.

— Tricia Seifert is associate professor of Adult & Higher Education and department head of Education at Montana State University. She is also the principal investigator of the Supporting Student Success research project.