Supporting Indigenous STEM Students

By: Noah Arney & Michelle Pidgeon

The disparity of post-secondary education (PSE) completion between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians (40% vs. 55.3%) continues to persist (Statistics Canada, 2016). Unfortunately, the disparity is wider when we compare undergraduate degree completion between Indigenous (8.6%) and non-Indigenous Canadians (23.25%). The gap of post-secondary completion (certificate, diploma, degree, and above) specific to the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) fields is even wider. Indigenous people are half as likely to have STEM based PSE (4.1% vs. 10%), and for those with STEM Bachelors degree and above, the gap moves to being a fifth as likely (1.1% vs. 5.7%).

In 2012 Mount Royal University in Calgary, Alberta created the Aboriginal Science & Technology Education Program (ASTEP) to support the growth of Indigenous STEM students in the Faculty of Science and Technology. This program operated from 2012-2019 and represented one of three Indigenous specific STEM programs offered specifically at the university level in Canada.  To understand the impact and influence of this program an external review was conducted in 2017 following Indigenous research processes (Kovach, 2009; Pidgeon & Hardy Cox, 2002). This process included an analysis of institutional data, comparisons with similar programs, and interviews and sharing circles with students, staff, and faculty who were closely associated with ASTEP.

From the participants in the review, ASTEP was valued for its relationship building, wholistic student support, faculty support, and creating a sense of belonging for Indigenous students in the Faculty and more broadly at MRU. This was done through intentional programming and practices by the ASTEP coordinator, faculty, and staff from the Iniskim Centre at MRU all of who had a shared aim of supporting ASTEP students and broader Indigenous communities through programming for Indigenous youth.

Relational Student Services

Relationship building with students was the basis of most of the successes. This was accomplished by frequent interaction in person, electronically, and over the phone. These interactions were spread across the various events and supports offered by ASTEP. Relationship building across academic faculties and other units was accomplished by frequent interaction both formally and informally, both connected with ASTEP directly and as part of the broader University community.

Indigenous students specifically valued the academic advising, tutoring in Indigenous-centered spaces, Indigenous speaker series, Lunch and Learns, Dean’s lunches, and Elder support.  Faculty valued the professional development provided to them, assisting with curriculum development with Indigenous peoples, and organizing meetings with Elders and other knowledge keepers. Students and faculty involved in ASTEP valued the community and sense of support that was created through these various aspects of the program. The collaborations involved in ASTEP provided a welcoming and safe environment, and established relationships of trust and mutual respect.

Intergenerational mentoring with faculty, staff, and students was created through ASTEP that was another core theme emerging from the evaluation that as a program strength. Bringing role models to the institution through the Indigenous Science Speakers Series and other events and programming helped Indigenous students put themselves forward as role models for incoming university students and high school students. Through meeting Indigenous scientists and professionals, ASTEP students could go beyond imagining themselves as Indigenous STEM professionals but becoming such professionals through the meeting role models who were established in such careers. Their responsibility to give back and help the next generation continued for some ASTEP alumni who after they graduated continued to work with the Iniskim Centre and Faculty of Science to mentor the new students.

Successes Found

There was clearly value and impact of the program. From the review of institutional data, the Indigenous STEM student population doubled in five years, and now accounts for 4.2% of students in the Faculty of Science & Technology, up from 1.7% in 2011. Institutional data showed the average GPA remained in line with non-Indigenous students throughout the program while the retention rate of Indigenous students was higher than for non-Indigenous students at 87.4%. This was 10% higher than for non-Indigenous students. Pre-ASTEP retention was unable to be determined due to low student numbers. The ASTEP data challenges stereotypes about Indigenous students not being as committed or academically capable as non-Indigenous students. It also provides support for Indigenous specific programming that is aimed at supporting Indigenous student success and persistence in STEM related programming.

Challenges Faced

Two of the biggest challenges with a program like ASTEP are student time/engagement and sustainable funding. ASTEP worked on the first by having a full-time program administrator who was able to work one on one with students and adjust his schedule to better serve the student population. The coordinator acted as a liaison between the STEM faculty and the Indigenous student services, along with direct supports for Indigenous STEM students. While the program was initially funded externally through corporate funding, and when this source was not renewed, the ASTEP program was closed due to lack of institutional and/or external support. As an interim measure, many different groups on campus have taken up elements of ASTEP to ensure the students are supported until institutional funding can be secured.

Integrating Into Your Practice

Other post-secondary institutions could utilize a similar Wholistic Support Model to support the Indigenous STEM students at their schools. The Indigenous Wholistic Framework (Pidgeon, 2014) utilized by Dr. Michelle Pidgeon in her review of the program is a good model example for Indigenous post-secondary student support. The key feature of Pidgeon’s (2014) model is the “interconnectedness of the intellectual, spiritual, emotional, and physical realms” (p. 10) which are themselves connected with the relational connection of the individual to their community and beyond.  

Indigenous Wholistic Framework (Pidgeon, 2014)
Figure 1. Indigenous Wholistic Framework (Pidgeon, 2014)

The following activities, as described in Figure 2, provide some examples of how to support Indigenous STEM students.

Wholistic Supports for Indigenous Stem Students
Figure 2. Wholistic Supports for Indigenous STEM students

As you can see in Figure 2, there are many opportunities for post-secondary institutions to increase their support for Indigenous STEM students. Many institutions support Indigenous students through advising and tutoring. But the intellectual domain is more than that. Students must be given examples of other Indigenous people who have succeeded at what they are accomplishing, and faculty and staff must learn about the perspectives and backgrounds of Indigenous students. The core though is integrating support for the whole person rather than simply supporting a student’s intellectual success. It is this focus on the whole person that led to the successes of ASTEP, and it can also lead to success in other post-secondary institutions.

The Whole Student

The support of students physically may be seen in two different ways. First the support of students’ physical needs such as ensuring that students don’t need to choose between accessing supports and eating. Second is the use of land-based events and activities which would vary by the region the post-secondary institution is in.

Supporting the emotional and spiritual growth of a student is something that can be done both in conjunction with a wellness centre on campus or could be done in Indigenous student supports. Many institutions have Elders in residence or visiting Elders. Connecting students between programs and between years to create peer supports can be very beneficial. Most important though is the concept of building relations between students and between students and staff and faculty. This creates a feeling of safety and a sense of belonging that helps support students as they progress through post-secondary. Supporting this feeling of belonging is ensuring students have access to cultural supports and ceremonies as they require. Separating the spiritual domain from the rest of the person is not something that is supported by Indigenous educational philosophy. Intellectually, Indigenous students can be supported through peer-tutoring, having faculty members who have been trained around culturally relevant pedagogy and curriculum, and having direct connections of what they are learning to their future career aspirations (e.g., co-op, mentorship with professionals).

Increasing the number of Indigenous students in STEM fields is a worthy goal for any post-secondary institution. Providing support specifically for Indigenous STEM students was shown to be beneficial at MRU. From this program, there are many sharable lessons to support Indigenous students in STEM fields and we hope other institutions take up this work and develop supports, programs, and services for their Indigenous students.

Noah Arney is Work Experience Coordinator – Bachelor of Computer Information Systems, Career Services at Mount Royal University. Dr. Michelle Pidgeon is Associate Professor in the Faculty of Education at Simon Fraser University and Director, Centre for the Study of Educational Leadership & Policy (CSELP) and SAGE (Supporting Aboriginal Graduate Enhancement).


Kovach, M. (2009). Indigenous methodologies: Characteristics, conversations, and contexts. Buffalo: University of Toronto Press.

Pidgeon, M (2014). Moving Beyond Good Intentions: Indigenizing higher education in British Columbia universities through institutional responsibility and accountability. Journal of American Indian Education, 53(2), 7-28.

Pidgeon, M., & Hardy Cox, D. (2002). Researching with Aboriginal peoples: practices and principles. Canadian Journal of Native Education, 26(2), 96-106.

Statistics Canada (2016). Census of Population, Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 98-400-X2016263. Ottawa: Statistics Canada.

What do Arduinos have to do with Student Affairs?

By: Jennifer Clark, Student Success Coordinator in the Norm Asbjornson College of Engineering at Montana State University

As a student affairs practitioner, it is helpful to explain our work and its value to student success in many languages. In my student affairs work in the Norm Asbjornson College of Engineering, student success is desired; but let’s face it – engineers are often much more comfortable solving hard problems that are easily solved with math and science than messy problems that involve students, their emotions, and the back stories they bring with them to college. Regardless of the recognized value of the student success perspective, the language is unfamiliar and might even be described as foreign…but it can be acquired.

A MSU Engineering student helps Jen.

Recognizing the need to gain a deeper appreciation for the logical, ‘law-abiding’ language so familiar to engineers, I spent the last few months delving into the engineering design process through a computer hardware and coding project using open-source Arduino tools which support developing engineers and computer scientists. I was guided by my understanding of student success and pitched a ‘walk in their shoes’ concept idea to a few electrical engineering students/professionals. They were THRILLED to help me step into their world for a bit, even though they were not particularly interested in understanding the nuances of student services. At first, the goal was simply to gain a deeper appreciation for the complex nature of engineering as a discipline and as a way of thinking. What I gained was this rich, robust perspective of not only the Engineering discipline, but how to communicate the value of student affairs and the value that listening to students brings to success programs. 

This project became my way of articulating to the engineering community with whom I work why listening to students is important. The Arduino board was the instrument that allowed me to speak the ‘engineering language’ as I shared my learning. Briefly, there are 4 devices on this board; each do something different based on the code that was built in. There is an LCD screen that says, “I Love MSU” with an image of a bobcat; a light that changes between 3 colors; a buzzer that sings a Mario Cart song; and the last is a motion detector. These devices were simple in their action, but behind the scenes required a higher degree of complex and specific wiring and coding triggering the intended response to an action command. Student affairs work has a similar structure, on the surface appearing simple but requiring strategic and intentional planning to ensure student success programs have the desired outcome for the population they are designed to serve. Specifically, the motion sensor on this board provided the best demonstration of why it is so important for student affairs professionals to hear and respond to the needs of the students they serve. 

Looks so simple . . . looks can be deceiving.

As the most complex component on this board, the motion sensor took me some time, and extra help troubleshooting, to realize the pre-coded time delay was creating problems with what I wanted the device to do. It wasn’t until I reviewed for myself how the device was set up that I realized what was happening and that I could remove the extra time delay code. Instantly I recognized that this was the perfect metaphor for communicating to my engineering and student affairs colleagues the value of the student perspective as we work to perfect the practice of student success.

Intending to support success, student affairs practitioners may pre-code experiences, or strategies as best practice, unaware that they are not what students find most valuable. There is a need to engage with students and listen carefully to examine if what has been pre-coded makes sense. Keeping a finger on the pulse of current students within our disciplines allows for recognition that students really need a shorter time delay; or in my case, no time delay at all. By stepping outside my box and learning something new, a door opened, a new language was learned, a gap in understanding was bridged and a way to connect two worlds was created.

Still learning.

Engineering education and student affairs practitioners both seek to solve problems related to student success. Searching to find order where there appears to be chaos, recognizing decisions require understanding of trade-offs in using one method over another, and the willingness to embrace innovation by trying new approaches is using an engineering mindset in student affairs. Through this process it is important to be mindful of what we are doing, why we are doing it, and more importantly asking if there is something else we should, or shouldn’t, be doing instead. Including student perspectives is critical to any design process meant to benefit student populations. By keeping our finger on the pulse of what current, everyday students need, the probability of designing effective solutions increases. This supports mindfulness of the pre-coding we as practitioners insert and the purpose it serves in meeting the overall objective. So, what do Arduinos have to do with Student Affairs? They remind us to be intentional in how programming is developed in order to make the connection for maximum student effect.

Lighting the Way

By: Tricia Seifert, Associate Professor in Adult & Higher Education and Department Head of Education at Montana State University

Lanterns light the way
Lanterns suspended from the ceiling at Many Glacier Hotel in Glacier National Park.

This summer I took some time and disconnected from my phone, computer, and social media. I went to Glacier National Park and took in the breathtaking views of the mountains, lakes, streams, and wildflowers. I observed a grizzly bear and her cubs, deer, marmots, and eagles. The nature that surrounded was beautiful and inspiring.

But there was something about the lanterns in the park’s hotels and lodges. Suspended from huge beams, they lit the way. I stood on the second floor and marveled at the color of light, the shape of the lantern, and how they were hung at different heights. They made me think about how faculty, student affairs and services staff, and peers often light the way through post-secondary education’s darkness.

Students, especially those who are first in their family to attend college or university, may find the campus bewildering, a maze of buildings with names that are unfamiliar. Who is a Registrar? Who is a Bursar? And why do they need their own offices?

Those from rural communities may have no conscious memory of making a friend. They simply have gone to school with the same group of kids their whole life. Signing up to be on the email list for a student club may feel really intimidating. Sitting in a classroom with more people than in one’s hometown can be downright anxiety-provoking.

Having to get out up and out of bed of one’s own volition can be difficult if its being done for the first time. How much time is needed to study for the test? How long will it take to draft and then edit the first composition essay? Mastering the art and science of time management takes practice.

It’s for these reasons (and thousands) more why it’s important that our campuses have plenty of lanterns. Faculty, staff, and students who communicate clearly that they care about and are committed to supporting first-year students as they find their way.

Lanterns at the Lake McDonald Lodge at Glacier National Park.

At Montana State, these lanterns shine brightly during MSU Debut. This is a series of signature events that begin with hundreds of volunteers helping with Move In Day continues with Convocation, and concludes a full month later with the Involvement and Study Abroad Fair. Over the course of those weeks, there are a number of events that embody the spirit and culture of Montana State. This includes the revered ‘M’ photo where all first-year students form a huge block M on the football field and are welcomed by the University President as well as the ‘Rockin the M’ event in which students engage in the 100+ year tradition of painting rocks on the mountain side.

The beloved ‘M’ on the hillside on the outskirts of Bozeman, Montana.

At each of these events and across campus, faculty, staff, and students serve as lanterns for the first-year students starting their post-secondary journey. They are there directing students to the right building, explaining how financial aid works, and inviting them to join in the fun at ‘Movies on the Lawn.’

The hard work of planning that goes into a campus’ orientation and onboarding activities is coming to fruition, the first-year experience is beginning. But there is always an opportunity to learn what others are doing to serve as lanterns for their students. I invite you to take a moment and “leave a reply” with what you are doing to light the way.


By: Tricia Seifert

A couple of years ago I had the great pleasure of serving as a “conference weaver” for the Canadian Association of College and University Student Services (CACUSS) annual conference. Along with Neil Buddel, we went to sessions, listened carefully, and took note of the threads that wove the conference together.

CACUSS 2019 concluded two weeks ago and it has taken me that amount of time to think, digest, and process all of the professional learning that comprised my four days in Calgary. I’m not alone in stepping back and making meaning of such a valuable opportunity to connect with colleagues. Chris Vera of ANZSSA (the Australia and New Zealand Student Services Association) recently posted how this experience was like drinking from a fire hose. You can read his reflection and what he took away from the conference here. I agree completely with Chris’ identification of key threads that comprise student affairs and services work today. I invite you to take a moment and read his awesome insights.

What sticks with me from #CACUSS19 and which I can’t stop thinking about is the number of times I jotted in my journal the hashtag, #ListenToStudents. At one point, I asked on Twitter how people are connecting with students and really listening to them. I was blown away by the crowdsourced response.

Straight out of the gate, John Hannah shared the arts-based approach that he and Tesni Ellis used as part of the Student Experience Research Team at Ryerson University. Check out the blog post about their work on SA-Exchange. The image below captures the ideation and creation process of making sense of the student experience. And give a listen to the videos the students made that tell their story as researchers.

Making sense of the student experience may not be a linear process.

Next up was Lesley D’Souza noting that ‘listening as empathizing’ is foundational to the assessment framework at Western University.

Then in the CACUSS program on Tuesday afternoon was a session on the development of a student-ready rubric led by York University, along with Trent, Queen’s, ON Tech and Nipissing. The group was initially asked to develop a single student-ready campus metric for Ontario’s Strategic Mandate Agreement 3 but their work quickly evolved into a rubric for institutional self-assessment.

Okay, this blew my mind! Literally!! I couldn’t go to the session as I was presenting at the same time but WOW! Thank you, Brendan Schulz, for sharing.

Example of increasing levels of student involvement for contributing to the type, form, implementation, and evaluation of transition support.

Student involvement is the leading domain with three articulated levels across seven areas of practice: 1) policies & procedures; 2) financial literacy & support; 3) transition support; 4) career and academic goal clarity & exploration; 4) learning opportunities (outside the classroom); 5) cohesive student supports; 6) wellness education & support; and 7) peer support & mentoring.

In the above slide, you can see how student involvement is defined for transition support. What stands out to me is that students are first invited to provide feedback but this is recognized as only the most basic level of involvement. The next level seeks input into the development of the policy or program. The third level includes students in the evaluation and assessment of policy/program implementation. This takes student voice up a full octave AND it demonstrates clearly that students matter.

The student experience is at the centre of what we do.

This commitment to student involvement and engagement in policy making is at the heart of Jacquie Beaulieu’s doctoral research and was echoed by Atifa Karim from the University of Toronto who noted it is PRIORITY within her unit’s strategic plan.

So you might be in the choir already and don’t need to hear me preach. But sit with this Tweet from the #ContentEd19 conference in which my friend Liz Gross and Stephen App, from Campus Sonar, presented recently. Students talk. They create content and post it publicly on Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, and platforms we haven’t even heard of yet.

It’s up to us to LISTEN.

I suggest it is not only our opportunity but our obligation to #ListenToStudents. They are the center of our work and listening to them and responding with policies, programs, and services that address their concerns leads to continuous improvement.

We can’t underestimate the value of learning from students as a means to improve our practice. But it is also important we invite students to #ListenToStudents. As the Supporting Student Success team published in Higher Education Research and Development last year, students are coaches, confidantes, co-constructors, and students copycat those who model and mentor the way.

Students are the threads that form the tightest woven fabric of support for each other. Yet, they need to be invited to see themselves in this light. It is this notion of embracing the mantle of informal peer mentor that was the key implication and close of our session at #CACUSS19.

I would love to continue the crowdsourcing of how student affairs and services staff members #ListenToStudents. Please share and “leave a comment” below.

And stay tuned for the paper that details the advice the everyday student gave to those just starting their postsecondary journey by David Aderholdt, Christy Oliveri, Jen Clark and Tricia Seifert, the Blueprints for Student Success team, to be published in SEM Quarterly this fall. Stated simply, it pays to listen.

Tricia Seifert is Principal Investigator on the Supporting Student Success and Blueprints for Student Success research teams. She is Associate Professor in Adult & Higher Education at Montana State University and Associate Editor for International Research and Scholarship for the Journal of College Student Development. Email her at

Start with the Beginning in Mind

By Kirsty Wadsley, Head of Widening Participation

Dr Claudine Provencher Head, LSE LIFE
London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE)

Challenging the structures that enable the current inequalities in access and success in higher education in the UK is not a small undertaking. This blog post explores an example from the UK where colleagues at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) work together to deliver transition and academic skills support to students whilst they are still in the final years of their high school study. The work is specifically targeted at students from backgrounds currently under-represented in higher education in the UK with a focus on their successful progression and transition to studying in higher education. The programme aims to move away from a deficit model approach and focuses instead on providing a level playing field to high school students who don’t have access to the academic and application support some of their peers might. In the UK this work falls under an umbrella term of widening participation (WP)[1].

The Widening Participation team at LSE runs a suite of activities specifically designed to support access to higher education institutions, especially those that, like LSE, have very high entry grade requirements and high levels of competition for places. We work with children as young as nine years old as we believe that inequalities must be addressed from an early age. Once working with older students, especially those in their final two years of high school, our engagement becomes more intensive and subject focused. At this point we have 300 students each year from across London schools and colleges attending programmes based around their potential future higher education subject of interest and/or future career (E.g., law, finance, government, economics, and sociology to name just a few). Depending on the specific programme, students will join us for between 8 to 16 months during which they will attend sessions taking them beyond high school to their subject of focused study (i.e. major) in higher education.

A major objective of these programmes is to support students’ application and transition to higher education programmes and, to that end, a core focus of our work has been on providing practical information and sessions to ensure a successful application, and raise awareness of what students could expect whilst at university. Participants also get introduced to possible career pathways connected with their subject of interest and, depending on the programme they are attending, might undertake in-depth work experience in a vocational area. Whilst none of the programmes have any credit bearing element, attending participants are registered as associate LSE students; this gives them access to LSE Library and the myriad online resources available. Interestingly, many attendees utilise these resources to prepare assignments and revise for their high-school exams.

However, recently, we have been able to raise our ambitions and to enlarge the scope of the work with these students thanks to the establishment of LSE LIFE, a centre for the academic and personal development of students, which opened its doors in September 2016.

Right from the start, colleagues complemented the efforts of the Widening Participation team by hosting and delivering sessions that focus on the key academic skills that pre-entry students will need while completing their high school and later on, once they’ve been admitted to university, such as preparing for exams and networking. Critical thinking is yet another example of such sessions. For instance, in the Practice your Critical Thinking workshop offered to students on the Pathways to Law programme this academic year, 30 A-level (high-school) students worked collaboratively to deconstruct the following contentious argument: “race is no longer the key determinant of life chances.” After a short presentation on critical thinking (e.g., what is it, what are the skills required), students set about scrutinizing the statement. Drawing on their own experiences and empirical data, the students added layers of details to arguments for or against the proposition, first in small group conversations and then in a larger workshop discussion. The second part of the workshop was a free-flowing discussion that built on the questions that had come out from the first part, such as: Where geographically is the scholar basing their statement? What time frame are they working in? What does life chances even mean?

These sessions are also an opportunity for these students to reflect on the type of skills they will need to develop going forward, to take ownership of their development, to become more familiar with the expectations that universities have vis-à-vis their students, and to get familiar with a new learning environment. From a staff point of view, they represent a great opportunity for colleagues to become more familiar with the challenges faced by different students and to adapt their approach and the service development and delivery to be ever more inclusive. Interestingly, this reflection is also proving useful in terms of identifying initiatives that could have a positive impact on the mental health and wellbeing of our student community as a whole.

Proof of impact to date, obtained through student feedback, pre and post testing, is positive with students commenting on feeling more prepared for the transition to higher education, understanding what is needed and being able to look at subjects in ways they hadn’t previously. Progression to higher education is another useful indicator and, again, points towards the positive impact our programme is having with 80% of the students we are able to track post attendance going on to higher education, of which over 60% are going to Russell Group universities (24 leading UK universities) including LSE.

We are now working on a quasi-experimental evaluation of at least one programme to further ascertain its impact on students’ overall attainment prior to higher education typically A-level results and their critical thinking skills, two aspects that we know are key to unlocking future education opportunities.

You can find out more about LSE’s Widening Participation work at and LSE LIFE at

[1] For anyone interested in more information about the policy drivers behind WP might wish to explore a research briefing by the UK Parliament and explore the regulator of English higher education the Office for Students (OfS). There is of course an entirely separate literature on the reasons for the differences in participation and the efficacy of the current activity aimed at addressing these inequities.

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.


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.


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.


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.


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 …


… 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.


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.


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?)


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”.


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.


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 …


… 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.


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.


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.


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 …


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


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.















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:

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.