2020 – Time to Reflect and Grow

There is something powerful about not only starting a new year but a new decade. At times like these, it seems important to pause and reflect over the past 10 years, knowing it will likely bring up a full range of emotions. There were invariably times when you hit it out of the park this decade but there has certainly been a couple of times when you missed the mark. It’s okay; this is true of everyone. Reflection provides a space to see the decade in rear view and a vantage point to glimpse the future.  

Reflecting on the Supporting Student Success project

2010 was the year that the Supporting Student Success project began. Phase 1 of the project was a multi-institutional study located in Ontario, Canada in which we drove thousands of kilometers talking to student affairs and services staff members from 9 universities and 5 colleges about their perceptions of how their campus support student success. Like any good research study, we learned we had as many questions at the conclusion as we had at the start.

From 2010-2015, the project expanded from focus groups and interviews with students, staff and faculty (Phase 2), to a mixed-methods data collection with a large scale survey component, with versions in English and French (Phase 3). We expanded our sample from 1 province to 17 universities and 7 colleges across 7 provinces. You can learn more about the project’s progression here.  

At the end of the day, three points stand out as central to the project’s findings. These are:

  1. You can’t refer to what you don’t know. People refer students to campus resources only when they are aware of these programs and services themselves. Breaking down silos creates awareness which is necessary for supporting student success.
  2. The message matters! If faculty and staff hear consistently that supporting student success is their responsibility and they are encouraged to communicate, cooperate, and collaborate with student success in mind, they are far more likely to do so.
  3. Students are our partners. They are the ‘go-to’ for their peers when needing someone them to coach them through a tough course or someone in whom they can confide. Moreover, students have some of the hands-down BEST ideas for supporting student success and they often construct these services either on their own or co-construct with staff and faculty.

In the last decade, this team has seen 5 PhDs and 3 master’s students graduate (one has returned to pursue doctoral study) with another doctoral candidate actively dissertating. From the desert of California to the rocky shore of St. John’s, Newfoundland, in the coming year these team members will share how their experience on the research project continues to inform their work.

Launching “Blueprints for Student Success”

Throughout the project, we wanted to share what we learned directly with students. We coined the outreach part of the project “Blueprints for Student Success” as we had heard countless students comment that they wanted to draft their unique blueprint to be successful in higher education but did not always know how to do so. Under the leadership and creative vision of Christine Arnold, we launched the www.blueprintsforstudentsuccess.com website in 2014. But websites are only useful if they are used. So we partnered with the Pathways to Education program in Toronto and led interactive workshops with high school students involved in their summer programming. We developed a scavenger hunt game to help students learn how to navigate higher education’s hidden curriculum.

This was the team’s first foray into using games to familiarize students with situations that often arise during the first year in college or university. When students were turned loose with a bit of competition in the air, we saw something magical take place. Students engaged; they raced against the other teams to be the first to complete the scavenger hunt. They wanted to win but were keen to share how they resolved the challenge and what they learned in the process.

We knew we were onto something. Not another lecture with a talking head or even a panel of animated presenters, games are where it’s at in preparing students for the transition to post-secondary education. Game development has continued and in October 2019, we launched Success Prints Crash Course®, the higher education simulation board game.

Looking to the Future

We have presented annually at the Canadian Association of College and University Student Services (CACUSS) and often at other conferences in Canada and internationally. We have published peer-reviewed journal articles and practitioner-focused magazine pieces. Learn more about our published work here.

From the beginning, this research was about informing and improving institutional practice. We couldn’t achieve that goal if the findings and their implications for our everyday work was hidden behind a paywall of expensive journals or at a conference where only those with professional development funds could attend. We launched this blog and started using social media (check us out on Facebook (Supporting Student Success) or Twitter (@CdnStdntSuccess) to ensure that the research was accessible, easily searchable and useable for anyone from anywhere. Across these channels, over 5000 people from around the world follow the project.

What began as a means to share findings from a single research project has become a virtual space in which we highlight the great work of people worldwide who are helping students realize their academic and personal goals. We’ve shared lessons from a ‘one-stop shop’ in Mexico and widening participation work with secondary students in England and Australia. We’ve published posts on innovative ways campuses have engaged with issues of obtaining consent and preventing sexual violence and indigenizing their approaches to student success. We are excited to bring this kind of learning from the field to your feed or inbox. 

Looking to 2020 and beyond, we will continue to share findings from the Supporting Student Success research project, but the blog is pivoting to become THE space where folks from around the world share what worked really well and was a ‘hit’ as well as what missed the mark. In either situation, we want to learn from each other’s experience — together. 

We know there is a need for such a space in the international student affairs and services community. People, worldwide, are innovating in how they support students to realize personal and academic goals. This work doesn’t always conform to the requirements of an academic research journal article. Sometimes it is best conveyed as a short blog post, an infographic, or a video. Or something else entirely.

The Supporting Student Success blog is the place to share, leave a comment, ask a question, and most importantly learn in our global community of practice.  With that in mind, do you have something you would like to share? If so, please contact Tricia.Seifert@montana.edu to discuss your idea and the process for publication. We look forward to hearing from you.

Tricia Seifert is a student success innovator, researcher, writer, and speaker. She is Principal Investigator on the Supporting Student Success project and curates this blog. She is on the Adult & Higher Education faculty at Montana State University and collaborates with students and colleagues in Canada and around the world on student success initiatives and research.