A newly renovated space at St. Lawrence that centrally locates academic advising and resources on campus has inspired the faculty and staff involved to find interesting ways of connecting with students – sometimes with a puppy in tow.
The Center for Student Achievement, which opened in August 2018, is an inviting, technologically advanced space located in Madill Hall, between the Sullivan Student Center and the Johnson Hall of Science. In the new venue, various academic advising and support offices are located alongside one another, as well as testing and study rooms and several collaborative spaces, creating a support ‘hub’ in a central location that makes it easier for students to stop in and take advantage of its countless resources.
“At the beginning of this year, I spoke with colleagues about having a real opportunity here with the new Center for Student Achievement to really push ourselves out there into the consciousness of students,” says Elun Gabriel, associate dean for Academic Advising Programs and associate professor of history. “What we’re trying to do is provide any sort of services that help students navigate their academic path. That can be working on time management, study skills, and test taking, but it can also be helping someone figure out their multi-field major.”
With the robust schedules that many St. Lawrence students create for themselves, finding time to ask questions, seek help and advice, and figuring out where to get it may fall to the bottom on their lists of things to do. That’s why when thinking about advising and accessibility of resources, one of the guiding questions for Gabriel and his colleagues is, “How can we make things as easy as possible [for students]?” With that in mind and the Center now open, Gabriel and his new office neighbors are embracing the moment and thinking creatively about how to do things differently.
One way Gabriel has done this successfully was developing his “satellite” drop-in advising hours last year in the Student Center during critical times of the year. Two of Gabriel’s colleagues have also developed their own approaches to more “student-friendly” advising in hopes of connecting with more students. Tina Tao, coordinator for Academic Support, has been offering Drop-In Puppy Advising Hours while walking her Goldendoodle, Chompsky, on campus.
“A number of students stopped and asked if they could pet him and thanked me for just giving them that little moment of joy,” Tao explains. “I think students are often aware that we have these resources, but it can be hard to break the ice and say, ‘I need help, who can help me?’ If I can put myself out there and show them I’m someone they can be comfortable with, I think I can encourage them to come to our offices and see what else we do in the Center for Student Achievement.”
With nearly a third of St. Lawrence students playing a varsity sport and more than half taking part in club sports or intramurals, Matt McCluskey, the coordinator for Academic Engagement, offers drop-in advising hours in Augsbury Physical Education Center. Like Gabriel and Tao, McCluskey understands the importance of reaching out to students in their space.
“Meeting students where they are gives us a chance to get to know their world a little bit better while being more visible,” McCluskey says. “It’s an investment in them and shows I care what they are doing over here, and that I want to try and get to know them better.”
In addition to educating students about the services offered in the Center, faculty and staff involved also want to ensure that they have a positive impact on each student’s St. Lawrence experience, even if a student never sets foot inside Madill Hall. They have developed marketing campaigns to better explain changes to important forms and processes, as well as campaigns offering studying tips and tricks. They have also made it easier for students to turn in forms by placing boxes to collect them in places around campus frequented by students. All of these efforts are to help more students succeed in all aspects of their life on campus.
“Advising is more than just ‘Here are the classes you need and here's the form,’” Tao explains. “The kind of developmental advising we’re doing is talking to students about what their interests and passions are, what they want to accomplish, and then work with them to come up with different plans and strategies to help them reach their goals. It’s more focused on helping the student develop as student scholar, as someone who can have an impact on their community, and as a citizen.”
Programs and services located in the new Center for Student Achievement include Academic Advising, Academic Development and Academic Support, Career Connections, the Collegiate Science and Technology Entry Program (CSTEP) and the Ronald E. McNair Scholars Program, the First-Year Program, the Higher Education Opportunity Program, Peer Mentoring, Peer Tutoring, and Student Accessibility Services. To learn more, visit https://www.stlawu.edu/advising.