Season 4 - Episode 435
A lot goes into promoting student success. At Baylor, a coordinated campus effort provides resources and relationships to serve students and enhance their college experience. Sinda Vanderpool serves associate vice provost for academic enrollment management—Baylor’s chief student success officer. In this Baylor Connections, she shares practical and philosophical insights and examines programs that build engagement, resilience and retention.
Derek Smith:Hello, and welcome to Baylor Connections, a conversation series with the people shaping our future. Each week, we go in depth with Baylor leaders, professors, and more discussing important topics in higher education, research, and student life. I'm Derek Smith. And our guest today is Dr. Sinda Vanderpool. Dr. Sinda Vanderpool serves as Associate Vice President for Academic Enrollment Management at Baylor. In that role, she's the university's Chief Student Success Officer. She serves as the Academic Affairs Liaison to Enrollment Management, oversees the Paul L. Foster Success Center and works with deans and professors across campus to deepen engagement with students. A variety of campus resources benefit from her leadership, including the university advisement, financial literacy, new student experience and CASE, the Center for Academic Success and Engagement, and much more. A lot going on, a lot to talk about as we start a new semester and a lot of great topics we can discuss with you today. Sinda Vanderpool, it's great to have you on the program. Thanks so much for joining us.
Sinda Vanderpool:Yeah. Great to be here. Thanks Derek.
Derek Smith:Well, I know you said, as we're talking here, it's the first week of school, you're able to get outside, and I know it's hot, but you can enjoy some walks around campus and see everyone back on campus. What's that mean to you?
Sinda Vanderpool:Oh man. It's really my favorite time of year. I love beginnings. You know, just seeing what's possible for students, witnessing students as they... You know, returning students greet each other after being back, hugging each other, welcoming each other back to campus. I love that we're providing a soft place for them to land and just... It's such a privilege to stand witness to their four years that they spend with us here at Baylor University.
Derek Smith:As we visit here over the next 20 minutes or so, I know we'll talk about some of the fundamentals, things that are the same every year, missions that are the same, but each year is also unique. And, certainly, that's been a key word over the last year plus, how is this school year, 2021 specifically, unique in your eyes?
Sinda Vanderpool:Yeah, I am so incredibly honored and proud to be a part of the Baylor community and those of us who work in student success, I think that it's incredible that we survived a pandemic. We had that winter storm back in January, and the fact is, that we've emerged stronger and really more resilient than ever this year. Our new student experience theme is resilience, and we announced that at convocation. And that means, from a higher ed perspective, for those of us who work with students, that we've gained so much more flexibility in how we interact with students. And so I'm really looking forward to creating that new normal. It's not going to be normal like it was back in fall 2019 because we've learned so much since then because of the pandemic. I think that we're going to be able to be more responsive to student needs. And I would say that our use of technology as we serve students will be more hybrid, more flexible, to really be more responsive to their growth and their learning.
Derek Smith:I'm visiting with Dr. Sinda Vanderpool, and I mentioned your title at the top of the show, Associate Vice Provost for Academic Enrollment Management. Now that role you're the university's Chief Student Success Officer. Could you dive into that a little bit with us and just tell us what goes into that role?
Sinda Vanderpool:Yeah, sure. So I work with a tremendous team in the Paul L. Foster Success Center. And I think I'm going to be talking about that in a minute, but at some level, my job really involves a ton of collaboration and conversation with faculty and almost every department on campus. Enrollment management and student success is really part of everyone's job on campus, so we work with parent engagement, libraries, enrollment management, academic departments, and really, I would kind of boil down my job to say that I champion, and the team here in the Success Center, champion student success across campus. So the fact is, if the person who is serving food in Penland, one of our dining halls on campus, if they understand that their job is student success, then I'm successful and students are successful. So I go about trying to create a coordinated care network to support students. We do a lot of partnership, in particular with Student Life. Of course, Student Life has all the care for students, mental health and wellbeing. But just, as an example, we oversee the new student experience, really in collaboration with Student Life. Most of the programs that are part of new student experience like chapel and living on campus, orientation, line camp, welcome week, those are all technically organized, facilitated by Student Life. But then when students arrive on campus, it's our area that facilitates all the NSC classes that take place all the way through the fall semester, where we continue to give them that soft place to land, and place to build community, and continue to transition and thrive in that transition as they arrive at Baylor.
Derek Smith:Well, a lot of new students, of course, a lot of returning students as well, as we're celebrating record classes here at Baylor. And as you welcome students back to Baylor, there's a lot of them, even with the headwinds of COVID-19, we've welcomed another record class to Baylor. And I know this is a question that is probably impossible to answer in a few words, but what goes into making that happen?
Sinda Vanderpool:Yeah, no secret sauce, I don't think, it really involves a lot of really hard work and planning and lots of coordination and collaboration. Specifically over the summer, I did help with some building out our class schedules. So in order to have a large freshmen class, first year class, register for the right set of classes, there's a lot of science that goes into that. We did a lot of modeling to help departments know how many seats they needed in each of our classes. In order to get the students registered, we did need to hire some temporary advisors to help with the advising, and then once June hit, we have our orientation program, in-person. We were able to have an in-person orientation, which was such a joy this year. And we facilitate a lot of different touch points during the whole month of June and into July, and then the end of July is really preparing for the onboarding that happens right now. So some of my busiest weeks are actually the few weeks before classes begin.
Derek Smith:Well, obviously we say had a successful move in last week, welcome week, all of those things, and now they're getting settled into classes as we visit with Dr. Sinda Vanderpool. You talk about student success, there's sort of a philosophy and then there's the practical aspects of implementing those and living this out. Could you take those into both examples, how Baylor approaches student success from that philosophical approach, but then also practically?
Sinda Vanderpool:Yeah. And I might, if it's okay, I might kind of try to tackle both at the same time, sort of what the philosophy is and what that looks like. The first thing I think of when I think about student success is really this principle of leaning into growth. So Carol Dweck is a psychologist out of Stanford University, and she came out with this book a number of years ago called Growth Mindset, so really focusing on what is possible, always knowing that you can grow as opposed to having a fixed mindset where the intelligence that you have is all the intelligence you're going to get. Really the opposite of that is a belief in growth. And this year, our theme for new student experience is resilience. So when I think about Illuminate our strategic plan, one of the pillars of Illuminate is transformational education. And I just feel like it's such an honor to be able to influence and shape the lives of students as they're emerging adults. So when I think about student success, I think about how we can maximize this time that we have with them? How can we have optimal work with our students so that they emerge on the other side of their Baylor education, more compassionate, better problem-solvers, better integrated and critical thinkers, better researchers, humans that are more capable of making a great impact on our world? And a part of that, that's really, really such an honor, and so unique to Baylor is that the world desperately needs well-educated human beings with a Christian compass, people who have that Christian worldview. So anyway, first thing is the leaning into that growth mindset and thinking about what that means. The second aspect, is that student success at Baylor is fundamentally relationship based. And so our job is to really help students connect to mentors. And that looks a number of different ways. They can have peer mentors. There could be a residents help chaplain that's in their residence hall that they connect with. It could be a community leader, but also we have one person who is charged with guiding them throughout their four years, and generally it remains the same person and that's their academic advisor that helps them select their classes and make sure that all things are going well academically. And then in addition to that, and probably most important, we try to connect students with faculty mentors, somebody who can really push them intellectually and think about what they could do in their career going forward, as somebody who's working in their discipline. So relationship-based is the second one. And then the third thing is really this belief and standing for what is possible in our students. And that comes into play for me, especially for those students who may have come from backgrounds that aren't traditionally represented in higher education. So we're talking about populations like those who are coming from lower income backgrounds, or maybe are first-generation college students, maybe are veterans, those kinds of things, to really show them once they get here, all that they can do that they can accomplish by that belief in themselves and their own growth. So we work in various ways, food security for low income students, textbooks, we help students with textbook costs. We celebrate first gens identity. We have gatherings that welcome in veterans and their families in order to meet the needs of those students. And then fourth, I would say that we have this core belief that every student matters, and it's every day and every interaction we have matters. So we focus a lot on pivotal moments in student's lives. So those moments when they're making that transition from high school to college, or making that transition to their first round of final exams, or that first living with a roommate for the first time, and so lots of focus on that transition. After the first weeks of the fall semester, we facilitate a survey that's called New to BU for our new students, and we really try to hone in on where students might be needing some additional support. It's weeks, three to five, but sometimes homesickness can set in, when they're facing their first midterms. And we have resources that can really bolster and encourage students through those challenges that any college experience has with it. So I would just go over that the first thing is leaning into that growth mindset. The second thing is that student success is always relationship-based. And the third thing is that we always want to be standing for what is possible with our students, especially those that are more underrepresented. And then the fourth thing is that every student matters and every interaction matters for them. I hope that helps unpack that a little bit.
Derek Smith:That does. That's a great dive into it, and thank you for sharing that very much, diving into Baylor's approach to student success. This is Baylor Connections. We are visiting with Sinda Vanderpool. Dr. Vanderpool serves as Associate Vice Provost for Academic Enrollment Management at Baylor. Moving to another topic, we talk about how we engage students, but what are the impacts of intentional engagement for a student throughout his or her entire collegiate career?
Sinda Vanderpool:We're really focused on creating the most transformational education that the students can have, maximizing that. And that's created through meaningful experiences, and meaningful experiences don't happen without connections. Like I said earlier, student success, and really what we do at Baylor is all about connections and community. So encouraging students to take advantage of leadership experiences, to get connected with faculty mentors, with their academic advisor, to take a risk and go see your professor during your office hours, all of those are the kinds of things that point to a student who is going to have an incredibly transformational education. One of my favorite studies is one from the Gallup organization. They did a longitudinal study of college graduates related to lifelong wellbeing, this is back in 2014, but it still holds up today. And one of the key findings of this study was that individuals, college graduates, who remembered a long time ago, retrospectively, finding a mentor in college who pushed them and challenged them to be better than they are today, better than they were, experienced significantly higher degrees of longterm wellbeing in their lives. So it really is not just an impact on the current student experience and making their experience feel good and be meaningful in and of the moment, but it actually has a lifelong impact on them.
Derek Smith:That's great. How has Baylor grown in the area of student retention over the years? I know that's been an area of focus and seeing some dividends paid.
Sinda Vanderpool:Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. All institutions will focus on student retention. That's just measuring the number of students who come back the following fall from the previous year, and especially with the freshmen class. And the reason we focus on that is because it's a foreshadowing, it's a predictor of graduation rates. Because when we recruit students to Baylor, we want them to be walking across the stage at graduation within four years. And so, we have had incredible successes in this area. I'm really proud to say, about eight years ago, we set goals for fall-to-fall first year student retention and graduation rates, and we have recently hit all of those. So if I can brag about that... Because it's all about the Baylor community, it's certainly not me. We hit the 90% fall-to-fall first year student retention rate for the first time around this time last year. So that was a huge success. And one we had been working towards for a long time. And then this year, it's not official yet until the institutional researchers add everything up, but I think we're going to hit about a 70% four year graduation rate, and an 80% six year graduation rate. And those are all significantly higher than they were, say a decade ago. So lots to be very proud of for sure.
Derek Smith:That's fantastic. And I know a lot of things have gone into this and including a lot of departments within... I mentioned at the top of the program, you oversee the Paul L. Foster Success Center and, obviously, there's so many different departments at Baylor that if we start to try to name all of them, we won't necessarily get to all of them. But I want ask you about a few specifically, let's talk about the Paul L. Foster Success Center. For people who are unfamiliar, maybe you've just heard the name, what should they know about it?
Sinda Vanderpool:Well, we're located in the heart of campus in Sid Richardson. And I would say that I would like people to know that we do focus on the growth of the student, that growth mindset I was talking about earlier, and we basically have a philosophy of meeting every student where they are and then helping them maximize their opportunities for success in their Baylor experience. So this can involve helping the students set goals, helping them achieve goals, and maximizing their engagement and, therefore, their transformation.
Derek Smith:That's great. What are some of the different departments within the Success Center?
Sinda Vanderpool:We have four departments. The first one is CASE. It's actually a newly formed team. It's Center for Academic Success and Engagement. And CASE does a lot of those core student success functions, so academic skill-building, includes working on time management and content through supplemental instruction, academic mentoring, tutoring, and then some actual courses that students take. Then we also have an area that's for engagement with specific communities and specific population. Our first in line program focuses on our first-generation college student, our pre law helps students navigating a path to law school. We have transfer student success, veteran student success. So lots of great resources for those specific communities and populations. And then it also oversees the store, which is our food pantry on campus to help meet our food security needs that students have. We also facilitate the Navigate platform through the CASE office, do progress reports, the New to BU survey, the new student experience. They actually have two different podcasts that they run from that area. So lots of, sort of, from cradle to grave student success efforts that take part in CASE. So CASE is the first department. The second department is the Office of Access and Learning Accommodation, or OALA, as we call it. And that is an office that facilitates student success for our students with disabilities. About 1400 students, or about 8% of our student body will work with OALA in any given semester. And they work with students from students with learning disabilities to medical, biological illnesses, to ADHD, to severe anxiety and depression, the full gamut of disabilities, helping them find their best path and level the playing field for students who have disabilities in the classroom. And then the third office is SOAR, which is Student Opportunity and Accessibility Resources. It's a new newer team and it's dedicated to offering research and scholarly opportunities and financial knowledge, skills, and support systems necessary for students to ensure their educational success at all levels. So this includes the McNair Scholars Program, which is a federally funded program aimed at helping diverse students earned doctoral degrees. So it's actually a preparatory program for graduate school. And then another thing that SOAR does is financial literacy. And then there's also an additional program called Avanzando Through College, which is aimed at helping our Latin X students, our Hispanic students, find Baylor success and form community. And then the fourth group is University Advisement, and they're really the heart of academic advising on campus. Most students have an advisor of record to help them navigate their Baylor experience and University Advisement coordinates a lot of these efforts across campus. It does specialize in preparing students for their majors and then help students who are exploring majors as well. So CASE, OALA, SOAR, and University Advisement, that's the team.
Derek Smith:Well, that's a great rundown. And I know that there's some other programs that similar play a meaningful role that aren't necessarily under that Paul L. Foster Success Center umbrella. Are there any that we should highlight here right now?
Sinda Vanderpool:Yeah, I would definitely point in recent years we have been working on our Latinx population. I know I mentioned the Avanzando Through College program, but we actually have a group that focuses on the needs of those students. For those who aren't aware, Baylor is considered an emerging Hispanic-serving institution. This group is really trying to lean into that and trying to help Baylor embrace that population, create community for all of our students, but in particular, those Latinx students. And then another focus that I've had at least over the past two to three years, has been a low income student success team. So really looking at Baylor through the lens of a low income student. How do they experience Baylor? Are there barriers that they're encountering? Are there different ways that they're experiencing campus, where we could really come in and stand in a gap and make a difference so that they can have the most transformational education that they can have? So I would highlight that Latin X work and then the low income work as active projects we're working on.
Derek Smith:I'm visiting with Dr. Sinda Vanderpool. Sinda, as we head into the final few moments of the program. I want to ask you, as Baylor grows as a Christian research university, we hear a lot about R1/Tier 1 goals. We're making fantastic progress on those R1 metrics and Tier 1 as well, but Tier 1 is one that maybe is a little more ambiguous in the sense that R1 has specific metrics that you are aiming for. What does it mean to be Tier 1 in the services and resources we provide beyond that research piece?
Sinda Vanderpool:Yeah. Yeah, no, it's so exciting to be a part of Baylor as we're on this upward trajectory with R1. And I would argue that R1, in some ways, it's a shorter term goal while Tier 1 is really what we ultimately want to aspire to. Tier 1, generally, represents that top quality education with the focus really on quality. In my mind, these are... People who are future influencers in our world come to Tier 1 institutions to grow intellectually, to prepare them to lead in the world. Folks who go to Tier 1 institutions are invited to have a seat at the table, leading conversations. And the really exciting thing to me about the combination of that, as you said, the Christian and research and university. We can have Christian colleges, and then we have research universities, but really Baylor is so unique in that combination of Christian and research. And our students, as far as the educational part of it that I really focus on, our students benefit tremendously from having a rigorous, vibrant research experience. You know, really the only place that's on the map that's really trying to do the Christian and the research piece together is Notre Dame, and that has a very distinct mission. It's a Catholic school and has other program focuses, but I think Baylor really needs to be at that table because the world needs that R1/Tier 1 Baylor University.
Derek Smith:That's great. Well, as we wrap up here from some of these great thoughts, I want to ask you, I'm sure maybe some people have heard and wonder, would like to learn more about something you've said, or maybe plug in a student, or just at least let them know about some of these opportunities. If people would like to learn more about student success at Baylor, how can they get involved?
Sinda Vanderpool:Yeah. We have great websites. If you're on campus, stop in to see us. We have somebody at our lobby desk most of the time that can just give you a quick tour or you can email email@example.com if you want a tour. And then we all have social media accounts, I encourage you to follow us on social media.
Derek Smith:That's great. You can find those again online. If you just Google Baylor Success Center, it'll eventually lead you to any one of these things. Well, Sinda, I appreciate your time today. I know it's a busy time. It's an exciting time, the start of a new year, and thanks for sharing with us about that student success journey here at Baylor.
Sinda Vanderpool:Absolutely. It's been my honor.
Derek Smith:Absolutely. Dr. Sinda Vanderpool, our guest today here on Baylor Connections. I'm Derek Smith. A reminder you can hear this and other programs online, baylor.edu/connections, and you can subscribe on iTunes. Thanks for joining us here on Baylor Connections.