Season 4 - Episode 439
Baylor’s Center for Academic Success and Engagement (CASE) is a newly formed center bridging a variety of resources to help students thrive. In this Baylor Connections, Whitney Jones, senior director of CASE, shares the center’s approach and the resources available for academics and engagement, and examines how these services fill needed gaps and help students find a sense of belonging and purpose.
Derek Smith:Hello and welcome to Baylor Connections, a conversation series with 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 Whitney Jones. Whitney Jones serves as Senior Director of the Center for Academic Success and Engagement at Baylor, also known as CASE. CASE is a newly formed center, bringing together a variety of resources to help students discover and engage in effective paths for academic and personal thriving through learning strategies, self management tools, holistic support and a sense of belonging in the Baylor community. Jones came to Baylor in 2017 as Associate Director of Orientation, after serving in new student and parent programs at the University of Arkansas, where she received her Bachelor's and Master's degree, and taking on this new role this year as we start a new academic year, about a month in now. Whitney, thanks so much for taking the time to visit with us and share more about CASE.
Derek Smith:Well, it's great to have you here. Let's give people a picture of just kind of first what they would see before we dive into the programs. If someone were to physically visit the Paul L. Foster Success Center and see CASE faculty and staff in action, see students interacting with them, what kind of things might we see taking place in there?
Whitney Jones:Yeah, so CASE is actually located on the west wing, and we're in the basement, so you kind of have to find us. We're located directly under the Career Center. Once you walk into our space, it's very open, and you'll see our learning lab. Our learning lab, we have drop in services Monday through Thursday for students that come in and learn about time management, stress tips, also ways to prepare academically for your courses, how to just manage all the things that are new, specifically for our new students as they are getting transitioned and acclimated to the academic life, as well as some of our outside the classroom experiences as well. So that's what you'll see in our learning lab. We also have our academic mentors who may be in a session with students. Our academic mentors meet with students one on one weekly for about 30 minutes, and those sessions, again, focus on academic plans, they help students to monitor their grades, they're having conversations with them again about stress, how do you have a balance, how they are engaging and participating in the classroom. Down the hallway from the mentors, you'll see an open space, and that's where you also see students just studying. We have some white boards for students to write on along the walls. You'll also see some of our supplemental instructors meeting with students, maybe some tutoring happening, some group tutoring, peer to peer tutoring happening as well. Also in CASE we have a veteran's lounge, so our veterans come in there, utilize that space, hang out. Also, lastly you'll see many of our staff who are engaging with students, whether that's having a one on one meeting with them for a variety of different reasons. We have our first generation college students who are coming in to visit, our transfer students, our students who are pre law majors. So our space is pretty busy most of the time during the day because we are providing the services to help support our students and engage them here at Baylor.
Derek Smith:So we see a lot of holistic services. You just painted that picture for us very well. A lot going on. I think when we talk about student academic success and engagement, that does a good job of painting the picture of what you all do. But can you even go a little further? Just tell us a little about the goals and mission building on what you just told us.
Whitney Jones:Yes. I want to give you the definition that they'll find on the website. What I like to describe what we do is we provide preventative care, and that preventative care is to help students learn how to manage their time, specifically knowing that our new students are entering, again, this new phase, this new experience, and it can be challenging in the beginning. We want to offer students that ability to learn how to study. Studying in high school and college is different, and we hear that every year from new students. So we're helping students learn how to study, how to open a textbook, how to read, also encouraging our students to be engaged in the classroom. That includes meeting with your professors and having one on ones with them, being able to go to them when you need help, and don't wait until you maybe have not done so well on an exam. That's the preventative side of the services that we provide. Also, we're here to support students when they do come across some difficult, challenging situations. We're here to help them, build them back up, and help them to be successful academically at Baylor. That's why we offer so many academic opportunities such as academic coaching, the learning lab, academic mentoring. We also have our Student Success podcast, so that would probably be a little bit of both of our preventative care, and after some students have had some difficult challenges. But that's, again, the podcast is to help students listen to the stories of others. They also are going to offer some of those best practices on how to be successful inside the classroom, and also how to engage into the broader Baylor community so that you can become active and engaged and find your sense of belonging that complements your academic classroom learning. We also have the engagement side of CASE. That's to support some of our under-represented populations, such as our vets, our first generation students, as well as our transfer students. And then we have the store, and the store is a part of our food insecurity initiative within CASE, as well as Baylor. We are hoping to eliminate, and will decrease and then eliminate the food insecurities that we have here on our campus.
Derek Smith:Visiting with Whitney Jones, Senior Director of CASE at Baylor. What you just described, I think everyone can remember a time in college where you have to take more ownership of your own educational path, but it can be a little bit challenging. There's pitfalls along the way. As you describe that, you're also sort of helping students realize what they can do so it's easier along the line for them to take that ownership as they grow.
Whitney Jones:Absolutely, because, and that's one of the joys that I get, is to help students see their potential, because oftentimes when it's right out in front of them, and they're enrolled in 15 hours, they have exams, they have all these things right in front of them, it seems sometimes impossible for them to get on the other side. So that's one of the things that we do, is we challenge and we're going to support our students through the process and through their journey at Baylor, help them to discover their vocation, help them to understand what their calling is and their purpose, and what God has actually called them to do while they're here at Baylor and beyond. That's one of the joys that I find with working with students within CASE, is that we're really helping students to define their own identify, as well as to strive to meet their fullest potential. So we want students to thrive while they're here at Baylor.
Derek Smith:Very empowering as you work with them. How did CASE come together? Some of the programs you've described have been around, but how did CASE form heading into this year?
Whitney Jones:Yeah, so CASE is a merger between two former departments, Academic Support Programs and Student Success Initiatives. Within this past year, those two joined, primarily, I don't have all of the back story, but what I will say is it is great to have a one stop shop in essence. So we're able to connect our students from under-represented populations to the academic support pieces that they'll need to be successful academically while they're here at Baylor. So it feels good to be able to walk out of my office with a student who I may have been meeting for as a completely separate reason, but also mention during that conversation they're having some pitfalls academically, and I can walk them down the hall to get them scheduled for academic coaching. And so students can come to us when they obviously need that preventative care, as well as when they may have some pitfalls. We're here in one location now to support them. All of our areas are located in one suite, so we don't have to send them out of the building or down the hall. We can literally walk them next door to the individual and the entity that can support them in a different way. It just creates a better customer service for our students so they don't feel like they're having to manage this large organization.
Derek Smith:Whitney, you've worked in new student and parent programs at Arkansas, and then here at Baylor with new student programs. What drew you to this particular role when the opportunity came along?
Whitney Jones:I was able to ... this role allows me to combine my personal and professional goals. My personal goals has always been to serve, to serve others in any capacity that I can do that. That was done for me when I was a student at the University of Arkansas. I'm a first generation student college student. I was low income. I had no idea what I was getting myself into when I was going to college. My major was picked by my advisor. The conversation went, well, what are you good at? Science and math. Okay, well here's a set of majors. What do you ultimately want to do? I said, possibly pharmacy. Didn't know much or anything about pharmacy. Then my advisor goes, do you want to read more or do more math? I said probably less math, and so I ended up with a major of biochemistry just based on that conversation because that's what the quick ... I'm at orientation, had never, ever been to the University of Arkansas until orientation, and so I picked my major that way. Being a first generation college student, you don't know what you don't know. My family just wanted me to go to college. Ultimately I tell students all the time when I'm sharing my story, my goal was never to graduate from college. My goal was just to get to college. That was the ultimate goal. So to think about the end was a lot as a first generation college student. I had no way to support me. My EFC, estimated family contribution, was zero when I enrolled at the University of Arkansas, and so I was able to go to college because of the Bill and Melinda Gates scholarship. So they funded my undergraduate education. And I always said that I want to be able to help students see their potential so that they can become degree completers. I understood my vulnerability when I was a first year student, so that's what got me into new student programs and parent programs, so trying to support students even if they're not first generation, because it's still a new environment. So support them and support their families. This role allows me to go back to serving students similar to me, low income. That is a university priority now. How are we going to best support our low income students so they can become degree completers? I'm able to support them. I'm able to support first generation college students as well as connect these populations with the academic resources that I know they need to be academically successful, as well as plug them into communities that's going to help them create this sense of belonging, because a sense of belonging is extremely important. We have what we call a New to Be You survey, and one question asks do you feel like you belong at Baylor? That question is very indicative of if students are going to be retained at Baylor, that question alone. So when we the data from that and we see how students respond, then that's how we're able to offer some of our intervention services and support for students who may indicate that they don't feel like they belong at Baylor.
Derek Smith:I think you've painted this picture, but I want to ask specifically, what sorts of things help a student fell like he or she belongs, if they don't? What are some kind of interventions that help them get there?
Whitney Jones:I would say the immediate thing is community. That's why we have programs just for first year students. That's why we have programs just for transfers, vets, you name it. We have those communities because individuals want to be in a community with people that's like them, because that's the commonality, that's the connection point. So community is going to be very important for students who are transitioning into our institution. So we have to get students plugged into their community. We have to help them find that immediately, and we do know that some of our under-represented students come in with some barriers and obstacles that their counterparts just don't have by default. So I would say community would be the number one thing. Then also some of the academic pieces. I remember sitting in my university chemistry class at 7:30 a.m. at the University of Arkansas in a large theater size classroom with 500 students and a chalkboard down at the bottom of the auditorium. Well, that probably wasn't the best setting for a first generation college student at 7:30 a.m. I possibly needed to be maybe a little bit later in the day, maybe not so much of a large classroom. So that's also a part of the academic success. Their core schedule matters. It truly matters. So one of the things that I have always wanted to be curious about, how can we get out students who come from these under-represented populations, specifically who are new students, to get into earlier orientation sessions so they can get the more popular course schedule, because it matters if they are in the 7:30 a.m. chemistry class, which is a gateway course, which sometimes can also be what I call a weed out course for students who want to be pre med and all that. That's hard. That is hard stuff. The brain doesn't quite function the same at 7:30 a.m. as it does at 9:00. I can go on and on about that, but I would definitely say priority number one is community, and how do you identify that community for students?
Derek Smith:This is Baylor Connections. We are visiting with Whitney Jones, Senior Director of the Center for Academic Success and Engagement at Baylor. You experienced it as a student and as a staff member at the University of Arkansas. Now you've been here at Baylor a few years. What is unique about how Baylor engages students to you? What are some of the things that maybe are distinct about the way Baylor approaches this?
Whitney Jones:The care that Baylor provides. We try to get a clear picture of who our students are coming in. What I mean by who they are, we want to know their demographics. Are they coming from California? Are they coming from Texas? Are they low income? Are they first generation? What are these identifiers that we know about our students so that we can extend the proper care to those students so they can ultimately graduate from our institution? So that's something that I did not experience in my past role at the University of Arkansas. Not that that care did not exist, I want to be clear, but it's the intentionality that Baylor exudes and how we go about the care. It is a community effort. One thing about my experiences at Baylor, I can call anyone across this campus from any department with a need or ask, and you better believe they're on it. They're supporting me in any way possible. This past year orientation, I believe I had to ask and require I feel like a lot out of our campus partners, and they were always just ready. They stay ready to support and do whatever. It's like, Whitney, let me know what you need. We're here, we're supporting you. Just tell us what you need, and they just do it. So we rally around our students and care for them. I'm able to call Dean Howell in the business school and let her know about a student that I had an interaction with. Dean Howell is going to make a contact with that student within 24 hours. And that's another thing. When there is a need or concern, they're on it. Meghan Becker with our care team. She's the same way. If I have expressed a concern or a need about a student, they are on it immediately. I mean, it's truly amazing how this community really rallies around and supports our students. Not those just in need, those who are just having the great experience. I think the students who are having a great experience is because we have got them connected and they're in their community and they're going on about their merry way, and they're doing things just fine. Well, that's because we've done well, and then there are some others that we need to do a little bit more intentional outreach to.
Derek Smith:Proactive definitely sounds like a word that stands out as you describe this.
Derek Smith:Yeah. Maybe even hearing this too, if a student's starting to struggle, you can catch that early so that you can right the ship more quickly than those moments when a student ... we've all had those moments where we feel like we're drowning a little bit. Maybe you can keep them from getting to that point.
Derek Smith:Visiting with Whitney Jones, Senior Director of CASE at Baylor. Students face different challenges while they're at school. Some maybe face physical challenges, disability, whether they be permanent or temporary. You described food insecurity and how the store addresses that. But could you tell us a little bit more about some of the ways that different divisions within CASE help meet student needs where they are?
Whitney Jones:Yeah. I would say we have our first generation experience and we have our first in line scholars. That cohort is about 50 incoming students who are first generation. So they've been identified, and they participate in a very, very robust experience. I wish that we could ... I think the entire university wished that we could accommodate all our first generation college students because it's such a great programming. You actually see the students where the students in that program who are first generation are graduating at a higher rate than our students who are not a part of the program. So we understand that this program has a significant impact. That's one of those gateway experiences for our first generation college students. Same for vets. Some of our students have overlapping identities. They could be a first generation college student, they could be also a transfer, but they can also be a vet. So we're able to provide these specific programs for them. Also, we work outside just within our department, CASE, because we're a part of the Paul L. Foster Success Center, so we definitely work with our partners in University Advisement, OALA, which is for our Office of Access, Learning and Accommodation, and we also have a new area which is SOAR, which houses our financial literacy, our McNair scholars program, and so we're constantly reaching out and reaching over to our colleagues just within the Success Center because we offer success services for students. So we're reaching out to them. Also, I'm formerly from Student Life, so it's nothing for me to call colleagues in Student Life as well to reach across the aisle and have that support from their areas, whether it's getting a student involved and engaged in a student organization, utilizing our student involvement specialist. I have a conversation with a student, and they mention maybe a roommate conflict. I can call my partners in Campus Living and Learning, and say hey, I heard this story. Is there a way you can have a hall director or a CO reach out to kind of follow up about this? I can also call any of our associate deans within our schools or colleges to say hey, have a student, academically this is where they're at, here's some of the challenges they may be having within a classroom. Do you mind following up? So again, we're able to provide care, that goes back to that care. We're able to do that, again, because of the relationships, specifically me, the relationships that I have formed with colleagues across the area. Also, we all have the same goal. We want to see our students do well and succeed. And when we work together, we're able to do that.
Derek Smith:Talking to Whitney Jones, and Whitney, if parents or students are listening and they would like to connect with CASE, what are some of the ways they can do that?
Whitney Jones:I would always tell them to visit our website, baylor.edu/case, C-A-S-E. They can also email us, case, C-A-S-E, at baylor.edu if they ever have any questions, concerns or just want to learn more. Definitely go to our website, but always feel free to give us an email and we are constantly checking our email account, and you can learn more. We also have an event coming up during Family Weekend. So if you're coming back to the area for Family Weekend, please stop by our area, Paul L. Foster Success Center in the Sid Richardson building. We would be available for students to just see the space, see our services, learn more about what we do. Also, on Tuesdays our students are able to come in extended hours. So typically we close at 5:00, but on Tuesday we extend our hours to 9:00 p.m. And so students, you can come in at that time to utilize the facility to study, and earlier within sometimes on Tuesdays, we have Time Management Tuesdays, and so we have that available as well.
Derek Smith:Great. So baylor.edu/case. They can come in on parents with Family Weekend, whereby advisors, students can just poke their heads in at the Success Center at the Richardson building.
Whitney Jones:We're always willing and able to give a tour of the space. If I'm there, you can ask for me, Whitney Jones, and I'm always willing to give you a tour of our space so that you can see it. It's something about physically being in the space that just makes a difference.
Derek Smith:Well, that's great. We hope people will check it out and take advantage of those services. Whitney, thanks so much for taking the time to share with us and helping us know what's going on at CASE and get a better picture of that.
Whitney Jones:Thank you so much.
Derek Smith:Thank you. Whitney Jones, Senior Director of the Center for Academic Success and Engagement at Baylor, our guest today here on Baylor Connections. I'm Derek Smith. A reminder that you can hear this and other programs online at baylor.edu/connections, and you can subscribe on iTunes. Thanks for joining us here on Baylor Connections.