Season 6 - Episode 605
Every student has a story, and at Baylor’s Center for Academic Success and Engagement (CASE), they get to know those stories as they help students find success and belonging on campus. In this Baylor Connections, Whitney Jones, CASE Senior Director, shares how Baylor helps students develop skills to make the most of their college years and provides resources to connect and engage with others.
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 today we are talking with Whitney Jones. Whitney serves as Senior Director for the Center for Academic Success and Engagement at Baylor known in shorthand as CASE, the center offers resources to empower students on paths for academic and personal thriving. Learning strategies, self-management tools, supplemental instruction, mentorship, and more are just a few of the tools and resources offered to help students find success and a sense of belonging at Baylor. I know that just barely scratches the surface of what you all do, but Whitney, thanks so much for taking the time to join us today.
Whitney Jones:Absolutely. Thank you for having me.
Derek Smith:It's great to have you here and to talk about what you all are doing and the ways you serve students. So give us a little mental tour, if you will. If we were to pop in right now in the Sid Rich building and visit the case offices and look around the hallways, what are some things we'd see taking place?
Whitney Jones:One of the first things that you will notice is, students are frequently coming into our space. They're meeting with their academic mentors, which is a one-on-one appointment that students can make with our trained graduate students who serve as another person of contact to really support our students academically, personally. Those students who are meeting with mentors really foster a rich in-depth relationship. Also in our space, you will see students studying in our study commons alongside our study hallway, is what I like to call it. Students really like to utilize the space because we also have a coffee bar, so that's always great. We have a coffee bar, we have snacks, we offer water, soft drinks, things like that to help students when they're just studying. And one of the great spaces about, one of the great things about the space is students could utilize our marker boards. So students, when they're studying, they're able to actually write on the board, they can participate in group studying. That's really common. You will also see students in our Veterans lounge. We also support veteran students and they oftentimes utilize that space in between classes. It's a great place of community for students who are in that population. You will always see students coming in to meet with our first in line, which is our first-generation college student program. They coming in to meet with the program manager. Also, right now, is a high volume of students coming in to meet with our pre-law program manager. So students who want to go to law school, they're coming in to meet with our program manager as well during that time. Later on in the day, if you were to stop by after lunch, you will see students in our learning lab. Our learning lab is a designated space for students to drop in, no appointment necessary, where you can have someone help you with time management, getting organized, study tips, study habits, test taking strategies, all of those preparedness for the academic semester. That's what would take place in the learning lab. So a variety of things happening within our space at any given point. Also, we have office hours for our supplemental instructors. Students who serve in that role, they come and they do their office hours. That's a time where students can come and meet with their SI's. And on the first floor we had a tutoring center, so students dropping in for the tutoring center, which actually opened for service this week. We are typically not open on the first week of school. We open for the second week of school.
Derek Smith:And here we are, yeah. So what you just described sounds like basically something for everyone. Is that the case? Who all utilizes case services?
Whitney Jones:I would say all undergraduate students would utilize our services, whether it's tutoring, SI, meeting with a staff member, a academic mentor, or utilizing our study space. We really have been intentional. We're creating an environment that's welcoming and opening to students. One of the things that we did last year was had a mural, a diversity mural, painted on one of our longer hall hallway walls because we really wanted our space to be reflective of all of our students so that students, when they come in the space, they could see themselves. We also have focused intentionally to bring about that diversity. We have a Native American map for our Native Americans to really identify the different populations and where they may be. And so we have a map on our wall. So you can also see that for Native American indigenous people.
Derek Smith:That's very cool. So you've got organizations that serve specific student groups, you've got organizations that serve everyone. And you mentioned that sense of belong. I think you just described that, just one of the ways that you do that. What's sort of, in your mind, when you think about the unifying pieces of cases, organization, whether it's the people coming in for tutoring or whether it's something like first in line or vets. What are the, what's kind of connective tissue, if you will, that brings that all together?
Whitney Jones:I would say we believe in holistic and wraparound care. So students are not coming into our space usually for one isolated activity or interaction with someone. Our students are coming into our space to fulfill multiple things. They could be coming in for SI, office hours, at one point and they could be coming in to study at another time, and they can also be coming in to meet with a staff member, or they could be coming in... Today we're hosting an event down in our space, a black student success panel, they could be coming down for an event. And so what we are really hoping to do is have it to be a multi-functional layered space where we are servicing students in multiple capacities because we understand that students have unique needs and sometimes, though, those needs require this layered approach. And so, one of the benefits of our department is students, you may be identifying in one of our subpopulations and you may need time management assistance where we can simply have a meeting with you in one space and walk you down the hallway to someone else who can help you with getting organized. And so that's one of the unique, I believe, opportunities that our department offers is really we have so much depth in the services that we provide for our students.
Derek Smith:Absolutely. Great description of all that as we visit with Whitney Jones, Senior Director for the Center for Academic Success and Engagement at Baylor. So I think you've described it in part, but I want to ask you more specifically too. When students interact with CASE in some ways, what are the takeaways you really hope they take with them short term or long term?
Whitney Jones:One of the first immediate things that I hope that students take away is that we care. We care about their success. Personally and academically, we truly care. We believe in students. It doesn't matter why you are coming to see us. Sometimes the visits are not always something that students want to have to come visit us for, but we believe in supporting students through challenges and obstacles. And I really hope students feel that way. We are not a punitive area. Even if you're having to come speak with someone about being on academic probation. I believe that we have services that can help students who do go through those challenges and obstacles. College is hard. That's a reality that we have to own. And also, we have young adults who are becoming men and women and there are other nuances that they're navigating personally that we want to make sure that we are able to support them. Also, I hope that students feel like that we're supporting the whole person. That we are addressing their individual needs. Even if our department does not have all the resources that a student need, our staff are trained and equipped to be able to point them in the direction that they should go in. One thing that I really enjoy about the staffing case, we don't just give you an email and say, "Go email this person." We make that connection for students. We contact the person and say, "Hey, I have this student. Here's what they're needing. Can you connect with them? I met with them." And that goes to part that goes on to our partnership. So we partner across campus because our services alone, are not always enough to help students to seize. And we recognize that we need other departments across campus. We need academic units to partner with us so that we can support students. I also hope that students walk away and say, "This is a place that I can call home. This is a place that I can come in between classes. If I need to use the microwave, I have a microwave that I could use to warm up my lunch." This is a place, sometimes I've seen students taking a quick nap. That's okay. If this is a space where you need to take a nap, you go for it. This is a space where I can be my authentic self. I can show up, I can be present, I can be vulnerable, and I don't feel as if I'm being judged by anyone. And so I hope that students feel that way when they leave our space in four years to come beyond their graduation. So when they're talking to future Baylors', or they're talking to current students, that they can also articulate these experiences that they had utilizing our services or our space.
Derek Smith:What you just described, take some of the pressure off of students that they feel when they're in school. And when you think about strategies that you talk about, that also can do... So whether it's a student being proactive, which it sounds like you have plenty of proactive students coming for something, you have students who come in because of a need. How much is just helping them learn how to learn, learn what it means to kind of lean into being a college student? How much easier can that make things for them?
Whitney Jones:Yes. I always encourage students to reach out to us early and be proactive. Sometimes you don't know what you don't know. And through conversations, which is another strength of the staffing case, we are able to identify opportunities. We're able to identify mechanisms that we believe that can help students. And not just students who are having challenges, just help them in their transition to the institution. Navigating a college campus is a task. You sometimes don't know who is the person to go to for this specific thing that you need. And so, we want to help students begin to have ownership, autonomy over their learning and their growth and the development. But we recognize that that takes some time and that takes assistance and it takes people to believe in you, believe in your journey, and believe in your success, and recognize where it is that the student wants to go and how can we meet them on this pathway to get them to their end goal? And we can do that. Once we know your end goal, we are designed to help you figure out how to navigate that. Whether it's, I have a staff member who sat down with the student when it was time to register for classes, after hours, and she walked the student through navigating course registration as a freshman. It's like, "Well, my advisor did it my first semester. Now I'm just a little uncomfortable doing it my second semester. Well, the second time, what if this class is full? Then what do I do? It's after hours. Who do I contact?" And just sometimes students just need someone to say, "It's going to be okay," to believe in them. Also, to acknowledge some of their concerns and why they may be feeling this way. I always see it as an opportunity. What is an opportunity for us to improve our systems practices and policies so that we don't have future students experiencing some of this angst that they may have when they are trying to navigate a transition? And also recognizing our students who are coming to college now, they have been through things that no one in our generation has ever gone through before. And so, I want to be sympathetic to that as well and recognize that they've gone through high school with COVID, a lot of change there and now they're coming to college and it's, our expectations are the same, and we're expecting students to show up, deliver, and perform the same as we did before COVID. And sometimes, that's just not always the case. And so just being really understanding and sympathetic to students in their transition and matriculation through Baylor.
Derek Smith:How important is that personal touch for you and your staff? So you get to know students, not one size fits all. Baylor's not a huge campus like maybe a state school, but there's still a lot of students, but it seems like y'all find the time to get to know them.
Whitney Jones:I believe every student has a story. And I enjoy hearing stories from people. It is what helps me keep going, the stories, and that also adds perspective. Because oftentimes, we are at the table making decisions based on data that someone's provided me. But when I'm able to bring in student stories, student experiences, that makes what we do even better for the next student. I believe in getting to know the whole student because in order to support the whole student, you have to know who the whole student is. In order to provide a transformational education, you have to know what you're transforming. And in order to do that, you have to carve out the time to get to know the people that you're serving. Not just the populations, but all people. And that can be time consuming. I fully own and recognize that, but to me, students are worth it. It's worth the time, it's worth the investment. If students are making the decision to come to Baylor University, then, as a staff member, I am committed and dedicated to knowing that student and knowing what it is that's needed, if it's anything needed in helping that student get to graduation, which is the ultimate goal.
Derek Smith:This is Baylor Connections. We are visiting with Whitney Jones, Senior Director for the Center for Academic Success and Engagement known as CASE at Baylor and, Whitney, let's shift gears just slightly here because we saw the news this fall that you and your team receive an external support to continue to grow resources. A quarter of a million dollar grant from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board to build on successes in math curriculum and supplemental instructions benefiting students in underrated underrepresented populations in calculus. And as we dive into that, could you tell us a little bit more about what supplemental instruction is? You talked about at a little bit at the beginning, but let's let people know a little bit more what that is.
Whitney Jones:Yeah, so supplemental instruction is a peer led outside of the classroom support that we offer students. Students who come to supplemental instruction are learning from their peers. They are in group settings. They are digesting the content and the context in which they received in that specific course outside of class. So it's just another layer of outside of the classroom academic support that has proven to have high grade lifts. So it can boost your GPA for students who attend SI more frequently than those who don't or who don't attend as frequently. So the more you go, it increases your GPA. So this is UMKC, University of Missouri Kansas City where the originators or initiators of supplemental instruction many, many decades ago. And so, they have created this model that is designed and based on research that says, if you have this academic support for courses that are historically more challenging for students, which can be found sometimes in the STEM majors, students are more likely to retain, they're more likely to have higher GPAs, and subsequently, they will graduate from your institution. So that's what supplemental instruction is and why we value it at Baylor so much. Back to our conversation about students' stories and why it is valuable to learn and get to know students. When I'm meeting with students and they are telling me about their experiences, I have had several conversations with students who have difficulty in calculus and it's like, "Well, I've always done well in math. I mean, I'm here, I'm wanted to be an engineer, or I have aspirations to go to medical school." Even our students who are in the business college, they have to take calculus. And so when they get to calculus, which is a difficult...
Derek Smith:Sounds challenging, yes.
Whitney Jones:It is difficult. I want to own that. It is difficult.
Derek Smith:I don't think you have to convince too many of the listeners here on that. Yeah.
Whitney Jones:It's difficult. It's like, I cannot get past this course. And someone who was undergrad STEM major and I've taken calculus one and two, I empathize with that. I fully recognize that. And so, what we realized is, it's not that students are incapable. It's not that students don't have the skill set to do well in the class. There are just certain content pieces within the course that are foundational that those students just need to fine tune. So the math department really honed in on those key areas that they identify that said, "Okay, if we can help these students fine tune these areas, we know that they will be successful in calculus." That's it. We just need to work on that a little bit. Great. How are we going to do that? Well, in order to do that, the math department needed a course design. So they needed someone to design a course that's going to help students specifically with these touchpoints that they needed to work on in addition to supplemental instruction. We have a lot of students, the math department can probably tell you, we have a lot of students taking a math class and we know that calculus is one of those subjects where supplemental instruction could be very beneficial. Well, we only had ability to serve so many sections and supplemental instruction is by section, not by course. So I can't have one SI doing calculus SI for three or four different professors. That's not the design. You want a student who's taken that professor, who's exceeded and excelled in that professor's class. And so that's just the design of SI. So if you can't, it's just challenging to do that. So you need more SI to accommodate the sections. So the grant was able to help us expand our scope of supplemental instruction for all calculus classes. So every calculus section has an SI. Well, we needed the funds to be able to do that. And so we are going to measure success, or how students have performed, with this additional support. Now that we have this additional class that was designed and created by the math department and we have SI. So sometimes you need that layered approach. Students may have to do SI and tutoring. They just can't only do one. And that's okay because sometimes with tutoring, you can get one-on-one appointments as well. So it's more one-on-one than the group. I recognize that sometimes group is not always designed to help students be successful. My son is probably going to be one of those. He needs some one-on-one support. And that's what the grant really, it opened up so many doors and opportunities for our students to be successful, because calculus is sometimes a required course for majors. And if this is the only class I can't pass, now, how do I persist in the major because I can't pass calculus, I can do well in chemistry, I can do well in biology, but I can't pass calculus. So we want to remove barriers and hurdles and challenges for our students to persist and graduate. And SI does that.
Derek Smith:What did that sort of external validation mean to CASE? Obviously, you had a lot of success, but seems like the THECB saw that as well.
Whitney Jones:Um-hmm. And I want to really commend our SI program manager, De'Janae Tookes, who, what she did when she first got here is identified gaps. She looked at who was not attending SI, who is attending SI, what does their GPA look like, where are the gaps? And she did that and she helped us to discover the populations that we were under serving and realized what it would take to better serve those population. We also have Chad Elgostin who was a really big advocate for us to apply for this grant because we are, that's not something that we've done before, so it was kind of out of our area of experience. It's like, "I've never applied for a grant with this agency," and I come from a state school in my previous institution, so very familiar with that process. And so it provided some validation that one, we're doing great work and someone else saw that. Two, you can apply for grants to support your students at your institution just like a state school. And it also is bringing awareness to the program. It's also helping our area of academic affairs to say this is a very successful and valuable support to our students, not just for math, for other areas as well. We have them in biology as well. So we want to continue to amplify the experience of SI so that we can get more long-term sustainable resources to serve our students in some of these gateway historically challenging classes. And we define those classes with courses who have higher DF or W rates, and we want to lower that. We don't want students not passing classes. We don't want students withdrawing from classes. We don't take pride in that as an institution. That's not a prideful moment. And when we see those reports come out at the end of the semester, it does, it hurts, for me, it does. It hurts a little bit because, again, I believe in students and I know that if students just had a little bit more support in certain areas, they can be successful. So, again, we're looking at policies, practices, and systems that we're trying to work through to really help students be successful because we're navigating a different type of student in 2023. These students are different than when I went to college in the 2000s in getting a degree in biochemistry. And it's not a bad different, it's just the way that students learn are different. The way that students engage is different. The way students are taking ownership of their learning in the classroom is different. Not bad, it's just different. And we are having to make some adjustments in how we serve students. I'm sure people probably said the same thing when I went to school in the 2000s. The way we serve students in the '80s were different than these millennials. So, that's okay. We're going to adjust, we're going to pivot, we're going to be flexible and adaptable, and we're still working through to understand what are all the needs of our students academically, because the end goal is to graduate. And we're going to see students to and through that.
Derek Smith:Well, Whitney, you've given us a great description of CASE and the work you and your team does, and as we wind down, I'm just curious, what are you most excited about as you look ahead as you to this spring semester?
Whitney Jones:Yeah, I'm definitely excited to see what we will learn from this additional support in SI, I really am. I'm excited to see, I believe it's going to yield very great dividends for our institution. I'm excited. We are working on a five-year strategic enrollment management plan, and so every year counts as we're reaching our goal for increased retention. We're at 90.2% right now from fall to fall with the class of 2021 cohort. That cohort really stuck with us and we're grateful. We want to get to 92%. So, with class of that cohort that comes in 2027. So we want to really continue to identify gaps and opportunities to get our students to retain because retention equals graduation, so we can't get them from fall to fall. Obviously we're not, we have a higher, steeper heel to get them to graduation. And I'm just looking forward to that to see where our institution will go as an elite private school who has the R1 designation now in terms of students retention and graduation rates. That's always exciting for me.
Derek Smith:Well, the numbers continue to improve, and you can see with these resources a lot of great opportunities to continue to do that. Thanks so much for taking the time today to share all that with us.
Whitney Jones:No problem.
Derek Smith:Thank you. Whitney Jones, Senior Director for the Center for Academic Success and Engagement. Our guest today on Baylor Connections. I'm Derek Smith. A reminder you can hear this at other programs online at baylor.edu/connections and you can subscribe to the program on iTunes. Thanks for joining us here on Baylor Connections.