Summit shines spotlight on student success
The theme of helping students reach their goals took center stage at Athens Technical College Thursday, August 22, as faculty and staff members gathered for a Student Success Summit that was organized to launch the 2013-2014 academic year.
College officials created the Student Success Summit to showcase initiatives for improving the experiences students have while attending college and for helping the students succeed in their academic pursuits. The meeting was held in the Easom Building auditorium on the Athens Campus, and nearly 200 people attended.
Vice President for Academic Affairs Joyce Sansing welcomed attendees and noted that the fall 2013 kick-off event was the “first-ever” Student Success Summit for the college, and that it was designed to focus on success for the college, for individual faculty and staff members, and for students.
“(After this summit) I hope you will be inspired to help students overcome obstacles and achieve their goals and dreams,” she told the crowd.
Following Dr. Sansing’s introduction, new employees were introduced and recognized.
In her remarks to the group, College President Flora W. Tydings lauded the continued outstanding efforts by the faculty and staff to provide excellent service to the students and the college with resources limited by state budget cuts year after year. She noted that Athens Technical College has been rated among the top three colleges in the Technical College System of Georgia the past two years.
“I am truly amazed by all that you do with so little,” Dr. Tydings stated.
Despite the challenges, college personnel have become more creative and have put students at the forefront where they need to be, she added.
“We have repurposed ourselves,” Dr. Tydings said.
Dr. Tydings presented certificates for years of service to those employees who have worked 5, 10 and 15 years at the college. She also presented the third annual Owl Award — or President’s Award — to Jim Walter, executive director of facilities, for his expertise, dedication and indefatigable efforts in maintaining the equipment and buildings on the college campuses, resolving problems quickly, and even anticipating challenges.
Once the service awards were presented, Dr. Tydings introduced Dr. Dan Smith and announced that the former vice president of Institutional Effectiveness is now Executive Vice President, a title that more accurately reflects the expansive responsibilities he carries, she said.
Dr. Smith reviewed the initiatives that the college has undertaken to address student success. In his Power Point presentation, Dr. Smith discussed Achieving the Dream, a national network of community colleges committed to helping more college students achieve success by earning a certificate or degree. Athens Technical College was the first Georgia community college to join the national network, Dr. Smith pointed out.
He also highlighted work associated with Complete College America and Complete College Georgia to improve graduation rates; the strategic plan for 2015; and the Quality Enhancement Plan, a component of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools accreditation process. All of those initiatives, Dr. Smith told the audience, focus on the Achieving the Dream foundation — student success — and college officials define success as “more students earning certificates or degrees, going to work, or transferring to four-year institutions.”
To help that cause, faculty and staff have compiled data to help with improving student success, and during his presentation, Dr. Smith shared some startling statistics from that data. For example, 40 percent of students either drop out in their first semester or they don’t return after that initial semester. Another surprising statistic was that the largest percentage of students by age to be referred to learning support comprises students under 19 years old.
Over the past two years, college officials created three priorities to ensure improved college success, Dr. Smith said. One was to transform learning support through changes such as modularized mathematics courses and an accelerated English approach. Another was to develop a strategic student engagement model, and the third was to offer focused faculty and staff development, including developing curriculum for a Student Success Specialist certificate.
Already, priority one has seen some dramatic changes. Seventy-three percent of students completed the redesigned MATH 0098 course, compared to only 65 percent of students in the traditional delivery format. Additionally, seventy-nine percent of students complete ENGL 0989, compared to a 52 percent completion rate in the two-sequence course.
Retention coordinator Amelia Mills and Anatomy and Physiology instructor Rob Nichols each addressed the importance of focusing on student success even though Athens Technical College graduates already are so successful.
Mr. Nichols’ presentation stole the show for the overall Student Success Summit. Passionate and engaging about his work as an instructor, Mr. Nichols told attendees about his preconceived notion for being a “gatekeeper” programmed to pass or fail students and his grappling with instructors’ common refrains about failing students “not getting it” in class.
Mr. Nichols then discussed a new enlightened approach that takes a student’s perspective and asks why they are not getting the concepts and information in class. The issues and approach to helping students succeed then becomes more about how instructors can do things differently to ensure those students complete their classes and earn their degrees.
The next part of the program featured a video with community college students talking about the challenges they face at college and ways that colleges can do a better job of helping them succeed. The video was followed by the Achieving the Dream Finish Line Game that required participation from the audience.
Director of Distance Education and Instructional Technologies Mary Clare DiGiacomo and Radiography instructor Jill Drerup covered details about how the QEP was developed, goals that will be set, as well as plans for measuring and reaching those goals.
Margaret Morgan, director of instructional services, followed the QEP discussion and urged attendees to complete a student success survey handed out at the summit to determine faculty and staff perceptions about issues involving student success. She also reviewed upcoming professional development opportunities for faculty and staff.
The final portion of the program was devoted to promoting the “Owl Aboard” Legacy Campaign, the annual employee fundraising effort by the Athens Tech Foundation, that provides student scholarships, GED/Adult Education funding, and support for renovations and programs at the college.
Photo caption: Anatomy and Physiology instructor Rob Nichols reviews his insights on helping students find success as he gives his presentation Thursday, August 22, during the Student Success Summit.