Two years ago, the University of Utah started a new program designed to help students succeed by connecting them to individuals, offices and programs that can enhance their university experience.
The Student Success Advocate program, believed to be the first of its kind in the country, places advocates where students are – all over campus – and aims to help them take steps known to lead to degree completion, such as getting involved on campus, setting academic goals, declaring majors, seeking financial resources and meeting with academic and career advisors.
Six student success advocates roam campus, meeting students on shuttles, in the library, in the student union or walking to class. They all have master’s or doctoral degrees and are familiar with higher education and its numerous, and sometimes overwhelming, wealth of resources. They are also prepared to answer questions about pursuing graduate school and have a sound understanding of the theory behind college student development, communication and motivation.
We sat down with Amy Bergerson, director of the Student Success Advocate program, to learn more about how faculty and staff can use the program to help students they interact with.
How can student success advocates support faculty and staff in the work they do with students?
Student success advocates have knowledge of many resources with which faculty and staff may not yet be familiar. We work with students in a holistic way, trying to understand the many facets of their lives and how they fit together. We help students develop strong study skills and habits, manage their time, set goals and determine how to attain those goals. We provide information about campus resources and opportunities, and we assist them in managing the stress that can arise during their time at the University of Utah. Our presence on campus allows you to focus on your teaching and research, knowing that students have the support they need to succeed.
How do student success advocates cultivate relationships with students?
We literally meet students wherever they are – in classroom buildings, the library or Union, or riding the shuttle or TRAX. We ask lots of questions to develop an understanding of each student’s unique situation, and we listen carefully, so we can begin working with them in a way that supports their definition of success. We consistently remind students that we are here to advocate for them and to assist them in learning how to advocate for themselves.
If I want a student success advocate to visit my class, how would I arrange for that?
Student success advocates are happy to visit your class and share our work with your students. We invite you to visit our website and peruse the bios of our six advocates to find the one you think best fits your students. You can also call 801-587-8556 or use the “Contact Us” form on our website, and we will arrange for an available student success advocate to visit your class.
If I have a student I am concerned about, how can I refer them to a student success advocate?
If you feel like the student’s needs are urgent, please call our office, 801-587-8556, and we’ll find an available student success advocate to meet with them right away. If the situation does not need immediate attention, referring the student to our website to select an advocate they’d like to work with – or better yet, sitting down at a computer and assisting them in this process – is a fantastic way to get them in touch with us.
What are some indications that a student is struggling that I should be aware of?
Students can struggle both academically and personally during the course of a semester. Some indications of academic struggles are: missing class, not turning in assignments, declining performance on assignments and exams and not participating in class. These behaviors can also indicate personal issues in students’ lives, and you may also be concerned if students’ body language or demeanor changes over the course of the semester, if their personal hygiene seems to decline or if they experience significant changes in behaviors. Often, students will indicate they are struggling in their writing. Student success advocates are happy to support you in assisting students who are struggling.
What theoretical approaches shape the work of the student success advocates?
Our work is grounded in the following theoretical approaches: college student development theory, communication theory, conflict mediation, learning theory and identity development theory. These theories incorporate the many experiences students have while in college, including developing their identities through learning and experience. Basing our work with students on these approaches strengthens our ability to serve students in a holistic and meaningful way.