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Pilot advising programs are designed to help students succeed

ISSUED: 16 October 2019
MEDIA CONTACT: Valerie Owens

SHEPHERDSTOWN, WV — Shepherd University launched two new pilot programs this year designed to help students succeed. The Advising Assistance Center and Academic Support Center are offering additional help to first-year students who are majoring in nursing or science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), and the College of Business now has a an advisor who is dedicated to helping first- and second-year students.

Institutional data has shown that first-year students in majors that require successful completion of difficult STEM-related courses such as chemistry, biology, and math are more likely to face setbacks than students who are not required to enroll in such courses in the first year. Shepherd received a $5,000 Firm Foundations grant from the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission so Emily Gross, director of academic support, Melissa Markey, career advisor, and Christina Reich, academic advisor, can give extra assistance to about 115 freshman nursing and STEM majors.

“Our outreach to these freshmen began this summer,” Gross said. “As soon as they came for advising and registration, we started doing some intensive outreach, reviewing their schedules to make sure they were in appropriate courses, asking if they had questions, and just helping get them adjusted to campus.”

Reich said many times faculty have huge advising loads in addition to their teaching duties, which makes it difficult for them to offer this kind of intensive advising.

“I think it’s important for first-year students who have a lot of questions to be able to have someone who they can get in touch with quickly and who knows a little bit about everything,” Reich said. “We’re easy for students to find. They can just walk in anytime or email us and we usually have appointments available most times of the day any day of the week.”

First- and second-year students in the College of Business are also getting extra help from Dustyn Icard, a graduate assistant serving as a dedicated advisor to about 140 students. Icard is helping them with class schedules, registration, fulfilling degree requirement, and answering any sort of general policy questions.

“My main job is to help with keeping the students on track and making sure they are taking courses that count toward their degree,” Icard said. “I focus on making sure they complete their English, math, entry-level accounting, economics, and business statistics classes within the first two years of college. If students do that, they’ve created a good foundation to move forward in any College of Business major.”

While Icard is the primary advisor when it comes class schedules, students still have faculty advisors to help with things like mentoring, internships, and career questions. Icard is currently earning his M.B.A., and as part of his capstone project he will keep statistics on how well the program works.

“We’re going to look at different measures such as the number of times a student visits me, the length of time spent in the office, and what exactly we’re doing—whether it’s advising, going over success strategies, or doing paperwork. At the end of the semester, we’re going to compare those students who return with those who don’t. Hopefully the difference in the statistics will prove that the additional dedicated advising helps retention.”

Goals of of both pilot programs are to increase the retention and graduation rate, and decrease the amount of unnecessary credits a student takes.

“We believe that having more full-time advisors who are doing nothing but advising would greatly aid in retention at Shepherd,” said Dr. Laura Renninger, dean, Ruth Scarborough Library and Center for Teaching, Learning, and Instructional Resources. “We hope these pilot programs will lead to having more dedicated advisors who can help students navigate college.”

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