Sept. 3, 2010
Northwest engages in self-study to improve first-year experience
MARYVILLE, Mo. - Northwest Missouri State University is taking a critical look at students' first-year experiences by participating in a national higher education project aimed at helping universities develop and refine their overall approaches to educating freshmen and transfer students.
The project, known as Foundations of Excellence®, is facilitated by the John N. Gardner Institute for Excellence in Undergraduate Education, located in Brevard, N.C. Since February 2003, the Foundations of Excellence project has involved more than 300 two- and four-year colleges and universities across the country in developing standards, called Foundational Dimensions®, that constitute a model first year.
The goal of the program, as it relates to Northwest, is to engage the entire campus community in a self-study to better understand the experience of incoming students so the University can identify obstacles to their success and offer ways to help them overcome those obstacles. The all-inclusive study measures institutions' effectiveness in recruiting, admitting, orienting, supporting, advising and teaching new students.
"I am deeply appreciative of our campus leaders who have rallied to participate in this important self-study," Northwest Provost Dr. Doug Dunham said. "The Foundations of Excellence model requires us to examine the first-year experience from various perspectives; in other words, from both a curricular and a co-curricular perspective. This means we will be evaluating student learning using a systems approach with the goals of not only improving retention, but to identify ways to further student learning.
Northwest will work with the Gardner Institute and its technology support and educational survey partner, Educational Benchmarking Inc., throughout the academic year. Leslie Chandler, coordinator of student orientation and transfer affairs, and Dr. Alisha Francis, director of the Freshman Seminar Program, are co-chairing the project at Northwest.
"It's exciting to see the way it converges so many conversations we're having right now on campus," Francis said. "It really exemplifies every student, every day, every way. That's the foundation of this idea."
Northwest is continuously looking for ways to improve its first-year programs, which include SOAR and Advantage. Last February, Francis attended a Gardner Institute for Excellence meeting where she learned about the comprehensive self-study process. Chandler and Francis began discussions with Northwest employees about the process in March.
"Everybody I heard talk about (Foundations of Excellence) was incredibly enthusiastic," Francis said. "I happened to overhear somebody say, 'If you could do Foundations of Excellence, do it. It's the best thing we ever did.'"
Because the validity of the project's outcomes is closely related to the degree of campuswide support and participation it receives, Northwest formed a Foundations of Excellence Executive Committee consisting of employees across varied areas. The committee includes Dr. Matt Baker, dean of students; Dr. Leslie Galbreath, director of academic and library services; Dr. Greg Haddock, vice provost and dean of the graduate school; and Bev Schenkel, dean of enrollment management.
A survey will be distributed to all Northwest employees later this month, and the committee is seeking volunteers for nine dimension committees, comprised of eight to 10 employees. The nine dimensions consist of philosophy, organization, learning, faculty, transitions, all students, diversity, roles and purposes, and improvement. The dimensions were developed by the Gardner Institute based on nine critical areas found in research.
Committee co-chairs are Jamie Patton, Joan Schneider, Brian Hesse, Jeff Foot, Jeff Thornsberry, Rose Viau, Jenny Rytting, Mary Ann Penniston, Vince Bates, Darla Runyon, Matt Symonds, Matt Walker, Clarence Green, Renee Rohs, Sam Jennings, Steve Ludwig, Angel McAdams, Shelly Hiatt and Phil Kenkel.
By the end of the academic year, the committee hopes to have a solid plan ready for implementation.
Chandler emphasizes all University employees are affected by students' first-year experiences and every aspect will be studied.
"We wanted action items that we could get the entire staff and faculty involved in," Chandler said. "The awesome thing about Foundations of Excellence is they don't just give you a plan and say, 'This is the road map to having a great first-year experience.' You come up with your plan based on what your needs are. There's no right or wrong answers."
For more information, about the John N. Gardner Institute for Excellence in Undergraduate Education and this project go to www.fyfoundations.org.
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Mark Hornickel, Media Relations Specialist
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