Student life leaders outline strategy for supporting class years

The University’s refashioned student life arm has developed broad themes to steer programming for its four class-year-focused teams over the next semester.

Since the launch of the student services umbrella organization last fall, the Center for Student Engagement’s four teams spent months gauging the needs of their specific populations – freshmen, sophomores, juniors and seniors, and graduate and off-campus students.

This spring, leaders in the center will begin gradually aligning each class year’s services and programs into six central goals that were informed by a University-wide research phase last fall that included focus groups, surveys and conversations with students.

The themes, designed to standardize CSE policies across class years, are transitions, personal improvement, community building, residential experience, extracurricular engagement and leadership development. This framework will help the teams ensure they are offering support to the many areas of student development, the center’s director, Tim Miller, said.

“Everything from now on will reflect these six things,” Miller, who is also the associate dean of students, said. “These are what students need across every single year.”

While he does not want to drastically alter services mid-year, Miller said the gradual rollout of services and programs is part of the organization’s “concerted effort to not look or feel all that different” to students.

The most visible change can be seen in student life operations, where different parts of the CSE are now more tightly connected than before – a link that Miller said facilitates stronger communication among formerly distinct departments. The CSE brings together staff from across the Dean of Freshmen Office, the Guide to Personal Success program, the Student Activities Center, Mount Vernon Campus Life and Housing Programs.

To support more programming, Student and Academic Support Services will make its case for added financial support for the branches it oversees, including CSE, at February’s Board of Trustees meeting, Robert Chernak, senior vice president and head of SASS, said earlier this month. Chernak declined to comment on whether the CSE’s current budget was lower than operationally necessary but said “there have been deficiencies in some of our departments.”

Miller added that the teams will face a challenge in integrating the six principles into their class-based services, because few colleges across the country operate under similar models. For every university consolidating student resources, the team found another school breaking them apart, he said.

“We couldn’t find this model at many other places, so we’re breaking new ground,” Miller said. “It’s both good and scary.”

The CSE’s emphasis on student transitions is one example of a common goal between class years. Miller explained that freshmen, study abroad students and students entering the job market all go through major adjustments in their lifestyles that require support.

The Third and Fourth Year Experience team has begun working with the Office for Study Abroad to further develop existing activities to help students segue back to campus, such as welcome back events for members of GW’s Focus on Fall Abroad Community.

Vernon Williams, director of the team, said last semester’s information gathering “helped us prioritize and fine tune other areas” and, based on the results, the group will put an emphasis on service opportunities, career exploration and graduate school preparation as it continues its programming in the spring.

Alongside career services staff, Williams’ team hosted a gap-year event Jan. 26 for graduating seniors considering taking time off before entering the workforce. The group is also planning to hold graduate and professional education seminars in conjunction with Kaplan Test Prep this spring.

A major focus for the CSE is bringing attention to GW’s budding graduate student body, a population that University President Steven Knapp has highlighted throughout his tenure. From 2007 to 2010, the number of students seeking graduate degrees has climbed by about 4 percent.

Andrew Goretsky, director of the Graduate, Distance and Professional Student Experience, said his department will coordinate more social programming, after learning from graduate students on Foggy Bottom and the Virginia Science and Technology Campus that they lacked opportunities to meet students outside of their school.

The team is also working on a centralized website that will function like a virtual Colonial Central for off-campus students, offering virtual office hours for students unable to meet in person.

“[Graduate, distance and professional] students are coming from all over the D.C. metro area and many are taking classes virtually from around the world,” Goretsky said. “This will increase our accessibility and ability to connect with the GDP population.

The first year team, led by Jeffrey Llewellyn, will bolster its traditionally strong support for freshmen by connecting students to internship, research and fellowship opportunities around campus with the help of the Center for Undergraduate Fellowships and Research and the GW Career Center.

The Hatchet has disabled comments on our website. Learn more.