Student success leaders discuss new tips on student interventions, campus involvement

The mental health challenges students face are largely derived from the stress they endure relating to academics and isolation. A webinar hosted by TimelyCare last week aimed to tackle some of the main barriers keeping higher education leaders from servicing students in the ways they need most.

Cynthia Hernandez, vice president of Student Success at Texas State University, and Emily Stone, dean of Counseling and Student Success Programs at Diablo Valley College (Calif.), joined Melissa Ezarik, an editor at Inside Higher Ed to discuss what student success leaders at the two- and four-year levels could do to help increase students’ confidence and connectedness.

Identifying student stressors

Hernandez and Stone spoke about the best time during the semester for institutions to deploy student surveys.

DVC deploys a survey at the beginning of the semester to identify which students may be experiencing food and housing insecurity, said Stone. Her team uses the data platform Starfish to administer their survey and connect students to the right departments and resources depending on their needs.

“We always want to look locally at what is impacting our students,” Hernandez said. “That’s going to change from cohort to cohort as well.”

Texas State deploys a survey to its first-year students around the six to eight-week mark to examine any need for interventions.

“That six- to eight-week mark seems to be a key time for when a student may realize something isn’t working for them,” Ezarik said. “What a great time to reach out.”

There are other ways to “keep a pulse” on how first-year students are doing, Hernandez said. Texas State implements RA checks, as well as peer mentors and staff in first-year experience courses. DVC also convenes student success focus groups to hear what they need directly, which helps redirect internal support and resources accordingly.

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Encouraging campus involvement for student success

Stress may be impeding students from engaging in campus involvement and extracurricular activities. Hernandez and Stone said they are both taking steps to increase participation and attendance by encouraging collaboration between administrators and students on school events. Stone, along with another dean, the vice president of student services and student leaders, co-created a Denim Day event, which encouraged action and awareness around sexual violence and victim blaming.

“We know that just making one meaningful connection for a community college student fields tremendous gains in our retention,” Stone said. “We aspire to have every employee be that one person for every student.”

DVC also hosts a digital “Welcome Day” for students before the semester begins. These differ from orientation by prioritizing communicating the institution’s programs and activities that help students “feel at home.”

Students may also feel more naturally encouraged to engage with the campus community as society shifts past the isolation of the pandemic.

“We are seeing record numbers at all of our events right now,” Hernandez said. “It’s really students wanting to engage in some activities they didn’t get to during the pandemic.”

Helping students map their career

College students are prone to fret about the connection between their current academic schedules and what lies beyond professionally once they graduate. Hernandez believes it’s important to walk a steady wire between creating rigid academic pathways and providing students with an overwhelming level of options to choose from.

“I believe in a voice and choice, but I believe there’s a more appropriate time than others to allow that,” she said. “If you’re an eighteen-year-old student and there are 5,024 permutations of the first-year schedule that you can have, that causes a lot of stress.”

Instead, Hernandez suggests content mapping and delivering “just in time” information to students, which differs depending on their journey through college.

Alcino Donadel
Alcino Donadel
Alcino Donadel is a UB staff writer and first-generation journalism graduate from the University of Florida. His beats have ranged from Gainesville's city development, music scene and regional little league sports divisions. He has triple citizenship from the U.S., Ecuador and Brazil.

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