Laura BonDurant, director of CUA’s new Center for Academic Success, sits at a table in her office with freshman Maggie Sweeney, asking questions about the student’s high school experience in Lancaster, Pa. What were your favorite courses? What were your extracurricular activities? Sweeney reveals that she liked English and history; she played the piano and was a center/forward on the basketball team.
BonDurant and Sweeney will continue their conversation, meeting every two to three weeks over the course of the 2008–2009 academic year as they explore possible majors for the CUA freshman. Sweeney is among 180 new CUA students with whom BonDurant and other center staff are meeting one-on-one this year. The center’s services are aimed at helping new students feel like a part of the CUA community and bolstering student retention, which is a goal of the university’s strategic plan.
“My long-range hope is that first-year students will feel connected to Catholic University because they’ve developed significantly meaningful relationships with faculty, staff and students,” says BonDurant. “That, in turn, should encourage them to stay at CUA.”
Established in May, the center is the brainchild of Provost James F. Brennan and Vice President for Student Life Susan D. Pervi.
Increased services for exploratory students — i.e., those who haven’t yet chosen a major — are part of a national trend on college campuses. Exploratory students who receive support services early in their college career are more likely to stay in school, increasing their chances of earning a diploma and landing a professional job. And that's better for the school’s bottom line, as well.
In collaboration with Associate Dean of Students Kathryn Jennings, the center has hired several upperclassmen who are serving as peer mentors for new students. The upperclassmen stay in touch with their younger charges, making sure that they meet with their academic advisers and encouraging them to get involved with the CUA community.
In addition, under the auspices of the center, 16 faculty mentors and 16 staff mentors work with freshmen and transfer students who are exploring possible majors. The faculty mentors, who teach in different academic disciplines, and the staff mentors, who represent a variety of student life and campus ministry departments, received special training in academic advising last summer.
As part of its services, the center also offers twice-weekly workshops for all undergraduates on topics such as note taking, time management and effective listening.
These new mentoring services and workshops comprise the first steps in the multi-year implementation of a major program for first-year students, designed to enhance the undergraduate experience at CUA, says Provost Brennan. “The Center for Academic Success will be the resource center as we implement the academic foundation of this program in 2009–2010, followed by its extension to sophomores during the 2010–2011 academic year,” he says.
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