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Retention and Student Success Programs Acclimate, Fortify Learning Experience for Ferris Students

PhotoThe Hispanic/Latino Cultural Center is one of many areas under Retention and Student Success at Ferris State University.

Retention and Student Success, Ferris State University’s multidisciplinary college, is a collaboration of programming and services supporting the academic achievement of every student, regardless of their area of study or educational background.

Jason Bentley, the dean of RSS, said the range of programming and services reflects Ferris’ commitment to access and opportunity for students.

The FSU Seminar program seeks to equip all first-year students as they transition to college life and learning. FSUS 100 is an extended academic orientation course required in a student’s first semester, which helps support a strong start.

“We are intentional and passionate about the work we undertake each day to support students and take seriously our role as strong partners, to encourage and advocate throughout their academic journey and entry into the workforce,” Bentley said. “The vast majority of students tell us that their FSUS 100 course helped to prepare them for success at the university. Through Retention and Student Success, future teachers, social workers, nurses, information security and criminal justice professionals learn to engage with the many resources Ferris makes available to help them achieve their learning and career goals.”

Students who are undecided on a major and meet at least one university standard for admission but do not meet eligibility for their preferred program of study enjoy outstanding support in RSS through the General Studies program.

“Through the General Studies program, our students receive intensive support while completing coursework designed to help bridge the transition to their preferred academic program,” Bentley said.

“While many students come to college with a major in mind, other students come to college unsure of their career path. Still, others have realized a different career path than originally planned. We embrace each student’s unique journey through the General Studies Program and specifically through career and exploration courses. The CARE 102 course, for example, provides students with the tools, strategies and supports to make informed decisions.”

Ferris’ commitment to first-generation students is also receiving national recognition. In 2019, the university was recognized as a leader in supporting first-generation students by the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators. In 2021, Ferris received distinction as one of only two institutions in the state of Michigan to serve as a First-Gen Forward Advisory Institution. This designation places Ferris in an advisory role to mentor other institutions around the Great Lakes region, seeking to best support first-generation college students and graduates.

Ferris is fortunate to have Tuition Incentive Program (TIP) support, as well as a dedicated resource center to help students meet the State of Michigan’s TIP criteria. This unique stipend helps students complete their degree with financial support, a key component in allowing them to graduate without burdensome debt.

In 2021, RSS also welcomed the Hispanic/Latino Cultural Center into the fold. “Through the CLS, we are helping increase accessibility and degree attainment for Latinx students through early start programs and peer coaching initiatives,” Bentley said.

The Hispanic/Latino Cultural Center’ mission is to increase Latinx college completion rates. Students have praised that work. 

“The Hispanic/Latino Cultural Center Promesa Scholars Program helped me to become part of the Ferris family and in touch with many resources, including help with the FAFSA,” Leonora Velasquez, a Nursing student from Kentwood, said. “Completing the form is stressful, but CLS took time to understand me and my family situation, which helped to remove the stress.” 

A diverse and engaged student body is vital to an enriching learning experience for all, a key consideration as to why RSS faculty and staff are excitedly helping advance the Ferris Equity Initiative, a campus-wide initiative to counter equity gaps.

“We believe all our students can thrive, and with additional tools, we can do even more to provide them timely, personalized support,” Bentley said.

At the Academic Literacies Center, Ferris’ Structured Learning Assistance program stands as a leader in its promotion of tutoring and structured learning, according to Bentley.

“Each year, we review academic performance data from students in courses throughout the fall and spring semesters. We then work to organize and embed structured learning assistance for courses where it is most likely students could benefit from extra support,” Bentley said. “We work with faculty to identify our best students to facilitate in these classes and lead others in an additional review of the coursework, so they might succeed and move confidently through their major to their degree.

Another facet of supporting good academic literacy is assuring that students with visual impairment receive support through the Michigan College of Optometry for testing and, if necessary, glasses or contact lenses.”              

Tutoring, both individual and group-based, and writing support also takes place daily in the Academic Literacies Center and online for students who are not in Big Rapids.

“We are very fortunate to have an outstanding team working to advance accessibility,” Bentley said.

The Educational Counseling and Disabilities Services office works with all students, faculty and staff to ensure the civil rights of students with disabilities.

“We work hard to apply concepts of Universal Design to create an environment where all students have access and know they are included,” Julie Alexander, director of Accessibility and Disability Services, said. “When the design is not accessible, we make appropriate accommodations to ensure access and every possible opportunity for a student to achieve success.”

“Making an intentional effort to see that our practices accommodate all kinds of learners with as few barriers as possible is the goal,” said Bentley.

A new era of academic advising for the university arrives at the start of the 2022-23 academic year introducing Navigate, a campus-wide student success platform. Through Navigate, students, faculty and staff will enjoy greater ease in connecting and collaborating.

“We are excited about this initiative and the ways it will allow our campus to support students,” Bentley said.

The MyDegree program also allows our current students to know the requirements for their chosen degree program and to show how their courses apply to those requirements.

“It helps answer the ‘What If…?’ considerations that our students might have about their educational direction,” Bentley said. “Our intention is to reduce bottlenecks for our students, so they might optimize the path they follow to complete their degree.”

“Students can also work with their advisor to create a semester-by-semester plan of the courses they plan to take, which encourages students to complete their degree within a specified timeframe,” said Bob Griffith, director of MyDegree

“The Kendall College of Art and Design curricula are being brought into the MyDegree system. We are pleased to be making progress in that regard,” Bentley added.

Bentley also said the university’s Honors Program is an aspect of RSS with fresh motivations, including building greater diversity within their student group.

“Our Honors Program continues to attract and retain students from across the university, supporting 106 distinct majors,” Bentley said. “Honors students contribute greatly to the public good by volunteering with community partners.

The program traditionally recognizes one student who best exemplifies its value each spring. This year, it was decided to honor Journey Ebels, a Digital Animation and Game Design student from Wyoming and Honiestie Wright, a Nursing student from Flint. They each demonstrated exceptional intellectual curiosity, leadership and a commitment to service, values we work hard to nurture through the Honors Program.”

Just one step removed from working directly with students, the Faculty Center for Teaching and Learning staff know that its engagement with and support of faculty ultimately impacts students’ experiences, learning, and success.

“Our work with and for faculty is informed by what we know about how students learn, grow, and change,” writes Todd Stanislav. “The staff in FCTL want the very best for our students, whether through inspired and engaged teaching, inclusive and equitable learning experiences, accessible course content, a sense of belonging, or a readiness to pursue a career and create a more just and humane world. It is to these ends that we support faculty.”

RSS also offers the entire campus community the opportunity to join in the practice of Deliberative Dialogue to build bridges and foster conversation around complex topics.

Since 2017, RSS has promoted deliberative dialogue as a tool for building bridges and continued conversation on difficult topics. Each year, several dialogues take place on campus, either in the classroom or via a campus event. In 2021, RSS launched its “Let’s Start Talking” initiative, which is student-centered and student-led. This initiative included 12 deliberative dialogues, with topics varying from COVID-19 and Mental Health and Wellness to Economic Security and Food Justice. Campus coordinator for deliberative dialogue Kristin Conley said the university now has over 100 students, faculty, and staff trained in the art of moderating these discussions.

“We want to continue to grow this,” Conley said. “This year, we hosted our first regional moderator training for individuals at an off-campus location.

Our goal is to have this every year because it is a wonderful tool for civic engagement. Deliberative dialogue offers a way for individuals from diverse backgrounds and perspectives to come together to seek a shared understanding of a problem or issue and search for common ground and action. This is important for a college campus because it creates a community of learners.”

Through collaboration with the College of Arts, Sciences and Education, RSS is also growing evidence-based programming that supports student academic success. The Cross-Curricular Career Community Program, which began in 2017, is a learning community featuring course acceleration in core subject areas, primary advising, mentoring, and a professional framework for organizing the program, offering the support necessary for their success. It is an excellent example of the power of collaborating and the importance of working together for students. Given the success of this program, RSS is proud to announce the addition of a second cohort for Fall 2022, which will have a science focus to support students entering the health professions.

Learn more about Retention and Student Success.