Welcome back for Fall 2014! – Message to Faculty

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This year, prior to the fall semester, I sent a message to faculty regarding our University goals for student success.  Of course, providing an exceptional learning and living experience is the responsibility of everyone on campus, and I will be commenting on the important roles that we all have in attaining our goals.  This is the faculty message sent for Fall 2014:

Welcome to Fall Semester 2014! I hope that this time of year is as exciting for you as it has always been for me. I enjoy seeing new students arrive on campus, ready for this big step in education and personal growth. As we are opening the new academic year, I wanted to share a few thoughts.

As you know, student success at NC State is goal one of our strategic plan. Success can be measured in any number of ways. Official measures used in the media and government includes our one-year retention rate for first year, first time freshmen and our 6-year graduation rate. We do very well on retention, with a first year rate in excess of 93% for the fall 2012 cohort which compares very favorably with our peer institutions. However, once our students return for the second year, that persistence drops off, and our 6-year graduation rate is about 74%. That is low compared with our overall peer group, which has an average 6-year graduation rate of 77%. And, compared with some our aspirational peers, we are very low indeed. For example, Georgia Tech, Texas A&M, Virginia Tech, and UC-Davis have 6-year rates of 79, 80, 82, and 86% respectively. Our retention is as good as at those institutions, but we lose far more rising juniors and seniors than they do. And our students are certainly as capable as theirs are!

There are a number of reasons for this attrition: financial concerns, family issues, lack of perceived fit, problems moving into majors internally, or not having the desired major to transfer into. About 18% of a given cohort leave in good academic standing, while only about 5-6% leave on probation or suspension.

Our goal is to move our retention rate to 94% or better, and to achieve a 6-year graduation rate of at least 80%. However, student success is more than just reaching these numerical goals. Our own strategic plan identifies that we want students to experience more high-impact educational activities that enhances their learning, exposes them to a wide variety of intellectual experiences, and prepares them for their futures. These include first-year seminars and experiences, common learning experiences and learning communities, participation in Learning and Living Villages in our residence halls, study abroad and other diversity and global activities, research and creative work with faculty, internships, writing intensive courses, collaborative assignments and projects and integrative capstone courses and projects. We offer opportunities in most of these areas already, and our plans are to make more opportunities available in the next few years. We want as many students as possible to take advantage of all that a great research university has to offer.

A key to our students persisting and graduating is engagement with the university in many ways. As is suggested by the activities listed above, engagement with faculty, in and out of the classroom, is very important. Significant interaction with one or more faculty member can change the path for a student. Messages from faculty about the importance of their education and time at NC State can make a difference. Encourage your students to take advantage of the opportunities for enhancing their learning.

Given our institutional goals, I ask that you think about how you can provide the message that your students’ success is important, particularly in those first and second year courses. Here are some things you might want to consider discussing with your students during this first week of classes.

  • Time Commitment: How much time do you expect students to spend preparing outside of your formal class time? In a recent NC State survey (2011 National Survey of Student Engagement), 52% of first year students and 55% of seniors reported studying 15 hours or less per week. Are we challenging our students enough? Discuss what it takes to be successful in your class to achieve mastery.
  • Attendance: Do you stress attendance? Attendance is a very strong indicator of student academic success. Even if you do not require attendance, discuss the importance of attendance to success in your class. Emphasize the fact that there are activities during class that are in addition to the outside readings and assignments and that missing these will negatively impact their learning, and therefore, their grades. Of course, we must also make sure that our class time does indeed offer up challenges, content and activities beyond what can be gotten from the text or someone else’s notes!
  • Class Participation: How would you like for your students to participate in your class? Can you give students suggestions for preparing for class that will make class time more effective? Are there short activities you can add to your class to enhance the engagement of students with the material? Can you consider a hybrid model that focuses class time on active learning? Consider contacting the Office of Faculty Development for ideas that you can apply to your course (http://ofd.ncsu.edu/teaching-learning/), or take a look at the Course Planning resources available from DELTA (http://delta.ncsu.edu/course-planning/).
  • Academic Support: Let students know about support outside of class. Talk about your office hours, and any tutoring or other support available in your department or college. You may also want to refer students to the University Tutorial Center (http://tutorial.ncsu.edu) where we offer assistance in a variety of gateway science, writing, and language courses.

If you have students who are missing class or performing poorly on homework or tests, especially during the first two to three weeks of the semester, please consider submitting an Academic Progress Report. The Academic Progress Reporting system is located in the MyPACK Portal under the Faculty Center and in the Advising Dashboard. Using this system you can communicate information about course performance to the student and their advisor. For information on how to access the system, please go to http://www.ncsu.edu/registrar/guides/facstaff/progressreport.html. Early notification and intervention is a proven strategy for improving student outcomes. Of course, it is difficult to monitor progress for a student in the absence of regular evaluation. I encourage you to consider multiple ways to monitor student learning in your class – early and often is better than a single mid-term and final. And if you have a student who you believe is exhibiting concerning behavior in your class, please refer that student to our Behavioral Case Manager at http://studentsofconcern.ncsu.edu/. We can provide a variety of services to students who are experiencing distress, allowing them to be successful members of our academic community.

Finally interaction with you, the faculty, is important. Stress office hours, review sessions, and other opportunities to talk with students. Tell them why your discipline is exciting to you, why what they are studying is important. Discuss your research; perhaps encouraging students to consider undergraduate research opportunities in your field. Talk about the value of internships, study abroad, service learning, clubs and organizations and other activities in your department or college that tie the student back to the major in concrete ways.

I wish you all the best this coming year. And, I thank you for your part in helping our students find their way to success in their classes, to the discovery of a rich variety of intellectual opportunities, and to leaving the University with a broad education that will prepare them for a lifetime of learning and productivity in their chosen career paths. Please feel free to contact me if you would like to discuss student success issues or to learn more about the Division of Academic and Student Affairs.

All the best,

Mike Mullen
Vice Chancellor and Dean
Professor of Soil Science

IDEATION in DASA – Strategic Planning for the Future

The phrase: “We Promote the Success of the Whole Student” is the opening line in our new mission statement for the Division of Academic and Student Affairs.  That mission statement was crafted at a DASA leadership retreat on January 9, 2013; a meeting that began the task of developing the strategic plan that will guide DASA for the next seven years.

The Division continued its work to re-envision itself this past Friday, January 25th.  Our IMG_1226folks came out in spite of the weather reports calling for freezing rain and snow, for which I am grateful.  In all, approximately 70 staff members from across the division came together to generate ideas for the future – in a session tagged as an IDEATION day – Idea Generation.  What will DASA look like in seven years?  What are the challenges to providing exceptional student support and services to the Colleges we will face?  How can we, as a division, respond to those challenges to remain strong and relevant, in spite of changing models of societal support, funding issues, technological change, student demographics and a host of other pressures.

Dr. Rob Brodnick, currently Associate Vice President at the University of the Pacific, joined us as our facilitator for the day.  Rob has expertise in planning, strategy, research, assessment, and organizational change and development.  He deftly led us through our planned 6 hour workshop in 4 hours, responding to the pressures of the weather.  In spite of the shortened time, we accomplished a great deal.  Our folks worked together in small groups – bringing staff from various units together to brainstorm the future.DASA Staff Generating Ideas

As a group, we generated 100′s of ideas that will help us shape a new strategic plan, and vision, for the Division of Academic and Student Affairs.  As we continue this work, I will update our progress here on this blog site.  Look for great things from DASA!

Go Pack!

Mike Mullen

One Division Serving the Whole Student

On July 1, 2012, NC State united the divisions of Undergraduate Academic Programs and Student Affairs into the Division of Academic and Student Affairs.  This realignment emerged from comprehensive campus-wide strategic planning that laid the foundation for a unified approach to student success and support in all aspects of the student life cycle.  I had the pleasure of joining DASA as the inaugural Vice Chancellor and Dean on August 1, 2012, and I look forward to continuing the work of supporting students at NC State.  And, as an alumnus of NC State (PhD, 1987), it is great to be back at this great university!

This new division is relatively novel for a large, research-extensive university.  DASA brings together programs for academic support, co-curricular activities and programs, residence education and housing, programming in the Arts, key student services such as the Student Health Center, and administrative support for curriculum and assessment.   There are four sub-divisions in DASA which provide over 50 different programs that support students and faculty: Academic Programs and Services; ARTS NC STATE; Campus Life; and Student Development, Health and Wellness.  Additionally, DASA has Assessment and IT units that serve the campus and division.  DASA employs over 450 permanent staff and over 1000 students in various capacities, with a total budget in excess of $82 million.  For an overview of our organization and to explore each of the sub-divisions, please go to http://dasa.ncsu.edu/sub-divisions.

This realignment presented challenges and opportunities.   As might be imagined, there was early concern about what the reorganization meant for the future of student affairs, as well as undergraduate academic programs at NC State.  Some were concerned that perhaps my arrival would impact the student affairs side of the house (given my career has moved through the academic ranks); however, I have worked extensively with student affairs in my previous institution, and understand the value of bridging the curricular and co-curricular in support of students and have worked to demonstrate that understanding.  And, we have worked hard during the first six months to communicate internally the value of our programming in the context of a single new division.  The value of having one division focused on the success of the whole student was communicated consistently through the early months of the transition.  Communication and relationship building will be key to forging a singular identity for DASA at NC State.

During the first six months, I hosted a division-wide meeting to greet all employees and to begin the dialogue around being a new unified division.  I have visited with each program director individually, typically in their physical space, to learn about their programs, how they serve students, and issues that affect their operations.  I have also met with college deans and associate deans, the Faculty Senate, and other key leaders across campus to discuss the new division to make the changes visible and to learn how DASA can work with their units to advance student support and success.

I have also worked to develop strong relationships with the presidents of the Student Body and Student Senate, and have participated in numerous student activities on campus to demonstrate support.  It is critical to work collaboratively with Student Government to ensure we are meet student needs.

The division has hosted monthly meetings where program leaders and key staff come together to learn about division programs and to help build new relationships across sub-divisions.  Recent meetings have featured presentations from a number of programs, to include: Academic Support for Athletes; Arts programming; the Center for Student Leadership, Ethics and Public Service; Housing and Living-Learning Villages; and Student Government.

A strategic planning process has been initiated that will provide opportunities for most staff to have input into the plan for supporting all students.  Leadership from across the division will critically examine current programming and begin thinking about new ways to support students. This process will produce a comprehensive strategic plan for DASA by the end of the spring 2013 semester and will provide a roadmap for guiding our work in support of the NC State Strategic Plan: The Pathway to the Future.

The benefits to this reorganization are many.  The creation of DASA communicates the importance of both the academic and co-curricular aspects of a college education and provides a structure for unifying campus efforts at student success.  It unifies the reporting structure for academic and student affairs to the Provost and Chancellor.  It will blur programmatic and sub-division lines to provide more opportunities for collaboration within DASA, and certainly with other units and colleges. And, the creation of development and communications teams will promote a unified prospectus of DASA programs to potential donors and highlight the activities of DASA and students and faculty to the campus and beyond.

This is an exciting time at NC State. The establishment of DASA provides interesting and vibrant opportunities to enhance how we serve all students and promote student success at NC State.  We are energized as we become one division that serves the whole student.  Let us know how we are doing and share your successes with us so that we can celebrate those as a community.  I also invite you to watch for other lines of communication from DASA, from our various Twitter feeds and FaceBook sites to our blogs.

Have a great semester!

Mike