Greetings! The students are back, the semester is in full swing, and I have news to report. At the end of the summer, I held a staff retreat at my home for the CAS associate and assistant deans, administrative assistants and other staff from the CAS Student Services Office. We spent the day brainstorming ways that we might be of greater service to the students, parents and faculty of the College. I would like to share with you some of the changes we have already implemented and some that we anticipate implementing during the course of the year as a result of that retreat.
The College Student Services Office (2nd floor, 438 College St.) is staffed by a group of professionals who are uniquely prepared both to advise students about various aspects of their course of study and to tend to the array of personal and family circumstances that sometimes interfere with student engagement and performance. In the past Student Services staff members have been available from 8:00 a.m. until 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday—although they sometimes have been called upon on the weekends to deal with crises. Although staff members have lots of paperwork and planning to catch up on early in the morning, I’m sure that you will not be surprised to discover that students don’t often come in for advising at that time. As a result, three days a week we will begin to have some of those advisors begin work later and, thus, be available for advising until 7 p.m. During those evening hours, CAS will also host ongoing and occasional workshops that target students with different needs: for example, during the evening we have hosted groups of transfer students who need some help integrating into already established friendship networks; the first weekend of classes Assistant Dean Patty Corcoran hosted a dinner at her home for first-year students who were particularly homesick; and we have had support groups for students who are in the process of dealing with the death of a parent or other family member. The evening hours also provide us an opportunity to offer some short and targeted tutorials for students who need help with their study skills. (You might also be interested to know that our air-conditioned building was a welcome respite for a student’s hamster during those scorching first few days of the semester when the room he usually occupied in one of the residence halls was uncomfortable for his owner, but so warm for him that we feared for his life.)
College advisors visit the classes that first-year students are likely to take, especially TAP (Teacher-Advisor Program) first-year seminars, to make our services known. First-year students, as well as older students who take advantage of the services of the CAS Student Services Office, do so on their own initiative, but also often on the recommendation of a faculty member who encourages them to make contact with a College advisor. CAS faculty members are all engaged in academic advising, but they know that they can, and should, call the Dean’s Office when they have specific or even rather vague reasons to be concerned about a particular student’s well-being. A Student Services Office staff member will then seek out the student to offer whatever support or counseling we can provide or to make a referral. In short, we practice what is sometimes referred to as “intrusive” advising: if we become aware that a student may be in trouble, we don’t wait for them to come to us, we go looking for them.
In addition to extended hours and expanded programming, this year we will call students who receive more than one midterm warning letter from our faculty to see if we can determine the cause of the poor performance. This is a contact that will be in addition to the contact they should receive from the faculty member. Slated for introduction later in the year are: “outpost” advising days during registration, where we will station CAS Student Services staff members in the buildings that house the majority of the CAS departments; on-line chat-room advising targeted to specific student populations or common advising issues; and faculty-facilitated group advising. We are also planning chat-room advising for parents, particularly parents of first-year students. It is our experience that parents both want to be involved in the academic decisions of the young adults who are their children, and don’t know what sort of concerns should really prompt a call to the College offices or when they should just let their children work through issues themselves. They also sometimes don’t understand what information we are and are not, by law, permitted to share with them about their children. By spring semester, we also hope to have in-house a staff person with specific responsibility for facilitating service-learning, internship and shadowing opportunities for CAS students. Finally, we are also getting ready for Family Weekend/Homecoming, which is the first weekend in October. On Saturday of that weekend CAS administrators and faculty will be available to answer questions and share a light brunch. If you are on campus, please do come by 438 College St. from 10:00 to 11:30 a.m., Saturday, October 2 for the CAS Open House.
At the same time that we are offering students more and broader support to insure their academic success, we also know from the data we collect on each entering class that UVM students have probably never been as well-qualified for the rigors of academic work as those who are currently matriculating, and 55.6% of those students are in the College of Arts and Sciences. Twenty-seven percent of UVM’s first-year students are in the top 10% of their high school graduating class; 68% in the top 25%. With average SAT scores of 1182, they are capable of performing at the highest levels. With this in mind, I wrote them the welcoming letter that you will find elsewhere in this Newsletter. I wanted to be very clear to them that, although we knew they would have many opportunities for fun during their time here, they were entering a community of serious scholars and that they had a real responsibility to engage in all that UVM has to offer as a new or returning member of that community.
In closing, I would like to direct your attention to the accomplishments of the Department of Music lovingly described below by Department Chairperson Tom Toner. We initiated a CAS E-News project over a year ago that involved focusing in each successive newsletter on the status of the faculty and students of a particular CAS department. We began with the science departments and have now turned to those in the fine arts. In this issue I am proud to present to you our distinguished Department of Music. There are myriad opportunities for family members, students and community members to attend Department of Music performances. If at all possible, I do hope you will do just that in the near future. I guarantee that you will enjoy them enormously.