Retention efforts chart path

Jul 20, 2007

The evidence is impossible to ignore or water down.

Since 2000, the number of U.S. high school students indicating an interest in engineering and science related fields has declined significantly, according to the 2000-2005 High School Graduating Class National Reports from ACT. But with the right programmatic efforts aimed at introducing young students in elementary and junior high to the interesting aspects of engineering and science, this trend is reversible.

One question still remains, however: what about those who are already studying these fields at the college level and experiencing a difficult time?

Unfortunately, some students end up changing majors or transferring to other schools because of the intensity of course expectations and demands in engineering and science levied by the mathematical requirements necessary to succeed.

And at Kettering, this scenario takes on greater importance, since a majority of the institution's majors are engineering based and require strong math skills. In addition, because students rotate 11-week academic terms with paid, professional co-op work terms, performing well academically demands exceptional time management skills and support systems inside and outside the classroom.

To help Kettering students stay on top of their class work and provide the support they need to continue working toward a degree in engineering or business management, the University established the First Year Initiative over the last year. This initiative is designed to provide a strategic infrastructure and an array of support services to ensure that first-year students receive the assistance they need to do well their freshmen year at Kettering. The goal is to develop ideas and recommendations that would serve as the foundation of a strategic plan for the school regarding first year students and how to help them be successful at Kettering.

To achieve this goal, Kettering, under the direction of President Stan Liberty and Interim Provost Robert Simpson, organized two committees that comprise the First Year Initiative. The first is called the Short Range Committee and is led by Dr. Joyce Shotick, associate provost for Student Affairs. The second is the Team and Long Range Committee led by Dr. William Riffe, professor of Manufacturing Engineering.

"The goal is to model our efforts on best practices used at other schools," explained Shotick, who joined Kettering in 2006. "We're focusing our support enhancement efforts on Kettering's co-op program, academics and co-curricular activities," she added.

Currently, the institution requires first-term freshmen to take an orientation course that provides critical information regarding cooperative education assignments, how to communicate with employers, test taking skills assistance, support services information such as where to seek help with medical and psychological issues. However, the orientation class only ran six weeks of the 11-week term and while it provided important information to students, Shotick and her team recognized that a longer period of time with additional resources would be of greater assistance to students.

The short-term fix was a pilot orientation class that ran fall 2006 and spring 2007 for the entire term to provide academic, co-op and non-academic assistance to students. This assistance included up-to-date information on how to prepare for cooperative education assignments; how to interact and communicate with companies and staff; instruction on incorporating better time management skills; more details on health and counseling services available while on campus, and where to go when a student needs help.

Shotick said that each orientation class will be small in size, with 20 to 25 students per class to allow for greater interaction and engagement. Additionally, each class will include a representative from the Cooperative Education Office, an upperclass student who will serve as a mentor to freshmen and frequent participation of faculty members, who will provide information on classroom expectations and etiquette.

"Pulling these three areas together for each class will help unify the Kettering experience and help students bond together," Shotick said. She added that by keeping the same students in each orientation class gives the group the chance to share lessons learned, talk about their experiences and discuss how they worked through their issues. This helps them to validate their experiences, learn that it is ok to feel overwhelmed and frustrated, and create a bond with others who feel the same way.

Shotick said that these changes and pilot classes follow the plan detailed in the First Year Initiative Final Report. Based on the many recommendations by the committee, Kettering implemented changes to the orientation class to include most of the attributes described above and found the course to be even more effective than in years past. These changes took place in pilot orientation classes during the fall 2006 and spring 2007 terms to obtain qualitative information regarding these new enhancements and if they had a measurable impact on academic performance and whether or not students felt comfortable in their first college term. The students in these pilot classes learned how each other studies and received valuable information on how to create better, more efficient study habits, such as forming study groups to discuss the concepts.

Thus far, students in these pilot orientation classes have better retention (all are currently registered for next fall term). Shotick's expectations from this point forward is that faculty and staff will review the First Year Initiative Report in Black Board under the Provost Council link to help in developing other ideas to ensure student success during the first year. This report contains both short and long-range recommendations for the leadership of the First Year Initiative, academics, co-op, co-curricular efforts, admissions, faculty selection for teaching first year classes, university-wide recommendations and very long-term recommendations. "We're looking at many different ways to assist students to be successful their first year," she explained, adding that ultimately the school would like to establish a plan "that will enhance the connection and satisfaction a student has with Kettering University that will impact their decision to remain at the school. We need to create a well-designed roadmap for our programs and efforts to retain students."

To learn more about this initiative, contact Dr. Joyce Shotick, associate provost of Students, at (810) 762-9835 or via email at jshotick@kettering.edu.

Written by Gary J. Erwin
810-762-9538
gerwin@kettering.edu