Education - Page 4 - Higher education goes holistic

- Page 4
Higher education goes holistic
Academics, coaching and overall wellness combine for life lessons

By Lisa Baldino, Contributing Writer

Colleges and universities are calmly acknowledging the impact of the mind/ body connection on student retention. They are not just crediting classes; they are giving credit to coaches, environments and skills programs that sustain the whole student – academic, professional, personal and spiritual.

The comfortable seating, soothing colors and tranquil atmosphere of The Academic Center for Excellence (ACE) at Goucher College supports its premise of a welcoming and peaceful environment. Students are greeted by Lucy, a 55-pound Golden Doodle dog, who serves as a “social connector.”

According to Peejo Sehr, director of ACE, the space itself was designed with a clear intention to be “a safe and inclusive place for all students. While in the waiting area, there’s tea, relaxing messages and mandalas to color.” Lucy, a greeter dog, was actually suggested by the students.

Sehr explains that mind/body science, which is exploding in the academic world, is the differentiator for ACE. The center focuses both on the academic student model and mind/body science.“ We work with the student’s strengths,” Sehr says. “At the college level, students are recreating themselves. We are seeing the student holistically and changing the mindset of academic support to include a wellness component.”

Students work on learning strategies and stress management, and content-based support is offered by peer mentors instead of being offered by coaches. “College is a huge transition for students,” Sehr says. “It’s a leap in learning from memorization to application.” Academic success and stress management are at the core of the center’s work, with opportunities for workshops in sleep-based yoga and other meditation techniques. The goal is to improve memory and focus for academic success, according to Sehr.

She cites over 70 percent of first-year students utilized ACE services last year. Feedback surveys show that 63 percent of them stated that utilizing ACE services impacted their academic success, and 46 percent said that ACE played a role in retaining them at Goucher. Sehr is now interested in exploring a co-relation between students who utilize the services and a higher GPA. “Once they come through the door, we begin a trusting relationship to help students succeed.”

ACE also serves as the student testing center and supports students with accommodations. In addition, ACE offered first-year students a workshop on “learning how to learn” in collaboration with the first-year seminar. “Students affirm that what they love about ACE is the warm and welcoming staff and ‘wherever the eye lands there is an object of meaning’ ”, Sehr says.

Stevenson University has also significantly increased its freshman retention rate to 80 percent since the inception of its Center for Student Success, according to Tasha Gooden, director of the student success coaching program. Gooden attributes the increase to the holistic approach the center has taken by assigning a success coach to each student. These are professional academic advisors who help students transition to independent college life. “The success coach’s goal is to connect with students on a level that is more than academic. Not knowing who to talk to for support is one of the biggest challenges a first-year student faces,” Gooden says.

The center has added structure with other departments so that all are communicating and working together. “It’s been a collaborative effort,” Gooden says. “It’s important to get a touch-point with students. By working with other departments, we can make sure the students have holistic support. The skills the coaches teach are preparing them for life.”

Monthly meetings with success coaches are mandatory and include discussion of the students’ campus experience. The center has linked academics with both athletics and residence life. Athletes have a centralized study hall where the athletic coaches are present. Freshmen athletes are required to attend study hall four hours per week. The success coaches also meet with residence life to keep up with what’s happening in the residence halls. “It’s an information sharing session, and it allows the success coaches to stay abreast of the trends,” Gooden notes. She says the center is also building connections with career services to help those students who are struggling with decisions about careers or majors.

The center already had a strong relationship to the school’s tutoring and testing center, called “The Academic Link.” This is where students can get peer tutoring or professional tutoring, as well as help with academic planning. Students who experience academic difficulty can work with a coach to create an action plan to improve or maintain their grades. An early alert system flags failing grades, and helps success coaches identify students who may be at risk. “It’s rewarding when probationary students follow up and participate in our Reset for Success program,” Gooden says. “Having to dig myself out of failing grades in college allows me to say, I’ve been there, but I also know you can turn it around.”

Attending to the whole student doesn’t stop with undergraduates at the University of Maryland. Graduate students are afforded many opportunities that prepare them for the workforce, including public speaking and succinct communication skills.

For example, the 3-Minute Thesis is a competition of short presentations by graduate students that originated at the University of Queensland. Linda Macri, director of academic and professional development at the University of Maryland, explains,“The challenge is unique to each student. They have to present their thesis to an educated lay audience, and hone it down to three minutes and a single slide.”

Graduate students from the University of Maryland compete campus-wide, aspiring to international competitions. University of Maryland students took home both the Judges’ prize and the People’s Choice award in 2014, their first year of participation in the contest. Students from the university also won both the Judge’s First Choice prize and the People’s Choice again in 2017. The contest is open to all doctoral students at the university who have reached the candidacy stage in their programs.

In addition, the University of Maryland’s GradTerp Exchange is a presentation forum designed to help graduate students communicate effectively to non-specialist audiences. “The

Holistic, continued on page 8

PHOTO DESCRIPTION: Left: Linda Macri, director of academic and professional development at the University of Maryland Graduate School, introduces the speakers at October’s GradTerp Exchange.

3-Minute Thesis

Graduate students from the University of Maryland began participating in the 3-Minute Thesis in 2014. The program is offered through the U21 global network of 27 research-intensive universities that support the vision of “promoting internationalization across higher education,” according to the U21 website. University of Maryland holds a campus-wide competition, with winners advancing to the international judging.

The basic rules require a student presentation of their thesis to a non-specialist audience in three minutes. One static slide summarizing the research and findings is permitted. Pavrutha Raman, a current graduate student studying biological sciences, will represent the university at the 2018 international competition. Her thesis: “Establishment and maintenance of gene silencing.” •