Collaborative study examines new student onboarding

The academic and student affairs divisions are collaborating on ways to help new students successfully transition to life and learning at Iowa State. A 31-member task force has been appointed to examine, report and recommend new student "onboarding" procedures that impact 6,000-7,000 students each year.

"The broad charge is to refine how we bring new students on board and prepare them to be successful. The biggest focus is from when they're admitted, to the end of their first year," said associate provost Dave Holger, who co-chairs the task force with interim dean of students Keith Robinder.

Motivation for change

Holger said a couple of experiences prompted the study:

  • Student government president Cole Staudt introduced a proposal to combine mandatory student training (diversity, sexual assault prevention, Library 160, university resources and financial literacy) into a single orientation course
  • Gralon Johnson, a postdoc and University Innovation Alliance (UIA) fellow in student affairs, attended a process mapping workshop in which UIA member Michigan State presented a communications analysis that found more than 400 university emails were sent to new students, from recruitment to the time they arrived on campus

"Those two things are what motivated this, more than anything else," Holger said.

The task force plans to have a report and set of recommendations to senior vice president and provost Jonathan Wickert and senior vice president for student affairs Martino Harmon by the end of the 2018 spring semester.

"It will have implications for a lot of campus," Holger said. "I think everybody feels we're doing a lot of it very well. This isn't because somebody thinks it's broken. It's really because we want to do it better, in a way that really impacts the students in a positive way. No matter if you're doing a good job or not, you can always do it better."

Study and analysis

After a couple of large-group meetings, Holger said five initial subcommittees are being formed -- a similar approach used in the development process for the university's latest strategic plan. Each group will focus on different student populations, including:

  • Direct-from-high school undergraduates
  • Transfer students
  • Graduate students
  • Veterinary Medicine students
  • Distance education and other non-degree students

The subcommittees, coordinated by a six-person steering committee, will create what Holger called a "reasonable inventory" of current onboarding efforts -- communications and programming already in place to help students make a successful transition to ISU.

Holger said once that comprehensive list is compiled, the next step is analysis.

"We're going to be asking the question, 'what's the baseline information we want students to know about and be familiar with?' We want people on the subcommittees to be thinking about gaps and redundancies, and come up with a short list of what students -- no matter what their backgrounds are -- need to know in order to be successful," he said.

After the broad initial study, Holger said the subcommittees will take a closer look at more defined student populations, such as international students, student-athletes or student veterans.

"There are a lot of ways you can slice this. For the first cut, we're not trying to slice it too fine," Holger said. "The idea is that this summer and next year, the group will be doing that further analysis."