New position is among efforts to streamline student onboarding

Thousands of new students start their Iowa State adventure each year, and a collaborative effort to make their transition easier is becoming a reality.

The "onboarding" process provides information and resources to welcome and acclimate new students -- from academics to a sense of belonging. Keith Robinder, associate dean of students and co-chair of the new student onboarding committee working to improve the process, said coordinated and thoughtful onboarding can translate into student success and retention.

"As an institution, Iowa State University is committed to providing all new students the knowledge, skills and abilities they need to succeed as Cyclones," Robinder said. "This provides a solid foundation for their academic learning -- as well as their personal well-being as members of our campus community -- and is critically important."

The project, a joint effort of the student affairs and academic affairs divisions, is moving into what Robinder called an operational phase. After more than 18 months of study and development by multiple teams, the committee submitted its report Aug. 1 to senior vice president for student affairs Martino Harmon and senior vice president and provost Jonathan Wickert. The senior VPs are moving forward -- and investing in -- several recommendations:

  • Hiring a full-time staff position to coordinate and implement campuswide onboarding procedures and resources
  • Funding the creation and delivery of centrally branded information to new students
  • Developing a set of core competencies (learning outcomes)

Robinder said the steering committee will launch a national search to fill the new staff position, which will be part of the student affairs division.

'Cyclone Core Competencies'

The committee established four "key outcomes" -- each with subcomponents -- for onboarding new students. They aim to:

  • Give all students the knowledge and ability to navigate ISU
  • Integrate new students into the campus community and culture
  • Raise awareness of experiences that aid academic success and integration
  • Meet compliance requirements

Robinder said the "Cyclone Core Competencies" will provide a foundation for students to be successful at Iowa State. They will guide the content for an "Introduction to Iowa State University" online course. The no-credit course will be required for all new degree-seeking students and likely piloted in the fall 2019 semester.

"Throughout the first phases of the project, we discovered that while some students take multiple introductory courses and receive redundant communications from multiple sources, other students miss these important learning opportunities," he said. "This effort will streamline content and coordinate delivery of key information so that all students are welcomed and prepared."

Share ideas, questions

Robinder and committee co-chair Ann Marie VanDerZanden, associate provost for academic programs, will lead a pair of campus forums later this month. Campus members are invited to attend and bring their questions. The open forums are:

  • Thursday, Sept. 20 (9-10 a.m., MU Gold Room)
  • Wednesday, Sept. 26 (3-4 p.m., MU Gold Room)

"The primary goal is to bring together all campus stakeholders to ensure there is a common understanding of the work completed thus far, which serves as the basis for our recommendations and priorities as we proceed," Robinder said.

Project history

Initiated in January 2017, a campuswide task force studied current practices for onboarding new students, including communication and programming procedures. Subcommittees examined all new student populations -- undergraduate, graduate, professional (Vet Med), transfer and distance ed/nondegree students. Last October, project teams took a deeper dive into specific areas of the onboarding process to develop recommendations with input from students, faculty and staff.

The steering committee compiled the teams' recommendations in its report to Harmon and Wickert. The report identified two priority areas:

  • Consistent communications and content development for a digital repository of resources
  • Continued curriculum development and coordination

Robinder said an implementation team, with subcommittees focused on the two priority areas, will be formed as the project moves forward.

"These work groups will include key leadership from continuing members of the project and new members that bring subject matter expertise to enact several key changes to improve our campus new student onboarding efforts," he said.


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