Helping Students Succeed
Campuses transform a library and focus on preparation
Gregg Geary, above, is rethinking Sinclair Library with new services and late-night coffee in a student friendly environment
Goodbye bureaucratic circulation desk, hello friendly information concierge. The University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa’s Sinclair Library is undergoing a transformation to address the information, study and learning needs of 21st century college students. Beyond the physical changes—such as relocating journals to create a comfortable first-floor reading room and creating a commons area dedicated to group study—the effort involves expansion and integration of information services and academic assistance available to students.
"This initiative transforms the space in the library into places where students can actively learn in a comfortable, welcoming and convivial environment," says Gregg Geary, head of Sinclair Library.
In addition to the traditional reference services and lending of library materials, the library offers classroom space and group study space, expanded computing facilities and wireless Internet access. Projects slated for early 2008 include videoconference rooms and a digital media studio. The library is open to students around the clock from noon Sundays through 7 p.m. Fridays. And get this: food is allowed throughout the first floor, and there is free coffee after 9:30 p.m. to help with the late night study sessions.
Central to the service-oriented initiative is creation of Sinclair’s Student Success Center. The center offers a variety of online and in-person services plus referrals or on-site connections to other campus programs with the common goal of helping students gain the skills, knowledge and resources they need to succeed in college, Geary says. Services, which are detailed on the center’s website include—
- Ask-a-Librarian, with contact information for Sinclair departments and a live chat option to put real-time queries to librarians at Mānoa or other U.S. universities.
- On-demand sessions on using library databases, locating journal articles, evaluating and citing sources, finding government information sources and making better use of Internet search engines.
- Regularly scheduled hour-long sessions on study strategies and 90-minute workshops by appointment on crafting a research paper.
- The LILO (Library Information Literacy Online) tutorial on writing a research paper.
- Tutor Connection, providing referrals to department services and onsite appointments; opportunities to join ongoing study groups or create new ones; and even appointments for one-on-one assistance with assignments.
Improvements include expanded group study space, wireless Internet access and help with research and writing skills
The Student Success Center is a collaborative effort, Geary stresses, brought about through the efforts of the library, Information Technology Services and various student service programs with support from the chancellor’s office. "The center does not seek to duplicate services already offered by other units," he says. "It basically triages the student’s needs and then gets them plugged in to the appropriate resource on campus."
For example, students are directed to the Learning Assistance Center for academic services (some of which are offered right in the library), Career Services to develop job plans and writing workshops staffed by students from English and second language studies departments. During summer 2007, the library worked with Outreach College to present transition courses to help incoming freshmen and transfer students get familiar with campus and brush up on skills needed for college work. Under a grant secured by Associate Professor of English James Henry, English 100 students can work with graduate student mentors in the library to improve their writing skills.
With only word of mouth advertising since the Student Success Center opened last May, the number of students using Sinclair during evening hours has increased five-fold and grows each semester, Geary says. During finals, nearly every seat is filled. This spring, the center will market its services to faculty and students with postcards and brochures based on its service motto: Getting to YES whenever we can. Customer service isn’t a new concept to librarians, of course. Hamilton Library’s Vicky Lebbin, a social sciences specialist, and Ross Christensen, a humanities specialist, recently revived a program that offers a class session on basic library research skills to any introductory English class. Like the Sinclair program, their efforts build on cross-campus partnerships and focus on new technologies with the goal of helping students succeed.
Across the UH System, other programs work to make college a successful experience. A few examples follow:
The STAR Advising Tool is an online auditing system that allows students to track their progress toward degrees. Built into the MyUH website portal, it allows students to see what their advisors and counselors see and check on how courses they’ve taken might fulfill degree requirements. Officials caution, however, that STAR shouldn’t be considered a substitute for face-to-face meetings with major and academic advisors.
As its name suggests, Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs, or GEAR UP, reaches Hawaiʻi youth early, creating expectations that they can go to college and developing the skills needed to succeed once there. The federally funded statewide program administered by UH partners with low-income middle schools and provides grants to innovative programs. It encourages students to explore career options, prepare for college and navigate the admission process while helping parents find ways to pay the tuition bill (including information on the state’s Hawaiʻi B Plus Scholarship Program for students who demonstrate financial need and maintain a 3.0 grade point average in rigorous high school courses).
Does it work? GEAR UP scholars who graduated in the high school class of 2006 beat the statewide average both for number of Board of Education diplomas (honors diploma) earned and percentage of students enrolling in college.
Kapiʻolani Community College’s Holomua Student Success Center offers basic skills and developmental instruction. Students entering school without prior college work take COMPASS placement exams. Those who are underprepared can use web-based COMPASS Brush-up from computers at home or in the center. After signing up through the Continuing Education Office, users can concentrate on mathematics or English skills at their own pace over a six-week period. The programs include test taking strategies and sample questions to familiarize students with the placement tests. Another workshop concentrates on study skills, and the Holomua center also offers tutoring and counseling support.
The Kapiʻolani CC academic advising site provides additional advice and links to a list of special programs and even a guide defining frequently used college terms from academic standing to syllabus.
Kauaʻi Community College uses COMPASS Brush-up, following the Kapiʻolani model. The campus’s Learning Center and College Success Program also provides tutoring, peer assistance, focus labs and help with computer literacy.
The UH System is a partner in the National Association of System Heads’ Access to Success initiative. The 19 participating university and college systems across the country represent 2 million students, about 12 percent of the nation’s total and about a third of all low-income and minority undergraduates at four-year colleges. Recognizing that young people from these demograhics lag behind others in both college-going and degree completion, the initiative’s goal is to narrow the gap by at least half by 2015. Participating institutions will work to identify roadblocks that suppress retention, improve student success rates in introductory and developmental courses, re-examine and re-focus the ways financial aid resources are being used to assist target groups and work with K–12 institutions to ensure improvement in college preparatory classes.
In another national initiative, UH community colleges, the Office of Hawaiian Affairs and Kamehameha Schools are partnering in the Achieving the Dream: Community Colleges Count demonstration project. The initiative is helping 82 participating colleges in 15 states implement strategies to help students succeed and build a culture of evidence to identify effective practices, improve student success rates and close the achievement gaps. In addition to on-campus efforts, the initiative involves research, public engagement and public policy and emphasizes the use of data to drive change.