Focusing on Student Success


Focusing on Student Success

October 7, 2019

Pictured from left: President Hank Foley, Alexander Cartwright from University of Missouri, Ellen Granberg from Rochester Institute of Technology, Tod Laursen from State University of New York, and Kristen Wobbe from Worcester Polytechnic Institute.

In early September, leaders and representatives from top U.S. universities convened at the New York City campus for the announcement of the 2020 Wall Street Journal/Times Higher Education (WSJ/THE) Annual College Rankings, master classes, and the annual THE U.S. Student Success Forum. New York Institute of Technology served as host institution for the two-day event, joining prestigious institutions like UC Berkeley and NYU as recent hosts of THE’s annual gathering.

The September 5 THE U.S. Student Success Forum, “Enabling Student Success in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math,” welcomed higher ed thought leaders who discussed myriad ways institutions can foster resilience in students grappling with the demands of college life and strategies to ensure that undergraduates thrive during their studies and beyond.

New York Tech President Hank Foley, Ph.D., led the first panel, “Institutional Strategies for Success.” Panelist Kristin Wobbe, Ph.D., associate dean of undergraduate studies and co-director of the Center for Project-Based Learning at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, noted that statistics like completion rates, grades, and starting salaries “might not be the complete measure of success” and that less tangible qualitative attributes, like broadening one’s perspectives, are other ways a college education can contribute to student success. Ellen Granberg, Ph.D., provost and senior vice president of academic affairs at Rochester Institute of Technology, warned attendees to take into account that statistics have lifecycles and histories, and to be careful when using them to guide strategy.

Foley took note of how timescale plays a major role in instituting strategic change, challenging the group with the idea that “if it’s a good change, we have to be able to make it fast.” The panelists agreed, pointing to some initiatives that by their very nature take time to adopt.

Tod Laursen, Ph.D., M.Sc., senior vice chancellor and provost of the State University of New York, described SUNY’s PRODiG project, a faculty diversity initiative spanning the next 10 years. “It will have a significant impact on student success,” he said.

The panel discussed other trends including changes in education delivery, nontraditional, high-impact approaches, and “personalized” education and concierge-type services. Alexander Cartwright, Ph.D., University of Missouri chancellor, predicted more combined degrees (incorporating humanities and sciences) might a way to propel future student success.

The next panel, “Advancing Equity in Undergraduate STEM Outcomes,” addressed how universities can better support minority and socially disadvantaged students. Junius Gonzales, M.D., M.B.A., provost and vice president for academic affairs at New York Tech, led the expert discussion, which included Nariman Farvardin, Ph.D., president, Stevens Institute of Technology; Ariana González Stokas, Ph.D., vice president for diversity, equity, and inclusion at Barnard College; and Raynard Kington, M.D., M.B.A., Ph.D., president of Grinnell College.

The group agreed with Kington’s observation that while the statistics about overall student attrition in STEM subjects are clear and the issue of equity is frequently talked about at traditional STEM institutions, “this has still not become a national priority.”

“As a nation, we are shooting ourselves in the foot. White males do not have a monopoly on great minds. We have to improve diversity in STEM,” said Favardin.

Panelists also underscored the importance of K-12 educators in instilling early awareness and knowledge of STEM fields, while noting that under-resourcing remains a major issue. Stokas spoke about the importance of creating compelling ways to attract students to the STEM disciplines: “The power of transforming how you teach transforms student outcomes.”

Nada Marie Anid, Ph.D., New York Tech vice president for strategic communications and external affairs, moderated a panel entitled “What About Generation Z?” She opened the session by playing a song by singer Billie Eilish to demonstrate themes and messages that resonate with current high school and college students. Vickie Cook, Ph.D., executive director of the Center for Online Learning, Research and Service at the University of Illinois in Springfield; Kate Eichhorn, Ph.D., associate professor of culture and media, The New School; and Bernie Savarese, assistant vice president of student success at New York University, discussed how educators can adapt their approaches for these technology-savvy undergraduates.

The panel began by dispelling some myths about Gen Z. “They are not narcissistic,” said Cook. “They are saying, ‘Engage me, don’t just teach me,’ but they also love their causes and making a difference.” The panel agreed that Gen Z does not know how to fail “well”—and that higher education can help students adopt a growth mindset and realize failure is part of the road to success. “Today’s students are very focused on metrics and want access to constant feedback,” noted Eichorn. “Fear of failure is a huge component of this.”

Savarese noted the importance of Gen Z parents as both advocate and anchor to their children: “We need to make them a partner in their students’ education,” he said.

The final panel of the day centered on “How Does the Liberal Arts Model Assist Student Success Efforts?” THE Editor for North America Paul Basken, led the conversation with Katherine Bergeron, Ph.D., president of Connecticut College; Richard Ekman, Ph.D., president of the Council of Independent Colleges, and Lynn Pasquerella, Ph.D., president of the Association of American Colleges and Universities. The group pointed to the value of a well-rounded education that offers context, communication, cultural awareness, and other curricular themes in the liberal arts, and that these skills create a better-prepared STEM professional or pre-professional.

Pasqueralla summed up the conversation by saying, “in order to serve the next generation, the best preparation we can offer [students] is an education where they can learn to be innovative, flexible, and understand the world.”