Setting Students Up for Success
September 28, 2016
“I really struggle with math.”
That’s a feeling that most college students can relate to, including those at William Woods University. In this instance, it was voiced by Taylor Pollard, a junior from Cherry Hill, New Jersey who transferred to the university this semester.
As a criminal justice major who wants to go into forensic science, Pollard knows that math is a crucial career skill. But it just wasn’t clicking.
Luckily, students like Pollard now have access to a new resource on campus: the Academic Success Center.
Bean Bags, Tutors, and More
The center opened this August, on the first floor of the Academic Building. It houses three staff members: Bonnie Carr '96, the director of academic advising, Kathy Neal, the online academic advisor, and Katie Belenchia, the coordinator for the center.
It’s a place for students to come and get extra help with study skills, test prep, and overall educational performance. It doesn’t matter what your GPA is — all students can benefit from the tools offered at the center.
“We’re open to everyone, from honors students to those on academic probation,” says Belenchia.
Belenchia is a new addition to the staff, but she’s no stranger to William Woods. She graduated in ’05 with a degree in communications and in ’11 with a master’s in education. Now the former teacher is excited to be back, helping students. “The center is here when you need it.”
“We want students to feel like this is their space,” agrees Carr. “You can come in and study, do homework, ask questions, use the computers, meet with tutors, etc. We have options now for students that we didn’t always have before — and we have them in a centralized location.”
But the best part of the center: the huge bean bag chairs!
The New Trend in Student Needs
Offices like this are a cropping up at universities around the country. William Woods has noticed a need for this type of program in the past few years, as more and more students lack basic classroom skills.
“Students are coming out of high school not as well prepared for college as they used to be,” says Carr.
That’s largely because many public schools are now focused on preparing for standardized tests, she shares. They teach straight memorization, rather than learning how to apply concepts — a crucial skill for the college-level courses they encounter at William Woods.
College is about becoming an adult, being self-sufficient, and taking on responsibility, which doesn’t always come naturally. For example, Belenchia has met with students who are afraid of talking to professors. “I tell students all the time that this is a close knit school and the professors are very welcoming. You need to learn how to ‘adult’ and go talk to them.”
“Jumping from high school to college can be a big transition for today’s students and they often just need some more help,” says Carr.
And now the center is here to offer that help.
Individual Attention and Advice
Belenchia considers herself part advisor, part therapist, part liaison for students. She meets with them, evaluates skills, teaches new learning techniques, offers encouragement, and makes connections with other faculty and staff members, if necessary. And everything stays confidential.
She’s been working with one sophomore on something as simple as organization. After reviewing a self-assessment test and discussing his study habits, Belenchia realized that the student’s major problem was that he wasn’t writing down due dates. So they went through his syllabi together and noted everything down.
“Whether it’s pen and paper or something on your phone, you need to give yourself reminders,” advises Belenchia.
Another student wasn’t studying in a way that was effective for her. She was reviewing flash cards over and over, but it wasn’t sinking in. Belenchia realized that she was spending more time making the flash cards than actually memorizing them. So they discussed different methods to try.
And many students have inner voices that jeopardize their work: You always do badly at this…why are you even trying…you can never get a good grade in this subject. Belenchia coaches them on moving away from that type of negative self-talk.
The center is all about providing one-on-one attention, built around an individual person’s needs, she says. “We want our students to succeed.”
A Home for Peer Tutoring
Jennifer Wilson ’17 is also very excited by the new Academic Success Center.
This equine general studies major has been tutoring her fellow students in English for the past two years. But many people forget that the university offers the perk of free English and math peer tutoring, she says.
That might be because she has previously set up shop in odd locations around campus: a computer lab in Burton, a lounge in Kemper. Now she’s front and center in the Academic Building’s Success Center.
“If students need help, it’s easier access, close to the library and classrooms,” shares Wilson. “It offers more exposure and awareness, so they remember I’m here for them.”
So how is new student Pollard doing at William Woods?
She’s joined the track team, pledged Delta Gamma, hopped on stage with Jesters (the theater group), and finally gotten the math help she needs. And she encourages other students to do the same.
“I was intimidated at first when I walked into the center,” says Pollard. “But it’s a great, useful resource. They are very friendly and want to see you succeed. Just go! They’ll help you too.”