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Office for Student Enrichment launched

Daniel Nabelek serves as a peer mentor to Chao Shi, studying at MU as a participant in the China Institute, administered through the new Office of Student Enrichment. The pair is enjoying an MU vs. Iowa State football game, which was a group activity for all peer mentor pairs.

Recent construction that transformed the reception area of the College of Engineering’s administrative offices, the Heritage Room and the vacated copy center into a suite to house the Office of Student Enrichment occurred in a flurry of activity over a few weeks’ time. But the schemes, dreams and plans that laid a foundation and launched a variety of programs that will be administered through the office have been brewing for months.

“This office will serve as an umbrella for activities we are orchestrating to enhance our undergraduate program in order to make our students more successful as students and as engineers,” said Lex Akers, associate dean for academic programs. “I’m pleased that Dean Thompson has allowed us to reconfigure the space to encompass these programs. It will really enhance students’ experiences.”

“Pieces of a support network for students have been in place, but they were not consolidated in a way that we could easily work with students and track their progress,” said the new Director of Student Enrichment, Jill Ford who, along with Mizzou Engineering’s Director of Diversity, J.R. Swanegan, will oversee and implement new initiatives that take aim at student success, retention, professional development and personal satisfaction.

Freshman enrichment and professional development

“We want students to start thinking about how they present themselves personally and professionally starting when they are freshmen,” said Ford, explaining that some components of this effort will occur as part of students’ class work and some will happen outside the classroom. “It involves a lot of mentoring and tracking.”

The Freshman Enrichment Program will work with Engineering Career Services to bring in speakers from industry to discuss various components of professional development with freshmen.

“To be successful, students need to have the ability to communicate, to write, to work in teams – things that are not necessarily specific to engineering, but accomplishments that will make them stand out as they move into their careers,” Akers said.

Academic monitoring also will be a component of the freshman program. MU’s math department has agreed to work with Mizzou Engineering to track freshmen progress by providing first year student grades to the Enrichment Office at the semester quarter. Anyone with a score of C-minus or below will be required to meet with Ford, Swanegan or one of two graduate assistants hired to assist with the program.

“We’ll coach them on study skills, and each will be required to spend at least one hour a week in focused study,” Ford said. “We made this part of the syllabus for Engineering 1000. To give it teeth, it needs to be part of the curriculum.”

Students will have to swipe their ID cards as they come and go from the focused study sessions, offered Sunday through Thursday from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. to keep track of attendance.

“A certain percentage of their grades in the course will come from the Student Enrichment Program,” Ford said.

“This is a retention tool,” Swanegan said. “It’s not punitive. Engineering is a tough major, but the payoffs are potentially more significant.”

If it is perceived that students can benefit from additional guidance, they will be scheduled for individualized meetings.

“We want to catch them when they stumble, not wait until they fall,” Akers said.

Ford said that they have agreed to track the data from the program to share with MU’s Student Services division.

Academic persistence

Academic retention services are available for all MU students through the Student Success Center and elsewhere on campus for students who need help. After a first semester with a GPA of 2.0 or lower, students are put on academic probation, and after a second, they must go through an appeals process to continue attending.

As part of the student enrichment mission, Ford, Swanegan and Recruitment Coordinator Laura Forbes have already begun to play a more active role in the success of students who are struggling academically.

“We’ve paired juniors and seniors on academic probation with students who have a 3.5 GPA or higher to work with them,” said Ford, adding that this effort has been highly successful.

In the case of freshmen and sophomores, the team has begun an early intervention program for students performing below a passing level, working with the students individually.

“We ask them what it is they want to do and how they want to accomplish it. Their goals must be realistic and attainable. Then we put everything on a schedule that is very specific. Even times to exercise and relax are on the schedule,” Ford said. “Then they do a two-week time log and keep track of everything they actually do during that time and we talk about what was eye-opening about the process and make adjustments. If they allowed one hour for homework but their homework took four hours, obviously they need to make some changes.”

When students fine-tune and then follow their action plans, making designated tasks non-negotiable, they see progress.

“Then when they are having fun, it’s fun time with no guilt. I’ve had students tell me that they can’t remember when they’ve ever felt so free,” Ford added.

All probationary students’ progress is tracked during the process. Students at the junior and senior level work with their advisors in conjunction with the Student Achievement program.

On-line tutoring

In addition to offering engineering majors scheduled tutoring sessions in Lafferre Hall and in two dorms that host engineering Freshmen Interest Groups (FIGs) and Learning Communities, this semester the Office for Student Enrichment has launched on-line tutoring.

“On-line tutoring provides students with an opportunity to get help that is not place bound. On Monday, Tuesday and Thursday evenings from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. they can log into Microsoft Live Meeting and type in a question, or if they have a microphone, they can ask tutors questions,” Ford said. “There’s an anonymity inherent in the sessions that some students prefer.”

Additionally, tutorials are recorded and saved so that students taking advantage of electronic tutoring options can click on a subject and choose from a list of pre-recorded tutorials covering major concept areas within classes. Students can avail themselves of this resource any time of the day or night.

China Institute

The College of Engineering’s China Institute is a coordinated undergraduate degree program whereby Chinese computer science students complete the final two years of their undergraduate degrees in the college’s computer science program.

In addition to providing an international conduit for sharing and learning with Shanghai University, the program also offers an opportunity for social and cultural exchange. The Office of Student Enrichment pairs each Chinese student with an American peer mentor. Students participate in planned activities and mentor students also include Chinese students in their own social activities.

“Some students have never had to think about what it’s like to live in a another culture,” Ford said.  “The more our students learn about other cultures, the better prepared they are for our diverse society. Plus, so many engineering firms have international connections. These interactions may even make them better prepared for future careers.”

Daniel Nabelek, a junior majoring in computer engineering who has served as a peer mentor, said he has learned a lot by pushing his cultural boundaries beyond the norm. “The Chinese students are really fun to work with, and of course the food is awesome. The program is really about cultures sharing experiences,” he said. “The greatest surprise was that we have so much in common, especially with college life. We share many of he same opinions on school and life in general.”

“There’s a feeling that we’re different because we come from different places and that’s true about or cultures and religions, but when we all sit around Shakespeare’s eating pizza, it’s just like hanging out with any of my other friends,” said freshman Abigail Messmer, a peer mentor who is majoring in mechanical and aerospace engineering.

Messmer said that explaining what certain words mean in English has been an interesting and enlightening experience. “I’m learning to be more expressive, widening my vocabulary, and trying to understand English words better so I can explain them more fully,” she said.

Akers said that there are over 100 international students in the College of Engineering and that there are plans to expand the China Institute cooperative model to other universities in other countries.

Vladislav Likholetov, an assistant research professor and director of Mizzou Engineering’s new Office for International Programs and Initiatives, is exploring opportunities to initiate new international initiatives as well as expanding the college’s international partnerships and collaborations.

Study abroad

The College of Engineering’s Study Abroad program is in its infancy. Currently, engineering has partnered with MU’s College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources for a trip that will earn students humanities credit. Two groups are scheduled to visit Germany, one during spring break and one in the summer.

Likholetov is working with Akers, Swanegan and Ford to get an engineering study abroad program up and running.

“We are looking at England, Thailand and Korea, among other destinations,” Akers said. We have faculty from these countries that can help with setting programs up. We’re investigating adding an engineering component to a study abroad program.”

These sorts of experiences connect directly to students’ future successes,” Akers added.