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Student retention starts from Day One

Faculty and staff share their tips for helping students feel welcome and connected on the MSU Denver campus.

By Lindsey Coulter

August 20, 2018

Students on the MSU Denver campus.Welcome to the first day of the fall 2018 semester! For thousands of Metropolitan State University of Denver students, today marks the beginning of a new adventure. Student emotions can run the gamut from exhilaration to anxiety, and showing fledgling Roadrunners they are welcomed and supported is key to their long-term success.

Helping students feel at home on the MSU Denver campus is also key to keeping them on campus. Whether you’re a faculty member or an administrator, building positive relationships and rapport with students can help ensure that they remain committed to their MSU Denver education.

The Early Bird talked with a few dedicated Roadrunner faculty and staff members to learn their tips for building positive relationships and helping students feel connected to the MSU Denver campus community.

Elizabeth Parmelee, director of Undergraduate Studies:

Offer a different lens on learning

Instead of asking students how they spent their summer break, ask, “What did you do over the break that positively impacted your community?” Share you own brief response, then encourage students to share with the class or break them into small groups. It could even work in online forums. You could also move that conversation in the direction of what skill sets were used and how those skills could apply in the workplace or community. This reinforces civic engagement and its connection to workplace skills.

Another idea is to ask students to reflect on one thing they learned beyond the classroom during their break and how that might apply to their major, anticipated career or current job. It can be hard to get students to move from saying what they did to thinking about what they actually learned and what skills and knowledge they developed, but if we walk them through the steps of reflection they will learn to do so more easily.

Lunden MacDonald, executive director, Roadways:

Find common ground

It’s nice to help first-year and transfer students transition to our campus by humanizing the experience. Tell them about your first day of college, your first class or what it felt like to be on campus. Then, ask them to share how they are feeling. When students know that the entire range of feelings — from excited to anxious — is normal, and that others have successfully navigated those feelings, it will help them feel like they belong and that everything is going to be OK.

Stress the importance of support systems

Also, encourage students to find their “person” on campus. Ask students who supports them in their lives — it could be friends, parents, community members, teachers from high school or even their own children — then encourage them to find that same support at MSU Denver. Classmates, faculty or staff can be their go-to when they have questions or face a challenge. 

Lori Kester, associate vice president of Enrollment Management:

Get to know your students on a more personal level

Reviewing student profiles before class, reading up on how Gen Z students differ from millennials and working to understand the struggles faced by first-generation or transfer students can help build more meaningful connections. It could even help you find ways to make curriculum, activities and discussions more relevant to your students’ lives and educational goals.

Familiarize yourself with MSU Denver’s supportive services

Getting involved with orientation can be a great educational experience for faculty and staff. It will give you the inside scoop on how students can find peer support, get involved in campus activities or access resources. “Frontloading” assistance can make a lasting impact in a struggling student’s university experience.

Also, don’t forget that the Center for Teaching, Learning and Design (formerly the Center for Faculty Excellence) can help faculty develop engagement strategies.

Make your retention efforts “intrusive”

Ensure that students know you want them to succeed. If you suspect a student is considering dropping out, ask them about it. Be open to providing options and choices, encourage them to explore Career Services and internships, refer them to Financial Aid or connect them with colleagues who can help address their concerns.

Debbie Gilliard, professor and chair of the Department of Management:

Learn, remember and use students’ names

This is an ongoing strategy, but it establishes a stronger relationship. My department colleagues and I use strategies such as seating charts (after letting students pick their preferred location), taking pictures of each student (with their permission, of course) or having them fill out and turn in a note card with whatever information they would like you to know about them, etc.

Have a student-retention tip you’d like to share? Email and see your tip in a future story.

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