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Making Connections with Our Students

Launching the academic year brings many occasions to talk with colleagues around campus about their hopes and plans for the year ahead. A personal high point of the past couple weeks was delivering the keynote for our campus’ annual Teaching Retreat, hosted by the Center for Teaching and Learning Excellence. More than 200 energetic, enthusiastic teacher-scholars participated in the day-long event. When I asked participants about teachers in their lives who had a significant influence on their learning, common themes emerged: effective teachers developed communities of learners; took a personal interest in the success of students; created engaged, active learning environments that brought academic material to life; and helped students develop a true sense of belonging in the university.

A survey of 30,000 college graduates, conducted by Gallup in partnership with Purdue University and Lumina Foundation, echoes the reports of our retreat participants. Results revealed that graduates who had at least one professor who cared about them and served as a mentor and/or participated in a capstone experience were significantly more likely to be engaged at work and thriving in well-being.

As we start a new year, it’s the right time to think about how successful we could be if we built the type of relationships that strengthen learning and help students feel a deep sense of belonging on campus. As we welcome roughly 3,300 new freshmen, our current data predict that 6 of 10 are likely to complete the baccalaureate within six years, 7 of 10 within eight years of starting college. What would be possible if every new freshman and new transfer student found at least one significant educational connection at the U, whether in a great class with a great professor, in a learning community, in a research experience, or in a student organization? We could, quite literally, improve the odds of success for our undergraduates.

There are many sources of assistance if you would like to learn more about involving undergraduates in your research, creating a capstone experience, enhancing your teaching, or other strategies to promote student success (Undergraduate Studies). As we launch the new year, thank you for joining in the effort to ensure that every undergraduate connects with the university, finds at least one mentor, and has access to the experiences that matter for their success.

2014-08-18 Teachers Retreat
SVP Ruth Watkins speaks at the Annual Teaching Symposium