Reimagining Student Engagement at BSU
By: Tom Foley
If you consult any study on student retention, the findings are almost always the same; schools who continually engage and involve their students beyond the usual freshman experience see a higher retention rate. Currently, student engagement at BSU falls to two offices: the Office of Student Involvement and Leadership (OSIL), and New Student and Family Programs (NSFP). Starting this summer, however, the two offices will be restructured into the Center for Student Engagement (CSE), one new office with the familiar roots of the offices it is superseding.
For students not in the know, one of NSFP’s responsibilities is currently facilitating and planning student orientation. As Christina McCauley, Director of NSFP describes it, “the office oversees the entire orientation program; it has a mission to help bring our prospective students and families and immerse them into Bridgewater State University. Setting the tone, creating a welcoming environment, giving them the resources and tools for them to be successful, and really connecting them to the rest of the university, giving the students the bridge from acceptance to persistence.”Another crucial part of NSFP’s mission is family outreach, “Our focus is giving family members the tools to support their students. We know through survey data we receive every year that most students will refer to their parent before anyone else; so if we inform the parents, they can make sure the student is actually using the resources that will benefit them the best,” describes Director McCauley. McCauley also explained that NSFP is responsible for the hiring and training of the school’s orientation leaders as well as the LEAP program, which connects incoming students with the Academic Achievement Center.
OSIL, on the other hand, takes up more of a supporting role. As Matt Miller, Assistant Director of OSIL notes, “OSIL’s key areas include the creation and implementation of student driven events; that’s a big piece of it. A lot of that, though, is done through the support of our student organizations. OSIL works with and recognizes all student organizations; so that includes our fraternities and sororities. We’re usually around 80-90 student organizations on any given year.” Assistant Director Miller also highlighted the campus wide leadership training programs available to students and the fact that OSIL also runs the day to day functions in the RCC. “Kind of looking for different ways on which we can build ways for students to be engaged in campus life outside of the classroom,” Described Assistant Director Miller.
Denine Rocco, Dean of Students, said the main drive to see the offices reorganized came from a desire to be able to better serve students and their families, but also highlighting that more engagement with students and their families leads to much higher retention rates. “We’re looking to foster this idea of lifelong engagement, from orientation to active members of our community to active alumni,” said Dean Rocco. “We’re greater together; we have great work going on in both areas. NSFP recently started reporting to me as their supervisor,” she continued. Dean Rocco is especially enthusiastic about seeing how the staffs of the two offices will work together. She said, “There’s a lot of synergy and creativity of the staffs between those two offices that really excites me.”
When it comes to the future of these two offices and their responsibilities, Dean Rocco stated that, throughout everything, all the services of these offices will still be available for students, “The two purposes of those offices, and how they serve the students, will remain the same.” Director McCauley on the future of services provided by NSFP said, “The CSE is really going to support students where they’re at, this gives us that opportunity to look at what our student constituency needs in more customizable and modern ways. Will there always be an orientation program? Sure. What will that orientation program look like in the future? That depends on the types of students and their needs, but also that of the institution’s.” Associate Director Miller expressed similar sentiments on the role of OSIL in the future, “The things either department does will still exist. I think if anything we have the opportunity to streamline and make things more efficient so we can better serve whatever the needs of our students may be. I think it also has some really great opportunities for some partnerships and relationships across campus.”
Director McCauley added on the potential of the new office, “I think what’s really exciting is we have more support; the orientation process is a program, so being able to work more congruently with more colleagues who share the same passion for students we really can enhance and bring some pizzazz to the status quo.” Director McCauley also noted that since now the respective staffs of OSIL and NSFP will be working together, they’ll be able to work together and to a higher degree than they have in the past, which would come in handy as both staffs know each other’s strengths and talents.
The new CSE will be headed by an executive director, who will oversee both the planning and implementation of orientation and the supporting of student led organizations. The school is looking for a candidate who will focus the department on “…fostering an inclusive and welcoming environment for all students, ensuring that they have a dynamic experience from orientation to commencement, and initiating their lifelong engagement with BSU as proud, supportive alumni.” A search committee has been meeting with candidates over the past few weeks and is nearing the end of its search.
Near the center of the creation of the CSE is the question, “What happens to the student employees working in these offices being reorganized?” Director McCauley answers, “this question is the one I hear most from our students. We’re a center for student engagement, which means we’re a center for students to be engaged. Our hope for now is that no, we’re not going to eliminate student employment positions; if anything, it’ll be an enhancement, an opportunity to look at bringing together or forging the skillset… Our department NSFP, we use a lot of internships, and we have lots of opportunities and ideas for what can happen or what we can do, that’s going to develop to have students engaged, whether through an internship or a leadership position.” Assistant Director Miller echoed similar sentiments, “Cutting student employment roles hasn’t even been put on the table. You might see some changing or evolving of positions; there’s very few student employment roles that overlap between the two offices. If anything, I think we still need more people.” Both Directors emphasized that a lot of those decisions are made after looking at the budget allocated to each department, but that student employees would not have to worry about losing their jobs.
A lot of the details about the office are still up in the air in terms of where the office will be, with possibilities ranging wide, but the CSE will most likely be in the RCC, according to Associate Director Miller. How the new office will function in the spaces of the current OSIL and NSFP offices respectively is still being discussed. The CSE will officially begin operating on July 1st of this year, and Dean Rocco wants for the office to have “an on campus presence for new student orientation.”