Leaving high school and taking those first steps into college can be a daunting task. It is the first real time that students are required to take charge of their own lives and figure out where they want to go in the world. It is a lot to handle and students make mistakes their first year in college from inexperience. These mistakes can have a negative effect through the rest of their college career.
This is where the MUW Student Success Navigators come in. They are a new addition to campus, having been started this past summer. Their job is to help students transition to college life, minimize the risk of students making mistakes that could be easily avoided, and to keep students on track academically.
There are four navigators, one for each college on campus. Ashlee Hill (Arts and Sciences), Ashley Matthews (Education and Human Resources), Jessica McDill (Business and Professional Studies) and Megan Occhipinti (Nursing and Speech Language Pathology) all work together to make sure the navigator program is as effective as it can be. Since the program is new, the navigators are working to find solutions to the various problems that arise.
“We’re really in the creative phase of this whole process,” Occhipinti said. “It’s a learning experience that we’re all working together on so we can find what strategies work the best with students.”
The biggest problem new students face is the apprehension of meeting faculty members. It can seem daunting to establish connections with new professors, though that thought process usually stems from being in a new environment. The navigators aim to change that mindset.
“We get to know the student before they get here. We communicate with them through email, over the phone, and then social media,” said Hill. “The whole purpose is to build a rapport with the student prior to them getting here, so when they get here, they already have a familiar face that they’re connected with and probably have been talking to for about three months.”
The navigators act as advisors to incoming students. For freshmen, they remain advisors until the end of the first semester of the students’ sophomore years. For transfer students, the navigators act as advisors for the first semester on campus. After the initial advising period is over, the students are transferred to a faculty advisor for the respective major.
The university is currently discussing what steps will be taken with UN 101, which is a class that all incoming freshmen are required to take. It is possible that the navigators will teach those classes, but nothing has been decided at this point. Towanda Williams will continue to help with students who have undeclared majors.
Dr. Brooking, head of the Student Success Center, noted that the navigators also serve another role as academic early alert case managers. They are now responsible for any students who may be struggling with classes and getting them connected with the proper resources. The navigators encourage students to meet with advisors and faculty to try to fix the problem. Faculty and staff are there to help and encourage students.
“I tell everybody it’s an open door policy. If my door is open, and I don’t have anybody here, I want you to feel comfortable enough to come in and talk to me about what the issues are,” Occhipinti said.
One of the biggest strengths of the navigators is how plugged in to campus they are. They keep track of the best resources available to students and brainstorm to identify and solve any issues. The program is a result of all campus departments working in conjunction to provide the best available experience for students.
“We’re communicating very well. It’s a collaboration between the deans and the student success center. We’re like the middle person that keeps it going,” Hill said.