Focusing on Student Academic Success

Friday, December 16, 2016

Earlier this week, we welcomed our Board of Trustees for the final Board meeting of the fall 2016 semester. I was thankful that members of our team had the opportunity to share important initiatives with the Academic and Student Affairs Committee.

Interim Dean of Students Nick Kehrwald and Jeff Clymer, chair of the English Department, provided updates on the great work occurring in their areas.

This semester, thanks to diligent work across campus, we have begun transforming our academic excellence structure, focusing on ways to blend academic and student support in a collaborative, cohesive way.

Initiative 1, Action Step 3 of the Strategic Plan calls for “integrated advising for both degree completion and career planning to maximize students’ success, both during their college experience and in beginning their career.” We know that advising is critical. At the same time, our commitment to supporting academic success also must be integrated with areas outside of advising.

One of the tools we are using to assist advisers and others in better promoting student success is academic alerts. Kehrwald told board members that academic alerts supplement communication from the faculty to the student about expectations and issues with class performance.  Alerts are not a replacement for student-faculty communication; they provide another means for us to recognize and address instances in which students begin to struggle. Once an academic alert is submitted, an email is instantaneously sent to the student and the academic advisor.  The student is instructed to contact both his/her advisor and his/her instructor to resolve the academic issue in question.  The academic advisor contacts the student promptly to discuss the issue. Concerns that would prompt an alert include missed classes; habitual lateness; un-submitted homework; poor homework quality; poor test performance or quizzes; risk of failing a course; and/or plans to leave UK. Improvements to the new alert system, piloted this fall, include a prompt that allows faculty to reach out to the student directly, a financial alert option to align the student with resources and specific text prompts to provide more information.

We know that students who received an academic alert are at high risk of failure or withdrawal. In 2015, first-year students with zero alerts were retained at a rate of 86.7%, while among students with just one alert, the retention rate drops to 70.6%, and 59.0% for students with two alerts. But, earlier identification of issues equates to a higher chance of student success.  

By improving the alert system, we are able to better support our students who are at risk of withdrawal/failure.

Dr. Jeff Clymer shared how the Department of English is exemplifying academic excellence through its research, scholarship and teaching. UK writers, despite working across dramatically contrasting styles, voices, and perspectives, have a shared legacy.

They are part of a thread: a thread of writers extending back generations at the University of Kentucky — names like Wendell Berry, Guy Davenport, Ed McClanahan, Nikky Finney, James Baker Hall, Jane Gentry Vance, Bobbie Ann Mason, and Percival Everett.

Now, several of the current UK writers have debuted new books and collections in recent months and are receiving an uncommon collection of national notice simultaneously in publications such as The New York Times Book Review, BuzzFeed, Slate and The New Yorker.

  • Erik Reece explores socio-political and environmental topics, most recently with a road trip book embarking on a discovery of American utopian communities and the potential promise they hold for today.
  • Hannah Pittard writes literary fiction that delves deeply into domestic life, taking seemingly everyday conversations and tensions between couples and turning them into a mysterious thriller.
  • Frank X Walker uses his poetry to inhabit the mind of a slain civil rights leader as well as that of his bigoted assassin to frame a searing account of a turning point in American civil rights history.
  • Janet Eldred has moved from nonfiction explorations of literary life to sonnets that examine her family’s lineage in California.
  • Manuel Gonzales’ debut novel combines literary stylings with intense sci-fi action and comedic touches.
  • Julia Johnson’s poetry recounts the degradation and laments the loss of her native New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.
  • And Gurney Norman, whose history at UK extends across decades, read from a new experimental novel that continues to dig new ground from familiar terrain, the hills and hollers of Eastern Kentucky.

These exceptional writers are bringing their passion and craft together – in the classroom, in readings, and at UK -- to celebrate their works and growing prominence as a national writing program. At UK, they are working collaboratively and as individual artists to continue to renew and strengthen it.

I’m thankful that both Dean Kerhwald and Dr. Clymer were able to share this important work.

Timothy S. Tracy