Now that all of the five-minute stories have been shared, it’s easy to get a sense of the impact that the programs, initiatives, and services of the SLT department had on the Lakers’ community this past year. Revisiting our thematic roadmap, our overarching goal for the academic year was to demonstrate value to the institution. In order to accomplish this, we sought to increase participation in our events and utilization of our services, improve our marketing and brand awareness, review our programs and initiatives, and create process and procedure manuals to increase efficiency and effectiveness. With this in mind, here are some of our broader accomplishments.
A focus of the team in increasing brand awareness and marketing our programs and services was centred around virtual engagement. Beginning with website edits, we focused on using the website as a funnel to direct students back to people. We updated online forms to get us as much information about students needs as possible so as to provide efficient services when necessary, and created more self-guided resources to ensure student support outside of hours of operation. The revised website pages lead to a dramatic decrease in our average bounce rate (when visitors quickly switch pages indicating that the page either does not contain the information they need or was landed on by accident) and a significant increase in pageviews.
Our #SoMe (social media) presence is harder to measure as our two mainstay accounts were new in late 2014-2015 and our Facebook presence is connected to the SDS division page. That being said, our posts on Facebook average over 500 impressions in a one-week span and our momentum on Twitter has grown immensely since January 2015. We are hoping to increase our presence on these channels during our orientation programs this year as we develop a more deliberate strategy for community building with incoming, current, and past Lakers via Social Media.
The #nuSLT blog on WordPress launched just before the end of the academic year but has already opened dialogue across institutions and we are looking forward to bringing our students into the fold in September.
As you can see, the goal of increased marketing and brand awareness created a network of referrals that translated to significant utilization and participation rate increases. Beyond the remarkable 85% increase in one-on-one student appointment visits year-over-year, is the continued relationship we have with our students – with 46% participating in 3 or more programs, initiatives, or services throughout the year.
This was accomplished through faculty connections and referrals prompted by attending each faculty department meeting throughout the year to increase awareness of our department, sharing slides to be shown at the beginning of classes and lectures, and by dropping in for classroom visits as often as allowed. 71% of the referrals that brought students to our department came from these staff and faculty members. #LakershelpingLakers
Our high impact partnerships with Residence Life (through the introduction of the Academic Don role), the Harris Learning Library (for Drop-In Centre hours on evenings and weekends, as well as the Long Nights Against Procrastination) translated to strong professional relationships and student engagement. Our referrals to other departments were also significant reaching 227 in total. Our largest referrals were to Student Counselling Services and Academic Advising.
Given our Athlete Academic Success Program, it’s no surprise that the majority of students who accessed our one-on-one appointments identified as varsity student-athletes. What may be surprising, is that many of these students were not first-time visitors to our department and had accessed the services previously. Further to this, our significant first-generation student population has strong ties to our department through orientation and transition programs targeted to their success. We are excited to see how these numbers play out next year as we have developed systems to track the demographics across all of our programs, initiatives, and services with the ability to remove duplicate submissions more reliably.
The increased referral network translated into some significant department achievements (above). We adopted what Christine Cruzvergara and Farouk Dey call “customized connectors.” We sought to gain influence with students by being within 2 degrees of separation from their trusted networks. This would allow our programs, initiatives, and support services to be front-of-mind when a student expressed a need. We sought to take advantage of this opportunity to share our knowledge and grow our programs.
The growth of our programs did not negatively impact our student satisfaction rates. As you can see above, the students were incredibly satisfied with the support the received from the team. This helps us build the foundation required to continue building lasting relationships with our students and alumni.
The greatest demonstration of impact came from our focus groups, surveys, and appointment audits. Student feedback was incredibly positive, articulating the impact that our team had on their academic and personal development. Persistence toward timely degree completion is important and should be noted; however, creating spaces where students feel as though they can thrive academically and socially and have pride in their institution are significant markers of retention and success. We take great pride in these outcomes. We firmly believe this is why so many students and alumni (93%) are willing to recommend our department to their peers.
A growth opportunity we identified last year was increasing the development of our Peer Educators (a term we use as an umbrella for all of our student staff and volunteers). We developed learning and development outcomes for these roles and began implementing coaching conversations, in-service training, and performance reviews around these outcomes. While it was a year of trial and error, we were pleased to see the outcome. Many of our Peer Educators had worked with the department in previous years under different leadership and were weary of the change. We did not convince everyone of the value of such exercises, but we are excited to continue on our pathway of creating meaningful opportunities for our student leaders.
So… what’s next?
Next we will be introducing our first set of department learning and development outcomes which will fall under the following pillars.
By focusing our programs, initiatives, and services under these pillars, we will be able to maintain our focus on enhancing the student experience and fostering student success. We know student learning and development is at the core of what we do and is informed by our assessment data. These pillars will assist us in ensuring our assessment data is focused and provides insight to the varying degrees of student learning taking place through our department.
We are implementing a new reporting strategy which will focus on continuing to share our stories and journey as professionals and Peer Educators supporting student academic and personal success as well as our own. We look to continue to live our mission and strive to continue to improve and be better for ourselves, our students, and our communities.