Sophomore Kristin Halley remembers the first few weeks of freshman year as being incredibly stressful. “I was fortunate enough to know a lot of upperclassmen,” she said. “But so many kids come in blind.” Halley is now a student mentor for The Office of Student Success and Retention to help students find their niche in the Concordia community and feel more connected to campus life.

The Office of Student Success and Retention is a pilot program that began this fall. It aims to help Cobbers with every aspect of college life. They connect students with staff and student mentors who can provide assistance with academic, career, or personal issues.

Coordinator Mike Reese says it is all about making sure that students are satisfied at Concordia. “It’s making their stay here as successful as possible,” he said.

The main objective of The Office of Student Success and Retention is to support student success. Reese describes it as an attention initiative to help students persist and provide personal support and referral.

“Ultimately for me, the definition of student success is persistence,” Reese said. “The students who are doing well at Concordia will stay and graduate.”

Vice President of Enrollment Omar Correa said that the new office adds to Concordia’s community of life-long learners.

“We want to make sure that all students are engaged in and out of the classroom and that everyone is aware of the support services available,” Correa said.  He also emphasized that the office is important for retaining students at Concordia. “If this program is successful we will see more and more students being successful at Concordia,” he said. “Some of those students may have transferred to another institution before seeking help.”

One of the unique aspects of the Office of Student Success and Retention is the peer-mentoring program. Upperclassmen from a multitude of majors and backgrounds work as mentors to provide help and advice to students with concerns or questions, or refer them to a resource or service on campus that can help them with a particular issue. Reese said one of the key pieces to the program is this “been there, done that” source of knowledge. “We’re one to three years after the freshman year,” said student mentor Randy Syrstad. “We’re closer in age to our fellow students than the faculty are and can relate to their experiences better.”

The student mentors reach out to other students on campus via e-mail, personal contact, educational, and social activities. Some of the student mentors were initially wary of being too intrusive but soon came to realize they are there if students want them.

“It’s kind of heartwarming to have a student to come up and say ‘Can I help you?’” Reese said.

The student mentors have all had at least 26 hours of training. They focus on good communication skills and being educated on resources available on campus, but Reese says the most important things are students who care and who want to listen. A student mentor is an alternative to a faculty mentor or a RA because unlike these figures, student mentors do not have authority over grades or campus policies.

“[There’s] nothing at stake besides interest in your success,” Reese said.

Student mentor Sara Holmgren has had the chance to meet with a few mentees. “They can get the insight I have as a student even on something like choosing professors,” she said. “We can guide them based on their personalities where they would be the most successful.

The office also encourages recognizing student success. They have done this by putting on events designed to tell students to keep up the good work. They recently had an event entitled “Sweet Success” where they gave out ice cream cones to students in Knutson Campus Center. They are also planning a snow sculpture contest on the south mall of campus (between Memorial Auditorium and Knutson) for Valentine’s Day. Teams of students will make snow sculptures and compete for prizes in different categories such as “Best Display of Cobber Pride” and “Most Creative/Unique.”

“I’m really excited for it,” said Holmgren. Halley added that it’s a great opportunity to take advantage of the snow.

Correa believes that this student group truly follows Concordia’s mission. “I only see a bright future for this office and I hope that we can get more students, faculty and staff to continue helping students succeed, graduate and go on to influence the affairs of the world,” he said.

Marisa Paulson

Marisa Paulson is a senior and the news & features editor of The Concordian, although she still writes when she can. She plans to attend the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in fall 2011.

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