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October 2, 2012

FoE implementation: Academic integration

Housing and Food Services is re-emphasizing its commitment to student success as Purdue begins implementation of recommendations generated by the 200 members of a campus-wide Foundations of Excellence task force.

Led by Julie Talz, director of academic integration, HFS efforts include shifting from a hospitality model to one that stresses student learning, adding new academic space to residence halls, and establishing student neighborhoods with their own academic and student identities.

"HFS has always had strong commitment to hospitality -- good customer service, beautiful facilities and great food," Talz says. "These are all important, and we continue to exceed expectations in these areas. Now, we're strengthening our connection to students' academic experience. We support the goals of the academy, and we are all on the same team in terms of graduating students of ability and conviction."

Talz is part of the five-member Foundations of Excellence implementation team. Foundations of Excellence, developed by the nonprofit John N. Gardner Institute for Excellence in Undergraduate Education, is a nationwide initiative that seeks to help universities establish best practices for the first year as the key to overall college success.

HFS's involvement with the FoE process is working in tandem with the area's new student success efforts, which began in 2011. At that time, HFS created a vision statement, aspirational goals and behavioral standards stressing its commitment to co-curricular education and student success. Now, work is taking place to re-focus the HFS culture and develop departmental strategic plans that will fulfill the aspirational goals, including building community, championing learning and fostering leadership.

HFS has many embedded opportunities to support student success, says Beth McCuskey, associate vice president for housing and food services and FoE task force leader. Through student employment in Dining Services, leadership opportunities through PSUB and RHA, or direct classroom connections with learning communities, the faculty fellow program, hotel operations and video productions, it is HFS's goal to leverage its strengths to support student academic success. 

Talz says the goal is for HFS to serve as a learning lab -- a place where students can apply what they're learning in class in real-life experiences.

"That experience could be learning how to work with a team, how to negotiate conflict or how communicate with others," Talz says. "Ultimately, our hope is that this true living-learning experience will help our students to excel in their academic competency as well as have a solid understanding of self-identity and how to interact with others."

The aspirational goals are reflected in plans for a new academic support center in the former dining court area of Shreve Hall. This high-tech center will house offices that can be shared by advisors, counselors or faculty; smaller spaces for study groups; and larger space for Supplemental Instruction or for students to practice presentations.

"We expect the center to primarily serve the first-year students in our high-rise buildings," Talz says. "The same concept may be used in Wiley or Tarkington to better serve student needs in the other neighborhoods.."

Dedicated academic space also will be included in the new residence hall being built at Vawter Field, which will have collaborative learning areas on each floor and space to hold an academic class.

Also in progress is the creation of neighborhoods to group like student populations. One neighborhood, for example, would group the four high-rise halls -- McCutcheon, Harrison, Earhart  and Shreve -- all of which house learning communities and are predominantly occupied by first-year students.

"Through our RA staff selection process, our fall training and our continuing education, our staff can work to think through the lens of their neighborhood concept," Talz says. "If you're approaching a sophomore in terms of engagement and interests, many times they already have friends established and might be focused on getting an internship or on money management. For first-year students, there's a much different focus. It's about adjustment to campus life – often living away from home for the first time, being independent, finding their fit and learning to make healthy choices."

Staff in each area  will work with students to create a neighborhood identity, which includes what they would like their legacy and common experiences to be.

The neighborhoods also will focus on majors and academic interests, Talz says. For example, HFS is piloting a tutoring program with Dennis Minchella, associate dean in the College of Science and professor of biological sciences, that will provide extra help in the college's classes that have proven most difficult..

Tutoring sessions are being held in Harrison Grille as well as in a quiet study space in McCutcheon Hall.

"We’re looking at the different student populations and trying to determine what they might need and what conditions best suit their needs," Talz says. "If we make it so convenient that it is almost impossible to not get help, will it improve their success rate? Will the tutoring space where students naturally gather help or will they prefer more of a library feel? We will look at the evidence to figure out how to proceed."

Another aspirational goal -- providing co-curricular opportunities for students to apply outside the classroom what they've learned in class --  will be met by expanding upon experiential learning already offered through HFS. A collaboration in the works between HFS and the School of Hospitality and Tourism Management, for example, will allow students to learn by working at the Union Club Hotel.

Christa Pazera, associate director of residential life and member of the FoE Learning Dimension Committee, says interactions of HFS staff with students contribute to their overall success.

"We are woven into students' lives, and the jobs we do affect how connected, comfortable, safe and supported our students feel," Pazera says. "Resident assistants listen to how well the test went and provide resources for the student who is struggling. Dining staff provides consistent, quality food that students count on being able to eat. Service staff in the lobby talk with them about the next time a student is going to visit with their family. All of our areas provide opportunities for leadership, growth and development, and these many interactions help students excel at Purdue and beyond."

Writer: Valerie O'Brien, 49-49573, vobrien@purdue.edu