Not so long ago, people navigating the process of becoming students at UAA needed to drive or ride a bus if they needed to see a recruiter or get help filling out financial aid paperwork.
“We were at the University Center before, behind where students could get to,” said Marnie Kaler, interim director of UAA New Student Recruitment. “If new students came to campus, they wouldn’t know where to go and we were 1.2 miles away, behind the scenes. It was a challenge.”
That process is about to get easier, with the launch of The University Hub, located in a renovated Wells Fargo Sports Complex space just a few steps—literally—from the Student Union.
The University Hub is the new headquarters for offices serving the needs of students launching their academic careers at UAA, including New Student Recruitment, transition advisers for UA Scholars and exploratory and undeclared-major students—and Career Exploration & Services.
“The idea is working together more cohesively in a more collaborative way, making the experience for the student a seamless one,” said Theresa Lyons, executive director for Student Outreach and Transition. “We want to help them complete those processes, make sure they’re best prepared for the orientation experience and understanding the life cycle of the institution—when things are due, deadlines and dates—things that help acclimate a student. We’re seeking to create a space where students feel welcome and invited.”
Advising is a key service the new Hub is striving to improve, Lyons said.
“We try to do what we consider comprehensive advising, where we are working with the student making sure the admissions process is completed, making sure they have the assistance they need completing the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid),” she said. “It can be done here, and of course advising them in that first year—moving them to a place where they declare majors sooner is the ambition.”
Lyons says one goal will be to provide group advising, to resolve questions that are consistently asked of all students. Another goal: maximize advising resources.
“We’re interested in having student peer advisers help with some of those low-lying things students ask: ‘How do I’s’ or ‘Help me register for classes,’ might be questions a student peer adviser could answer, freeing up the adviser to have those more in-depth conversations with students as they’re trying to decide their next step.”
Career Exploration & Services historically worked with students as they neared the end of their college careers, but Lyons says a shift is taking place there as well.
“The ambition is to create that connection early on,” she said. “Looking at it from a workforce development [perspective], we’ll be introducing students to job-shadowing opportunities so they can start to think about or experience a workplace environment, earlier.”
The Hub serves as a resource for all students—providing assistance with FAFSA forms, for example, and offering free Compass-series workshops about personal development, time- or money-management skills, test-taking strategies and other topics.
Creating a college-going culture
The University Hub serves as headquarters for UAA’s efforts to encourage first-generation and lower-income students from Anchorage schools to go to college, here.
Lyons’ office will use an award from the UAA Annual Fund for Excellence to launch UAAspire, a new bridge-to-high-schoolers program that seeks to assist and encourage students at East, West and Bartlett high schools—offering personalized assistance there at the schools with completing financial aid, navigating the college admissions and enrollment processes and applying for scholarships.
The new program is especially important since the U.S. Department of Education didn’t renew a grant that funded TRIO programs at UAA—such as Educational Talent Search, which Lyons said served 750 students in the Anchorage School District, at six middle and high schools. Two thirds of the ETS population was low income and first generation, she added.
“They worked with 130 seniors a year; 80 of those students would enroll here every year,” she said.
The big picture, the big goal, is creating a college-going culture and an educated populace.
“People have to know not just that the college exists, but how to get here and how to stay here,” Lyons said. “We must retain them and they’ve got to graduate. Twenty percent of the people who get a UA Scholars Award don’t even go, anywhere.”
A large part of the reason is access.
“I might not know what to do to get my scholarship,” she said. “Going to the schools, having a relationship with the district—you need all of these layers because that’s what it takes. You’re talking about a mindset that hasn’t conceived college. They may have the intellect and the ability, but being able to visualize and see it, or come here and feel comfortable—like do I know someone, will someone talk to me, can I make a friend. All of those things matter.”
Despite the grant setback—which they hope is temporary, because they’re appealing the decision—Lyons and her colleagues in the Hub’s various offices are moving forward.
“For us, because we’re in this new space, we’re hoping new relationships form,” she said. “We’re talking about the same things, looking at people’s calendars, figuring out where we can collaborate better. Some of the silos we expect will come down as a result of being in the space, having conversations around similar work. Considering the fiscal climate, I think you have to start thinking about doing things differently.”
Lyons says being available to students is critical, so they’re discussing new possibilities, such as group advising, walk-in appointments, advising via the phone and Skype.
“We’re looking at those kinds of opportunities so we can better serve the population in various ways, to meet that goal of serving all of our students,” she said.
Written by Tracy Kalytiak, University of Alaska Anchorage