Mutual Responsibility, Mutual Respect: Increasing Student Success

Emanuel Pollack

Emanuel Pollack. Photo by Roberta Dupuis-Devlin

 “Student success is at the forefront of education, not just at LAS and UIC, but all across the country. It is the watchword of the day because everyone is under pressure to ensure that students are academically successful and career successful,” said Emanuel Pollack, senior associate dean for academic affairs. “At LAS, we have been actively concerned about student success since I joined the College administration in 1994 and have been engaged in improving our advising services for years. Now, through the good offices of Dean Tantillo, Academic Advising has been given the resources to put the best model in place.”

Pollack is referring to the cohort advising model which went into effect for this fall’s freshman class. In cohort advising, one academic advisor works with the same group of students throughout their time at the College. Each student in the freshman class is a member of a 140-student cohort assigned to an advisor who will track their performance, provide support and guidance, know when things are going well or need improvement, and serve as an advocate who knows how to navigate the university system when a question or concern arises.

“There is a great deal of research indicating that the most important element in retention and graduation is the formation of a connection with an individual who has official standing within a university and who is knowledgeable and provides adequate and appropriate guidance for the student,” explained Pollack.

Pollock and Esperanza Rosas

Pollack and Esperanza Rosas at the 2012 LAS Presidential Awards Program reception. Photo by Matthew Kaplan

 “The key to this connection is developing a relationship of trust. The student has an advocate he or she can count on, who will monitor their progress and be familiar with their interests and goals,” he said. “The advisor will reach out whether there are challenges or opportunities. On the one hand they can assist a student with appealing a grade, for example; on the other hand, they will know about upcoming scholarships and can inform students of appropriate opportunities in a timely manner.”

When the cohort model was announced, “the enthusiasm among our academic advisors was overwhelming; not one voice was raised in opposition,” noted Pollack. “The reason is that our advisors actively want to connect with their students. They are all professional, full-time academic advisors and are here for the sole purpose of working with students and ensuring their success.”

During freshman year, students are required to meet with their advisor several times; after their first year, advising meetings are optional. For the time being, students will continue to have department-based academic advisors who have expertise in the various disciplines plus administrative ties to the College-level advising department. This dual-advising system will continue over the next four years while the College transitions completely into the cohort model.

Pollack and Professor Steve Fanning

Pollack and Steven Fanning, professor of history emeritus, at the 2011 LAS recognition dinner. Photo by Renee Gooch

“Of course, faculty members also play an important role not only teaching, but mentoring students, familiarizing them with the practice and demands of the discipline, often providing undergraduate research opportunities, and informing students about graduate school,” said Pollack, whose academic background is in biology. “The many ways in which faculty members go beyond ‘imparters of knowledge’ and serve as role models—inspiring inquiry and scholarship—will never go away.”

Pre-professional advising for students with career goals in law and the health professions is a major component of the College’s Academic Advising Center. “Dedicated advisors stay on top of requirements for law schools across the country as well as requirements for all the medical schools, veterinary schools and dental schools. We have one advisor who works solely with our pre-nursing students,” said Pollack. “Pre-professional advisors work with the students during the admissions process, offering guidance for personal statements and conducting mock interviews.”

Students can also look to the College’s academic advising office for assistance in securing internships. While a number of departments, including English and applied psychology, have their own major-specific internship programs, Senior Academic Advisor Robin Hursey is charged with identifying and qualifying for-credit internships across a broad range of possibilities.

“Internships might be with a corporation, a government agency, a not-for-profit organization,” said Pollack. “The company fills out a form and Robin determines if the position meets our criteria. Sometimes she does a site visit. Students make an appointment with Robin, who will help facilitate a possible match. It is up to the student to succeed in the application, interview and job performance.

 “The number of students doing internships is growing and that is extremely positive. Internships are increasingly important and I see the program continuing to expand. Many of the internships are for credit and some even offer stipends, but for many students, the stipend or even course credit are not necessarily the most important factors; they know that it is essential to show internship experience on a resume and they are admirably pro-active in pursuing that,” said Pollack, noting that if a student identifies an internship independently, Hursey will work with them to qualify the internship for credit.

This fall saw the introduction of two freshmen-only, one-credit seminars: “Success in the City,” taught by a team of academic advisors, and “Freshman Research Seminar,” team-taught by Pollack and Associate Dean Rebecca Lind, who coordinates the LAS Undergraduate Research Initiative. These freshman seminars are designed to introduce students to the range of resources—cultural and academic—that are available to them on campus and in Chicago. These seminars join the popular Global Learning Community Certificate in providing unique cohort-focused learning and community-building opportunities for freshmen.

“The GLCC, which operates under the auspices of the Chancellor’s office and LAS, is in its third year and has been hugely successful in bringing together students who have a strong mutual interest in global affairs—from environmental issues to careers in the foreign service,” said Pollack.

In addition, LAS has launched a pilot program of freshmen-only general education classes that are open to both LAS freshmen and freshmen from other UIC colleges. “While this program will continue to develop, we are committed to every freshman having a meaningful freshmen-only class experience their first semester,” said Pollack. “We also understand that there is always concern among new students at a big university around meeting people, making friends and sustaining friendships. These kinds of initiatives will enable first-year students to develop friendships that can last not just for four years, but for a lifetime.

Pollock at podium

Pollack give the welcome at the 2012 LAS Presidential Awards Program reception. Photo by Matthew Kaplan

“As we continue to enhance the College’s advising services, I need to emphasize one more factor, and it is something that is often missing from the plans and programs I see out there. This is that the student must take responsibility for his or her own learning, education and success. We can provide resources, we can provide tutoring, we can provide guidance, but we cannot do the learning for the student. The success formula is a two-way street and depends on the right balance of a strong and committed network of peers, mentors and professional supporters with an individual’s commitment to and investment in his or her own future—a cohort of mutual responsibility and respect,” Pollack concluded.