REACH aims to connect new students with NIU resources

REACH graphicIn an effort to make sure every new student is connected with NIU, Orientation & First-Year Experience and the Office of Student Academic Success are collaborating to contact freshmen in the first weeks of the semester through a program called REACH (Retention Effort for All inComing Huskies). Initial peer-to-peer phone calls begin this week, with follow-up calls to selected students later in the semester.

A staff of approximately ten student callers who have successfully navigated their first year at Northern will reach out to new students who are not enrolled in UNIV 101 courses, are not part of a mentoring program, or are not part of another “high impact” first-year activity such as a learning community, the honors program, or the Huskie Marching Band. Commuting students will also be contacted. “Our goal is to connect freshmen with university resources early in their freshman year so they can be successful in the classroom and beyond,” said Denise Rode, director of Orientation & First-Year Experience.

Student staff members, who often have been UNIV Peer Instructors or orientation leaders, are trained to respond to questions ranging from “How do I find my academic advisor?” to “How can I get involved on campus?” Callers also receive training in how to effectively refer concerns to the best department equipped to handle them, such as the Counseling & Student Development Center and undergraduate college advising offices.

The most common topics are academic concerns, including course work, tutoring resources, advising, major choice, and registration, according to Danielle Kuglin Seago, assistant director of Orientation & First-Year Experience. Some students had social, personal, or environmental questions or issues. However, 62% of those called in 2009-2010 expressed no concerns and indicated that they were doing well in their transition.

Pierre Lewis, a senior English major from Chicago, is an experienced REACH caller and peer supervisor.  He recalls talking with a student who had been unable to resolve a difficult situation with a roommate.  “I was able to assure the student that there was a solution to the problem and we’d be able to find someone who could help,” said Lewis.  “Using the A-Z index on the NIU website, we were able to locate the contact information for an administrator in Housing & Dining.  After a week, I followed up with the student to see if the problem had been addressed.  It was, and the student appreciated the time taken to make sure that his concerns were resolved.”

 When REACH callers begin their work this year, they will also encourage first-year students to participate in the MAP-Works survey which is being offered to the entire freshman class.  The process begins with the completion of an initial, optional survey which students will access through their e-mail accounts.  MAP-Works in an intervention program to help students establish roots and develop positive habits to succeed in college. 

More information about MAP-Works can be obtained through Dana Gautcher at the Office of Student Academic Success, 110 Academic Advising Center, 633 W. Locust Street, (815) 753-5721, osas@niu.edu.

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