Building a New Faculty: Centre for Student Success aids advising

Stan Taman may only have been in his new job as executive director of the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies (LA&PS) Centre for Student Success for a few weeks, but he already has several good reasons to look forward to the flood of questions that will come his way as students begin registering for courses in the new Faculty.

For starters, Taman says he is fortunate to be working with two of York’s most experienced advising teams, who are currently directors and advisers of the student advising centres in the Faculty of Arts and the Atkinson Faculty of Liberal & Professional Studies. Relying on such vast expertise helps greatly when you are dealing with the intricacies of combining the rules and program requirements of two Faculties into one new one, LA&PS. “One reassuring thing to my mind is that it’s going to all work in spite of me because there are so many good people working here,” says Taman. “I already have about 350 ideas swimming in my head, all thanks to them. For they have been working on these things for so long, they have absolutely great ideas about how to improve how we offer services.”

The other reason Taman looks forward to the transition has to do with the development of new technology at the centre. As the former executive director of systems, communications & academic scheduling in York’s Registrar’s Office, where he helped set up what he calls “the best Web course information and enrolment system in the country” (see YFile, Feb. 22, 2005), he believes that the heart of all student advising activity is the degree audit – the process that, throughout every student’s years at York, ensures that they have the right courses, permissions and prerequisites to satisfy their degree requirements. And, like so many things these days, the audit is about to go online 24/7 so students can check for themselves what they need in order to graduate.

Right: Staff in the new Centre for Student Success Claire Barrett-Coppin (left), Carolyn Edgecombe, Anita Ramjattan, Stan Taman and Chioma Nwabugwu

A pilot project of the system is now up and running in the Faculty of Health, where students can log on and check their course list and program requirements themselves. The system is working well and Taman says the next group of students to go online will be those entering LA&PS this spring for courses in the fall. “The pilot is going fantastically, the students love it,” he says.

With the new automated degree audit, students will not only have access to the most important advice they need to achieve success at university, but both they and the Centre for Student Services advising staff will be looking at the same document, eliminating conflicts and misunderstandings that sometimes cropped up when students requested advice in more than one department or unit. Used in conjunction with traditional face-to-face advising, it should also dramatically decrease the time it takes for students to build a study program.

In the near future, the Centre for Student Success will build an intelligent query knowledge base using software that is already being employed successfully to answer students’ queries online by the Registrar’s Office with Ask a Student Services Expert and in Admissions with Ask an Admissions Specialist. “We will be teaming with the Faculty of Health to implement this excellent Web query and correspondence system for answering student questions at the Faculty and department level. We hope to have it in place by the beginning of May,” says Taman.

The online service won’t eliminate the need for the two new advising offices being set up – one for first-year students in the former Faculty of Arts Student Advising Centre in Central Square and the other for continuing students in the Atkinson Building. “I don’t think you’re ever going to do away with the need for face-to-face and the other sort of advising,” says Taman. “Students often want to talk about what they can do with their degree and they want advice if they’re having problems in school. There will be no shortage of students turning up at the centres.”

The other innovative component of the restructuring is that the Centre for Student Success will be looking to provide, and share in providing, services that go well beyond the traditional elements of academic advising. “We will be reviewing all aspects of student engagement in the new Faculty and will have staff both providing co-curricular and extracurricular activities and liaising and partnering with other areas such as the Faculty colleges, departments, student clubs, the alumni association, Student Community & Leadership Development and the Career Centre, all of which fulfill critical roles in student engagement and success.”

Throughout the transition process, Taman says the guiding principle has been a commitment to enhancing the student experience and ensuring student success. Innovations to the centre’s way of doing business will include developing ways to extend the use of student volunteers to help students get the most out of their university years, and a new focus on one-stop shopping rather than what sometimes happened in the past, where students had to visit several offices and departments to get the advice and permissions they needed. “It involves a much greater effort to deliver integrated services in collaboration between units rather than the normal bureaucratic approach to things,” says Taman. “It will be as close to one-stop shopping as we can get.”

By David Fuller, YFile contributing writer