UW’s Multidisciplinary Student Success Institutional Transformation Taskforce
In this ongoing series, we explore the University of Wyoming’s transformation journey, highlighting the challenges, strategies, and their vision for future innovation in student success. This second installment delves deeper into their experiences under the Intermediaries for Scale (IFS) initiative, emphasizing their successes in fostering institutional change. In this conversation, we hear from a broader group of stakeholders from the multidisciplinary Student Success Institutional Transformation Taskforce (SSITT):
- Anne Alexander, Vice Provost, Strategic Planning and Initiatives for Academic Affairs
- Aaron Courtney, Associate Vice President, Budget & Institutional Planning; Director, Student Financial Services
- Nycole Courtney, Dean, Student Success and Graduation; Associate Vice President, Student Affairs
- Angela Davis, Program Coordinator, Student Success and Graduation
- Sue Koller, Manager, Institutional Analysis
- Hailey Sanderson, Assistant to the AVP, Student Success and Graduation
- Steve Scott, Institutional Computer Reporting Analyst
- Alec Wallen, Graduate Student Employee, Student Success and Graduation
What programs or initiatives has UW implemented as part of its participation in the IFS initiative, and how have these initiatives impacted student success?
The SSITT has significantly enhanced cross-departmental collaboration at the University of Wyoming. This initiative has effectively dismantled silos, paving the way for a holistic approach to student success. Sue noted, “It has expanded who is talking about retention. It’s made us more mindful and really start thinking about what small things can we even do to make a difference in a student’s life and wanting to stay at UW.” The emphasis on collaboration ensures a consistent approach to student success. Nycole added, “Because of SSITT, I think everyone’s thinking a little bit deeper, more meaningful around how we manage some of the work around retention.” This collaborative approach has led to a more comprehensive understanding of the challenges faced by students and a more effective strategy for addressing these challenges. Angela, a University of Wyoming alum, appreciated the integration and elevation of the student perspective in these discussions, calling it, “amazing and really informative for the group.”
Additional initiatives have emerged from the SSITT’s comprehensive and evolving approach to student success and retention. Hailey and Nycole highlighted a program that offers extra support for students on academic probation, giving them the option to engage with an academic ‘life coach’ for personalized guidance. Nycole emphasized the significance of this self-selected support, stating, “The life coaching is really about how are we going to realistically ensure you achieve your goals within your individual circumstances.” Additionally, the Cowboy Coach peer mentoring program was expanded to connect all first-year students with a peer mentor. Data-driven insights have led the university to mandate meetings between first-year students and their Cowboy Coach at least once per semester.
Can you share any success stories or examples of how students have benefited from UW’s participation in the IFS project?
Aaron highlighted the creation of a micro-grant opportunity, a proactive, data-driven initiative aimed at helping students nearing degree completion. These funds helped students overcome lingering financial barriers and cross the finish line of their academic journey. Nycole shared the success of the callback campaign, a student-led initiative that reached out to students who had not yet registered for classes. The initiative not only helped students overcome barriers to registration but also made students feel seen and cared for by the university. “Students [said], I didn’t think the university actually cared. When we called them, it actually made a difference in whether or not they registered.” Nycole also spoke about their ‘Saddle Up’ orientation program, which was in its infancy when the IFS engagement begun but has since grown into a comprehensive program that teaches students “real-time time management, study skills, resiliency, and grit.” Nycole noted that the success of the program is evident in the fact that “students from the first year of ‘Saddle Up’ are now returning as what we call our ‘Poke Packs.’ They’re the mentors that help [new students] get through the program.” These initiatives have directly helped students overcome barriers to success and created a culture of care and support.
How do you see the IFS initiative helping to shape strategic development going forward, and what are your goals for the future?
The SSITT team sees IFS participation as a catalyst for strategic development, providing tools and resources that have been instrumental in shaping their approach to student success. Anne championed the use of the Institutional Transformation Assessment (ITA) tool, stating, “[The ITA] and all the sensemaking after that we did together—which evolved into SSITT—I think we can continue to use that as kind of a temperature check to see how we’re evolving.” She envisions its regular use for ongoing assessment. Nycole shared, “One of the outcomes was that we actually built a strategic plan for student success from this APLU IFS process. But it’s also advised and has input from our SSITT team.” The team also emphasized the value of interdisciplinary collaboration in realizing their strategic goals.
Can you speak to any unexpected successes or surprises from UW’s IFS involvement?
The IFS initiative has brought about unexpected successes, particularly in fostering collaboration and enhancing data literacy. Sue highlighted the AIR Data Literacy Institute service: “I think that we’ve known for a while that we probably needed some help with data literacy in general. But I’m not sure we would have reached out to get that opportunity without having this as a catalyst.” Nycole celebrated the sense of community within the SSITT team, adding, “I think what was exciting for me to see is that people are interested in coming. They look forward to having a conversation. And it is a nice way to learn more about what’s going on in our spaces, particularly when it comes to retention.” She valued the depth of discussions the initiative sparked. Sue felt the initiative was a platform for addressing concerns, leading to meaningful discussions and solutions. Hailey emphasized the efficiency gained by having all stakeholders discuss issues together: “When they’re all in the same room, and they can talk about it in real-time, it happens a lot faster,” eliminating the need for extended meetings and projects.
Finally, do you have any advice or insights you would like to share with other universities seeking to improve student success and drive institutional transformation?
Their primary advice for universities is to adopt a collaborative, solutions-focused approach. Anne emphasized the value of a community-oriented approach, stating, “I think this so far is the one that has been most successful because of the community aspect. We have everybody in the room, and everybody comes to solve problems.” She stressed the importance of student participation in these dialogues. Nycole urged institutions to remain open-minded, stating, “I think we sometimes get into this space where we think we know all the answers. As an institution, we think we’ve got this. We’re going to solve all the problems.” Highlighting the value of different perspectives and teamwork, she stated, “I do think having interdisciplinary ideas and cross-functional components from your colleagues only helps you be better.” She encourages embracing pivotal opportunities for change, such as the IFS initiative and Powered by Publics, and concludes, “Learning from a national partner and national peers has been incredibly helpful.”
As we conclude the second installment of our series, many thanks to the University of Wyoming’s SSITT for their unwavering commitment to student success. Their cross-functional collaboration and integration of the student voice should certainly serve as a beacon for other institutions navigating their own transformation journey. Stay tuned as we further explore the IFS network's impact and delve into its subprojects. We invite you to share your thoughts, experiences, or questions in the comments below or via social media. Let's continue the conversation on student success and institutional transformation!