A new retention plan paves the way for student success.
Students take Highlander pride to Richmond.
Four hundred Radford University students, faculty and staff volunteered in honor of Martin Luther King Jr.
I liked [President Hemphill's] ideas about increasing the retention rate. I struggled at Radford and almost got caught up in the statistic ... I've been there and know what it's like."
During President Brian O. Hemphill’s alumni tour in summer 2016, he discussed his ideas with alumni regarding the University’s work in helping students along the way to succeed and earn their Radford University degree.
Glenwood Morgan ’02, M.S. ’06 said that President Hemphill’s ideas on increasing student success hit home. “I liked his ideas about increasing the retention rate. I struggled at Radford and almost got caught up in the statistic. I was lucky and connected with the right people. But, I’ve been there and know what it’s like,” said Morgan, who graduated with two degrees from Radford University’s College of Education and Human Development.
Radford University’s Board of Visitors approved the adoption of a new retention plan — a direct result of conversations across campus, the region and with alumni across the state and beyond.
The Student Success and Retention Action Plan’s core mission is grounded in the belief that all students admitted to Radford University can be successful and graduate.
As part of the shift of focus to examine Radford University’s retention rate, the University formed the Council on Student Engagement and Success (CSES).
“The CSES has brought together a diverse group of voices from across campus and introduced a richness to conversations about student success,” said Assistant Vice Provost of High Impact Practices Jeanne Mekolichick. “We are asking ourselves if our practices, policies and actions align with helping students learn, and we are building relationships that support student success.”
The 12 CSES action teams developed five themes to improve retention: remove barriers; support the classroom experience; ensure effective, efficient advising; engage in clear, unified communication; and address the unique needs of each group of students.
The University will continue to implement High Impact Practices (HIP), student-centered and engaged learning practices both inside and outside of the classroom, to keep students engaged and involved. “Radford University is known for these deeply engaging hands-on learning practices both within and beyond the classroom. In this area, the retention action plan focuses on strategic approaches to more systematically bring these experiences to our students. The more opportunities we can create to bring faculty and students together in meaningful dialogue, the more powerful the experience for all,” said Mekolichick.
Radford University is known for these deeply engaging hands-on learning practices both within and beyond the classroom. In this area, the retention action plan focuses on strategic approaches to more systematically bring these experiences to our students."
The plan will redesign the onecredit University 100 courses that all new students take to help them transition to Radford University. The courses will provide more experience-based learning.
As a critical component of student success, effective and efficient advising helps students make the most of their academic careers. A few methods aimed to improve advising are to design and implement advising standard procedures; hire additional professional advisors; and develop a student ambassador peer-mentoring program to assist advisors during peak advising periods.
A purposeful, strategic coordination of communication is part of the plan to engage in clear, unified and targeted efforts to help students persist with their studies. Part of this implementation is the Starfish Connect ™ software, which promotes engagement and removes obstacles between students and their advisors, tutors and instructors. This system provides case management, appointment scheduling, and communication tools to promote engagement and help students stay on track.
Exit interview processes and procedures are also being developed to identify reasons behind a student’s choice to leave Radford. Social media tactics and strategies — designed to improve communication with students — are being revised.
Each student and group have unique needs. A way to help address these varying needs is to better coordinate and develop existing programs and services, keeping students on task to timely degree completion and celebrating the success of students from their first year through graduation.
To help achieve these goals, the Division of Student Affairs is working with the Student Government Association (SGA) to better connect and work with students. Some of the co-sponsored activities include a check-in campaign, in which SGA members and Students Affairs staff members knocked on over 2,000 doors to personally check in with students.
The initiatives in the Student Success and Retention Action Plan are designed to realize the potential of the students attending Radford University and the potential that lies within the University. “The experience continues to spark new conversations and bring alternative perspectives, sharpening our focus on excellence in all that we do,” said Mekolichick.
Students take Highlander pride to Richmond
Throughout the years, the trip has influenced the lives of many of its participants. Some students say Advocacy Day helped them map their career paths. Others agree the experience encouraged them to become engaged citizens and better informed about their legislative representatives.
“I think it was a great real-world experience,” said Etrenda Dillon ’17, who participated in Advocacy Day in 2016 and 2017. “I had the privilege of representing my school to high-level government officials and the opportunity to practice my professional skills. Advocacy Day was definitely a highlight of my Radford University experience.”
This year, Advocacy Day saw record participation.
Fifty students spent Jan. 31-Feb. 1 in Richmond, which was a flurry of General Assembly activity.
The Virginia General Assembly convened Jan. 11, just weeks before Radford University students arrived.
On the first day of the trip, students observed several subcommittee meetings, including those of the House Education and House Appropriations committees. A group also met with staff of the attorney general’s office to learn more about its inner workings.
“It was really fascinating to witness policy in action,” said Alan Ward ’17. “Some very important bills were being discussed, and it was exciting to be surrounded by so many decision-makers.”
Students also toured the Executive Mansion, home to Virginia’s governors since 1813. The same evening, they dined with Del. Joseph Yost ’06, M.A. ’08 and fellow Radford University alumni Martin Mash ’07 and Tyler Lester ’15, who all shared their respective experiences about the legislative process.
Hearing firsthand from Radford graduates about their journey to Richmond resonated with many students.
Lester’s passion for politics can be traced to his time at Radford University.
A Richlands native, Lester transferred to Radford from a community college in 2013 and immediately immersed himself in politics. That fall, he got an internship with U.S. Rep. Morgan Griffith’s office.
“I’ve always been interested in history and politics,” said Lester, who majored in political science. “That experience was a good opportunity to gain practical day-to-day exposure to what legislators and officials actually do.”
That picture became even clearer for Lester when he participated in Advocacy Day in 2014.
It was a great real-world experience."
The exposure that Advocacy Day gave me to the political process really cemented that this was the direction I was supposed to be going in,” he said.
After graduating, Lester was offered a full-time job in Griffith’s office. He currently serves as a legislative aide for Del. Todd Pillion.
“This is my dream job,” Lester said. “I’m happy to now be able to share my story with other Radford University students.”
On the final day of the trip, students were broken into groups to meet with their respective delegates and senators. The fast-paced sessions allowed students to discuss topics and issues important to them, such as financial aid, state job opportunities and the future of higher education. They also shared personal stories and their Radford University experiences.
“I love Radford University, and I wanted to spread the word of all the good things that go on here,” said Ward, who has participated in Advocacy Day for the past three years. “It’s critical to let our delegates and senators know that the work they do in Richmond has a significant effect on what we do at the University.”
Because Ward, of Roanoke, has repeatedly participated in Advocacy Day activities, he said his conversations with the politicians have become “deeper.”
“After you start building relationships with them, you step into their offices and they remember who you are and what university you represent. We make a lasting impression,” Ward said.
The trip was capped by an exciting visit with Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe on the steps of the Virginia State Capitol, which students later toured.
Shiza Manzoor, a junior media studies major, called the entire Advocacy Day experience “eye-opening.” She hopes to one day pursue a career in political journalism.
Advocacy Day amplified that calling, she said. “I loved it so much,” she said. “It was insightful and educational. There were moments throughout the trip when everything just clicked.”
Nehemiah Bester ’18, a media studies major from Richmond, was just one of 400 Radford University students, faculty and staff who hit the ground running across the New River and Roanoke valleys on Jan. 16.
Spring semester classes didn’t start until Jan. 17, but many chose to return to campus early to participate in the University’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service.
“At Radford, we look at today as a day on, not a day off,” said Bester.
This is the fourth consecutive year the University has organized the effort that sends hundreds of volunteers across the region to lend a helping hand.
That Monday, those helping hands prepared and served meals, organized clothing and food donations, crafted homemade rugs for sheltered animals, painted walls, cleaned tables and hallways and nurtured the minds of young children.
At the Kroger grocery store in Fairlawn, Bester and his peers collected food items from shoppers for the Bobcat and Micah’s backpack programs, as well as for the Women’s Resource Center.
“This is what it’s all about,” Bester said, motioning toward the table where donated goods started piling up.
Tylisia Crews and Cassidy Smith agreed that volunteering helped them connect with the community “in a more intimate way.”
“This experience helps us reach others on a different level,” said Crews, a senior from Halifax. “As students, we don’t often get to interact with the community around us.”
Such philanthropic actions reflect the ideals of Martin Luther King Jr., whose influential life was honored worldwide on Jan. 16.
“Dr. King served his community, and it’s important that we do the same so we can continue his legacy of service and compassion for others,” said Smith, a sophomore English major.
Volunteers were excited to see Radford University President Brian O. Hemphill at several sites, including Kroger, where Crews helped him shop for food donations.
“I can check that off my bucket list,” Crews joked. “But it really means a lot that he cares and takes care of our community, too.”
Not far away at the Radford Early Learning Center, senior Hailey Wilt sat among a circle of students — young and old — whose ears tuned in to a compelling book, “Martin’s Big Words,” read aloud by a young teacher.
“Be a good neighbor.” “Help make the world a better place.” “Be kind to others.”
The message resonated with the entire room.
Afterward, the Radford University student volunteers partnered with the preschoolers on a craft that expressed how they might better their communities.
“I’m so excited to work with these kids,” Wilt said. “They are so fun, and so is volunteering. It’s a big part of my Radford experience.”
Mary Beth Keenan, the Reading Hour Program coordinator who helped organize the Learning Center event, said she was pleased by the large turnout of Radford University volunteers.
“It’s fun to see students from different schools, from different walks of life, come together to listen and interact with these children,” Keenan said.
This experience helps us reach others on a different level. As students, we don't often get to interact with the community around us."
That one-on-one attention is “what our students crave,” said the center’s Assistant Director, Pam Cline.
“It’s a perfect collaboration,” Cline said.
At Christ Lutheran Church, Radford University volunteers served in a much different capacity.
The small crew volunteered to paint part of the fellowship hall.
McConnell Library Instruction Librarian Alyssa Archer, a regular MLK Jr. Day of Service volunteer, gushed about how well-organized the event continues to be each year.
“The Center for Diversity and Inclusion staff do such a great job,” said Archer as she carefully brushed a fresh coat of paint on the wall.
In Salem, many volunteers spent the day at Feeding America Southwest Virginia, where they processed more than 6,000 pounds of food. New partnerships were formed with agencies throughout the region, including the Friendship Health and Living Community Center in Roanoke, Radford Coffee Company, Roanoke Diversity Center and Pulaski County Department of Social Services.
At the Boys & Girls Club of Southwest Virginia, students cleaned tables, walls and other areas of the Roanoke facility.
Clean classrooms are not only important to the 150 kids who walk through the center’s doors each day, said Boys and Girls Club Director of Operations Calvin Curry.
“They’re important to our donors, too,” he explained.
“We are a volunteer- and donor-driven club. They need to know and see that we are taking care of our students. Today, Radford University took good care of us. The students were fantastic. We are grateful.”