College focuses on community-building initiatives

By Shannon Keough
September 18, 2008

As many universities are struggling to understand why students leave their college after their first year, Cabrini College is taking the initiative not only to keep its students here but to engage them in the community and help them to succeed.

Approximately one third of last year’s freshman class didn’t return as sophomores, according to Lisa Plummer, director of institutional effectiveness. As a result, Cabrini has been spending its time figuring out why students stay and how it can improve various aspects of the college.

Many of the departments at Cabrini, specifically Student Development, Academic Affairs and the Wolfington Center, have spent a great deal of time coming up with programs that will help engage its students.

“There are two things that drive engagement. One thing is that the students have to apply time and effort . the second part is us providing opportunities for students to learn and grow; it’s a partnership,” Dr. Christine Lysionek, vice president of student development, said.

Studies show that within the first six to eight weeks at college, students make the decision to stay at or leave the school. “If we can engage students early in the year, it will help them meet people, find a supportive staff community and hopefully feel more comfortable here on campus,” Christa Angeloni, campus minister, said.

One of the largest programs that those departments collaborated on is the Passport to Success Program. Each first-year student was given a passport at the beginning of the semester and they are required to attend certain programs and have other electives they must go to. The point of the passport program is to “provide you with a clear sense of what it means to be successful at Cabrini College,” which is stated on the inside of the passports.

Although the passports are required for all College Success classes, passports are also offered to sophomores, juniors and seniors but they are less structured and more elective-based. Incentives for completing the passport program are being given to all participants but differ according to class. For example, if you win the drawing you may receive a free parking pass or be the first person in your class to register for classes.

Although Cabrini already had plans to change its ways, Dr. Marie George, the college president, has made it her priority. “She said, ‘don’t just keep it in motion, elevate it to the top of your agendas,'” Dr. Charlie McCormick, dean for academic affairs, said. She encourages people to talk about “persistence to success” rather than retention.

The Wolfington Center provides numerous programs for students to get involved. Programs such as the Freshman Adventure Retreat and the Freshman Escape Retreat are specifically for first-year students but are led by other students.

Academic Affairs has also launched the Saturday Seminar Program, which is strictly for first-year students. The seminars consist of three Saturday experiences and the focuses include Literary Philadelphia, Future Teachers and Chinese Film and Culture. The purpose is for students to explore opportunities and resources off campus.

Anne Filippone, director of the center for student engagement and leadership, along with others, developed the Life Series Workshops devised for juniors and seniors. Workshops such as Resume Clinic, Interviewing Techniques and Etiquette Dinner will help students prepare for life after college.

“We’re not doing this just because of a retention issue; we’re doing it because it’s good practice,” McCormick said.

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Shannon Keough

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