Editor’s Note: This is the first in an occasional series of posts regarding student retention and efforts undertaken by campus departments
Mike Kisley, professor and chair, Department of Psychology, prefers to think of student retention as connecting a student with his or her faculty and course of study.
Making those connections is no easy task but the work fits with the university’s teaching mission and quest to prepare the next generation to take its place in society.
Kisley recently outlined a series of efforts within the Department of Psychology, many of which have been in place for years. He believes the efforts are keys to the department’s higher than average student retention rates.
“We ask what they want to do and are straightforward about telling them how to get there,” Kisley said of Psychology 1100, a one-hour course required for psychology majors and transfers. “Our goal is to orient them to the profession and connect them to the campus.”
The course, in place since fall 2006, is academic and interactive. Students are encouraged to share their goals and ask questions such as the difference between a psychologist (a scientist), a clinical psychologist and a psychiatrist and the training required for each (a psychiatrist is a medical doctor). The psychology faculty group-teach the course which enables them to talk about their personal path as well as research interests and exposes the students to a variety of disciplines and personalities. Local community members are also often invited to talk about their careers and the educational paths they took.
The course goal is explicit: focus on helping students fit into the university and see where their undergraduate degree can take them, either to graduate school or directly into a job.
“We want the students to get connected,” Kisley said. “Frankly, we force them to get connected.”
Force doesn’t mean arm twisting. Students in the course receive a sheet with the names, photos and brief descriptions of all department faculty members. They are required to meet with at least one faculty member outside of class and to engage them in a discussion on a personal or professional level.
“I hear all the time ‘I didn’t know faculty did anything other than teach,'” Kisley said of the meetings with students. “They are very surprised when I tell them teaching is 40 percent of my job. Some students are absolutely fascinated about the idea of doing original research.”
Kisley said he’s also open to sharing his personal story of earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees in aerospace engineering as the son of a child psychiatrist before discovering his passion, neuroscience.
“I’ve told lots of students it’s never too late to decide what you want to do,” Kisley said
In discussing Psychology 1100 and one-on-one advising with students, Kisley was quick to point to the work of the department’s entire faculty.
“High-quality undergraduate teaching is a community effort,” Kisley said.