Academic Retention Services seeks to connect with minorities, expand its staff

Graduate assistant Marcus Ferguson: “ARS has a special touch with the students because when they come in here, we don’t rush them in and out. We spend our time with (them).”

Over the past two semesters, Academic Retention Services has undergone leadership and operational changes, but its mission to serve students has stayed the same.

When ARS Director Donell Young was hired in July 2015, Vice Provost of Undergraduate Studies Jim Spain asked him to create a committee to expand the reach of ARS.

“Instead of one size fits all, we’re going to develop programs that are going to be helpful for students based on their academic preparedness,” Young said.

Last semester, students requested that ARS become more active in minority communities, but Young and graduate assistant Marcus Ferguson both emphasized that serving underrepresented students was already their priority. The department serves all students that come to MU on diversity-based scholarships, such as the George C. Brooks Scholarship, and reaches out to minority students without scholarships.

To make this easier, ARS is expanding its staff. There are currently five full-time staff members, two graduate assistants and student staff. Ferguson said some schools have larger ARS buildings and more staff than MU does, but they serve half the amount of students. Former Missouri Students Association adviser Farouk Aregbe will soon join Young as an ARS coordinator, and the office will soon hire a third one.

More staff will make ARS more effective in serving multiple students, Ferguson said.

“ARS has a special touch with the students because when they come in here, we don’t rush them in and out,” he said. “We spend our time with (them).”

He said students come to ARS to discuss issues they are facing, not just academically but also personally, such as being a minority on campus. Ferguson said Young was a mentor to him when he was an undergraduate at MU.

ARS seeks and receives student feedback regarding its programs in order to better serve the student population. One way ARS does this is through a workshop called “You Talk, We Listen,” which invites students to express their opinions about how ARS helps them and how it could improve.

“A lot of times in college, you’re being talked at and you’re not really being heard,” Ferguson said. “This is (the students’) opportunity to talk back.”

Young divided the committee into five subcommittees that focus on different aspects of the strategic plan the committee is crafting: peer mentoring, financial awareness and literacy, a summer transition program for incoming freshmen, faculty involvement with students, and developing future programs to help students reach their individual goals for success.

Young spent his first semester as ARS director working to form strong relationships with administration, faculty, staff and students. These relationships are another way ARS seeks and receives student input. The department has been reaching out to various student organizations and has been increasing its social media presence, he said.

Spain said in an email that ARS is collaborating with the Honors College and the Fellowships Office. In the fall 2016 semester, ARS will support a Freshman Interest Group and two sections of the College Success Seminar class. According to the MU course catalog, SSC 1150 is a two-credit-hour course that helps students use their strengths to develop individual methods for collegiate success.

“Academic Retention Services is making exciting progress and will be positioned to successfully implement their new strategic plan,” Spain said.

Edited by Waverly Colville |

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