HAYS, Kan. -- Thriving Tigers, a strategy at Fort Hays State University to encourage students to persist in their educations and finish their degrees, got a $10,000 boost from AT&T today.
FHSU President Edward H. Hammond thanked Cindy Zapletal (pronounced ZAP-luh-tall), director of external affairs for AT&T Kansas, at a news conference in the Dreiling Lobby of Sheridan Hall on the FHSU campus.
"AT&T realizes, as do we here at Fort Hays State, that keeping students in school until they complete their studies is just as important as getting them in the door in the first place," said Hammond.
Zapletal said AT&T's primary mission is keeping kids in school, a project that has two parts.
"The first part of the initiative is to keep kids in school and make sure they get a high school diploma and are ready join the workforce or go on to college," she said. "The second half is when they go to college, they stay in college and complete their courses of study."
She noted that many first-time freshmen in college are also first-generation college students, the first in their families to go past high school, and they don't have a support network. AT&T supports and encourages programs that help them succeed, "and that is one of the things Fort Hays State has done," she said.
Hammond said that, nationally, only about 40 percent of bachelor's degree students at public colleges and universities complete their degrees in five years or less, which represents a very high dropout rate. Thriving Tigers, said Hammond, seeks to boost student success by helping them get active and involved from the start of their college careers, keep them engaged, and put out warning signals when something goes wrong so that corrective measures can be taken.
He introduced Dr. Tisa Mason, vice president for student affairs, to explain the program.
"At FHSU," she said, "we recognize that attrition is not just a number. It represents students, real people, whose personal or academic problems go uncorrected until it's too late."
And, while most universities have services and programs to help, the students who need them most use them least. These students are unaware that the services are available, or reluctant to use them, or both.
"The challenge for us, then, is to encourage students to use existing resources when they need them and to become fully engaged in the campus life," Mason said. "Thriving Tigers was designed to do just that."
The program is a Web-based initiative that capitalizes on three main findings of research into student development: students are more likely to stay in school if they can identify even one person from whom they are comfortable seeking help; successful students are socially and academically committed to an institution; and successful students can make connections between what they are learning and life events.
"Thriving Tigers combines all of these elements," she said. "It is designed to increase student engagement and drive students to the programs, services and resources available to them while blending the on-campus and online worlds in which our students live."
Mason explained the program's three steps: TigerConnect is similar to social network sites, yet it is a "purpose" network -- students can connect with the campus and other freshmen and find their purpose at FHSU by setting goals and getting their questions answered; TigerLink engages them further and is a resource for campus organizations as well; and TigerIQ, where warning flags will eventually show up, creates opportunities to connect students to resources and services precisely when they need them most. Mason turned to three students to explain more.
TigerConnect is primarily aimed at new freshmen. The heaviest period is early in the fall, when the freshmen are really new, said Lydia Fuqua, Jetmore junior and an orientation assistant in student affairs. "It's a way to get the students engaged."
"I think a lot of kids are really intimidated by college," she said. "TigerConnect kind of eases them into the process."
TigerLink, the second step, is an online meeting place where students and student organizations can find each other, advertise events, coordinate activities and maintain rosters. Individual students will have a record of their memberships and activities to use in increasingly popular and necessary co-curricular transcripts to go with the formal academic transcripts.
"TigerLink is a great portal that empowers organizations to interact with other student groups and enables them to grow in a way that was not possible before," said Andrew Dempewolf, Oberlin senior and legislative affairs director for the Student Government Association. "The Student Government Association is looking forward to using TigerLink in our elections next week to elect the future student leaders of FHSU."
For at-risk students, there is TigerIQ.
"Tiger IQ identifies at-risk students before it is too late for them to recover," said Kaley Klaus, Hays senior, first-year experience student coordinator intern.
"When faculty feel a student in a course is struggling or seems to show unhealthy habits, they can refer a student. Then, the TigerIQ team looks over the referral and decides what the appropriate course of action would be and prepares an action plan."
Response has been tremendous, she said, with more than 200 referrals and more than 100 action plans since the launch in January.
Missed classes, bad grades, expressions of concern from parents, friends and faculty, all will show up in TigerIQ, which, said Klaus, is very easy to use. Parents or peers can click on the link to report a concern about their students or friends.
For most at-risk students, she said, the action plan is a contact, for instance, information about the free subject tutoring or counseling offered at the Kelly Center.
TigerIQ gathers input from all areas of a student's campus life. One professor might not know that a student is also not showing up for three other classes, but TigerIQ will, and an intervention can be initiated and an action plan for improvement can be sent to the student.
Once steps in the action plan have been completed, faculty or counselors log into the system to report that contact has been made. "Using the information from TigerIQ, Student Affairs in partnership with the Virtual College can direct a student to the services that would be most appropriate for the situation," she said.
The action plan is emailed to the student, who can open the email and click on each link to complete the action plan and get back on track.
"I feel the program is easy to use," said Klaus. "It's easy to use if you're going in there for the first time to refer our friend. It's easy to use if you're going in there to review your action plan. It's a good safety net."
The AT&T contribution will defray costs of the software on which the system is built.
For more information on Thriving Tigers, contact the Office of Student Affairs at 785-628-4277 or go to the Web site at www.fhsu.edu/studentaffairs/.