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‘Improving student support’ a major goal of Provost’s Office

A wide range of offices and programs at Lamar University that provide students with essential support services throughout college are being realigned in a bid to further enhance their effectiveness, officials said. The realignments, which became effective October 1, are taking place in response to the university’s strategic plan as it relates to critical areas of enrollment, retention and the ultimate success of all students.

“While we have great people and excellent programs, it was time to reassess how they worked together in order to improve our overall effectiveness,” said James Marquart, provost and vice president for academic affairs. More than a year of discussions, numerous site visits and research to identify “best practices” nationally, have informed the changes, he said.

Two new divisions will result from the realignments, Marquart said. 

The Division of Student Success and Retention will be under the leadership of interim executive director Daniel Bartlett, and will include: Admissions, Undergraduate Advising Center, Student Tutoring and Retention Services (STARS), Center for College Readiness, Registrar and Records Office.

The Division of Global Diversity, Inclusion, and Intercultural Affairs, under the leadership of John Bello-Ogunu, Sr., will include LU’s Disability Resource Center, McNair Scholars Program, Office of Global Studies and Study Abroad, Office of International Student Services, Office of Veterans Affairs, African American Male Professionals (AAMP), Mi Socio (Hispanic mentoring program) and the Office of Diversity and Inclusion.

“We are building campus-wide collaboration and coordination of student success programs,” said Bartlett. “From the time a student is accepted, to the time that the student is enrolled, to the services and support they’ll use to be academically successful, to the time they graduate — all of those offices and programs, from beginning to end, will have a little bit more unified goals and objectives in working together to support the students. We’ll be better able to identify targeted approaches to student support.”

“Beyond these offices, we’ll bring together key people from across campus,” he said. “We have some advisory councils that are looking at issues that affect student success, the hurdles and challenges, to identify solutions and involve people who are in a position to make positive changes.

Of the dozens of site visits made, he said the university has “looked at what’s worked and that’s a big piece of this effort. We’ve identified some key steps and this reorganization is a first step.” Later steps may include improvements in data-driven decisions using state-of-the-art software that include predictive analytics, he said.

“The driving force behind all of this is how we establish and create the student success cycle,” Bartlett said. “From the time students enroll we need to know what’s their overall experience?  How are we aligning support for students? We’ve seen good success with campus-wide collaboration as faculty respond and identify students who may be struggling. Our advisers and support people reach out and follow up with students and get students to use the resources available to them.”

“As a result, we’ve seen significant gains,” he said. “We’ve seen improvements in student success rates. We’re seeing improvement in retention rates. So, this alignment under the Division of Student Success and Retention will help us be better organized to continue to see improvements.”

Bello-Ogunu is very familiar with the many areas that now fall under his purview, having provided leadership to similar departments and programs at some of his previous institutions where he had worked, or served on related committees. 

While new to Lamar University, he is “learning more about these departments and programs, getting to know them a little bit better,” Bello-Ogunu said. He added, “I am learning about their short-term and long-term needs, challenges, if any, and how I might help.”

“I am looking forward to the challenge,” Bello-Ogunu continued.  “I’m excited to have the opportunity to provide helping, supportive, and nurturing hands for these areas,” he said.

“When you look at each of the departments and programs,” now under his leadership, Bello-Ogunu said, “you see that while they provide services for all students, and, in some cases faculty and staff, they have special emphasis on facilitating the retention, academic success, overall well-being, and the timely graduation of students from particular groups.”

“In other words, while these departments and programs serve all students, special attention is given to providing high quality support services that are designed to facilitate the retention, academic success, overall well-being, and the timely graduation of students that, in higher education, are often referred to as at-risk students,” Bello-Ogunu said. “These include but are not limited to minority students, first-generation students, students with disabilities, veteran students, and, in many respects, international students, because of the challenges the latter face in studying in a different culture and educational system.” 

“I truly believe that bringing these offices and programs together under one umbrella is critical to the University’s overall efforts to enhance its total enrollment, retention, academic success, and graduation rates,” Bello-Ogunu continued.  “Furthermore, I also believe that the realignment will help to promote a cohesive and well-structured approach to developing, planning, and delivering high quality support services, where the primary focus is the overall success of our students, Bello-Ogunu said.

“Being under the same umbrella and leadership also helps create a workplace environment that promotes cohesion, collaboration, and productive interdependence, while simultaneously encouraging a team-centered approach to providing seamless and easily accessible quality support services to our students.”

“Any time you bring units or departments under one umbrella, whether you call that a division, department or center, what you’re hoping to do is create an organizational home identity for those departments, so that they feel more connected to the organization, in addition to benefiting from strong advocacy at the higher level of the organization,” Bello-Ogunu said. “That’s something all departments deserve and need.”

“I don’t think we can stress enough the important role these departments and programs play in the overall success of any institution, not just at Lamar University, but on any campus,” he said. “Nor can we stress enough the centrality of the services they provide to achieving any university’s or college’s primary educational mission of  educating and graduating responsible, ethical and holistically prepared global citizens, who can function productively, effectively and successfully in a world of interdependent cultures and interconnected economies in today’s global village.”