Helping students before it’s ‘too late’

By Kasie Von Haden

Lumen Editor

The new semester can bring a lot of excitement. New classes, new professors, new classmates and new schedules are just a few things that may have kept students smiling throughout the first week of classes.

These same things can also bring a lot of struggles for students.

Academic Early Alert may be able to help those students before it’s too late.

“We have a number of different services to help students, but Early Alert brings these together as a co­ordinated, centralized service,” Tina Johns, director of Student Academic Success, said. “Acadmic Early Alert is a formal communication structure [which] helps identify and intervene with students exhibiting at-risk be­haviors. This support system is in place to help students’ academic success.”

The Early Alert system was coor­dinated throughout the fall semes­ter by a leadership team, comprised of a variety of Viterbo employees. Along with Johns, the leadership team includes Jane Eddy, director of the Academic Resource Center; Beth Dolder-Zieke, director of Career Ser­vices; Lisa Konkel, coordinator of academic advising; Vickie Unferth, director of Residence Life; Rob For­get, dean of Admissions; and Bobbi Vandenberg, women’s basketball coach and academic liaison for ath­letics.

Though the system has been im­plemented, the leadership team still meets on a weekly basis.

“The team meets once a week to review alerts and discuss what we can do to help students who receive alerts,” Johns said. “We then contact the students by phone or email and try to have a discussion with them about how we can support them.”

The team also follows up with the person who made the referral as well.

If students are contacted through the Early Alert process, “it shouldn’t be viewed as negative,” Johns said. “Early Alert is a way for us to reach out and support success.”

Students should also know that Early Alert does not signify that they are failing a class or that they are in trouble.

“It’s a safety net – we can help students before it’s too late,” Johns said. “Even mid-terms can be too late.”

Reasons a student might receive a referral include habitual tardiness, patterns of late or missed assign­ments, and low engagement in the class, among others. The referral re­mains confidential and will not be part of students’ permanent records. More information for students can be found at­demicearlyalert.

“Before Early Alert, we would be contacted by phone or email by faculty, but now, it’s a systematic ap­proach,” Johns said.

Now, any Viterbo employee is able to refer a student to Early Alert through Vitnet at any time. Employ­ees, especially professors, are en­couraged to submit a referral when a student is struggling with a class, is often absent from class, or is expe­riencing other problems that affect their academics.

The Early Alert system, which was first implemented in late November of 2011, had received 15 referrals by the end of the semester, Johns said.

Anthony Gerig, assistant profes­sor of physics, made one of these referrals.

“I had a student who stopped coming to class, and I couldn’t get in contact with him,” Gerig said. “I used Early Alert, and Tina got back to me right away.”

Gerig found the system useful and easy to use.

“It’s simple to use – I was done in five minutes,” he said. “The best part is that it’s centralized. If there are multiple people seeing problems with the student, there’s a broader picture, instead of just one piece of the puzzle.”

As for the student he referred, Gerig isn’t sure of the outcome.

“I don’t know exactly what hap­pened, but there will always be stu­dents who don’t get back to you,” he said. “I know there are cases that students have had problems and we’ve been able to help. Sometimes they just need someone to be proac­tive.”

Being proactive is sometimes dif­ficult for faculty, though, Gerig men­tioned.

“Without Early Alert, the duty falls on the instructor, and while we can do that, it’s hard,” Gerig said. “Once we let Tina know, she has the time to look into student concerns and get them help.”

“We are looking for a lot of feed­back over the next semester to find out if it’s working for the users and for the students who are receiving the alerts,” Johns said. “I’m very excited to see a full semester with Early Alert in place and work with faculty on helping students be suc­cessful.”

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