George Mason University, Virginia’s most diverse public research institution, is at the forefront of serving these evolving student populations with its pioneering model of assisting students’ critical needs with streamlined services and a support system that focuses on student success.
The first rollout of this concept was the Mason Student Services Center, a fully integrated one-stop shop in SUB I on the Fairfax Campus for key student services that opened in fall 2019.
The next step is to deliver a new model of heightened student support that combines academic advising and college life coaching through the Mason Care Network, which is part of the university’s Student Experience Redesign Project, an initiative to engage students more personally in their interaction with the scholarly process through consistent instruction, advising, and mentorship.
“Mason has a diverse student population. Many are transfer or first-generation students, and their needs are beyond academic advising,” Provost S. David Wu said. “In addition to academic support and planning, they need guidance on how to plan finances, manage their time, and balance their commitments. They need well-thought-out and comprehensive support to achieve ultimate success, and it’s our responsibility to help them.”
Under the program, every student accepted into Mason will be assigned a coach who will build a fundamental understanding of that student’s background, career goals, financial needs, and other important details relevant to their success at Mason and beyond. As students settle into a major, they will receive coordinated guidance from an academic advisor who will provide support for discipline-specific academic needs.
The model requires all students to meet with their coach during their first year. By helping to create a plan, and by providing support for a chosen major and resources that are relevant to student lives, coaches will help Mason students start on the path to success.
“We know that students don’t separate out their concerns, questions, or the advice they seek,” said Rose Pascarell, vice president of University Life. “Our university structures tend to force that separation, and that’s what we hope to eliminate. Our hope is that a combined coaching/advising network will decrease obstacles and increase student success.”
Each interaction a student has with a coach or adviser will be documented in an integrated software program that can track student appointments, collate and compare notes from previous coaching and advising visits, and identify students who need additional support. The goal is to integrate technology so information about student progress and support can be shared by everyone who coaches and advises a student.
Students will also be able to track their progress, review information from their coaching and advising sessions, make appointments with their coaches and advisers, and get in touch directly with people who are best suited to answer their questions.
All members of the student-care network will be cross-trained for seamless consistency and to keep students from being shuffled from one office to another.
“Our goal,” said Dr. Sally Lorentson, associate dean of Student Life, “is that each student has at least one person who supports them across their entire Mason experience, working with time to reach their goals and complete their degrees.”
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