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All for One: President Smith Charges Employees to Improve Student Success

(August 19, 2015) Oakton Community College President Joianne Smith has set a lofty goal for the college – reducing the number of students who leave from fall 2015 to fall 2016 by 20 percent. Smith’s aim is to get all Oakton employees involved in helping students persist.

All for One is a new initiative to provide students with more personal contact with faculty and staff. Last year, a Purdue-Gallup study on what makes college students thrive in their lives and in their work, found that five years after graduation, the single most important factor in a student’s undergraduate experience was not the ranking of the institution, but the connection the student had made with someone at the college who cared.

“Oakton students represent the key to our region’s competiveness and the global economy,” Smith said. “Whether it’s a full-time or part-time faculty, staff, or administrator, everyone here at the college plays a vital role in shaping students’ experiences at Oakton. Together, we can transform the lives of our students to prepare them for success in life.”

At the college’s annual welcome back breakfast on Aug. 17, Smith issued a challenge. “No matter your role, I want you to think about what you can and will do to make a student feel like he or she matters,” she said. “Communicate with our students that you are interested in them and their success and that you will help them achieve their goals.”

At the breakfast, each employee was given the name and contact information for an at-risk student. Smith encouraged employees to reach out to that student at least five times throughout the semester. “We want those students to feel that they are part of our community, we care about them, we notice them, and we are committed to helping them. You have been given one of those students. You are holding a student’s hopes and dreams in your hands.”

To further emphasize Smith’s point, author and expert on student success Kay McClenney, Ph.D., served as the keynote speaker at Oakton’s Faculty Orientation Week later that afternoon. “Everyone on campus needs to make human connections and take those contacts seriously,” McClenney told Oakton faculty.

College officials are buying into Smith’s lofty endeavor. “I love this initiative,” said Dean of Student Success Sebastian Contreras Jr. “It gives us a clear goal and provides a framework for what we need to do to start the academic year.”

“The ‘all for one’ message is inspirational because it shows everyone here can make a difference,” said Vice President for Student Affairs Karl Brooks. “Together, we can move the needle to positively impact our students.”

And employees who have limited contact with students are also buying into Smith’s proposal. “Even if we don’t deal with students directly, we can make a difference,” said Executive to the Vice President of Business and Finance Vicki Bialek. “It has jump-started a lot of us to get involved with student success here at Oakton. I’ve already contacted my student and welcomed him to the college and told him if he has any questions, I’d be happy to help.”

“This is just another way for us to make a positive connection with students,” said Library Operations Assistant Gretchen Schneider, who e-mailed her students maps of the college and some tips on how to start off on the right foot before the start of classes.

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