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July 26, 2023

Mapping out the undergraduate education experience

by Mark Johnson

Portrait of Amy MartinFor decades, undergraduates have attended universities like MSU that are so decentralized that students often miss participating in programs and taking advantage of services and experiences that can support their overall success. A student’s path through college can be confusing, and what MSU has not yet articulated is what every undergraduate student should experience, feel, learn, and know as the result of their college journey.

Michigan State University Assistant Dean for Student Success Administration and Chief of Staff for Undergraduate Education Amy Martin will be taking research sabbatical this fall to begin work on a guide for student success as students are admitted to and, ultimately, graduate from MSU.

Initial work on mapping this journey has identified five key factors to students’ success:

  1. Academics (e.g., advising, degree pathway, learning support)
  2. Sense of belonging (e.g., peer connection, campus connection)
  3. Well-being (e.g., mental, physical, financial, safety)
  4. Community (e.g., housing, off-campus norms)
  5. Sense of purpose (e.g., experiential and career pathways)

During her research leave, Martin will develop a guide for faculty and staff that identifies successful practices in those five areas and maps them out to each phase of a student’s experience:

  • Pre-college: Looking at K-12 programs aimed at exposing students to college and college practices and experiences, like the MSU admissions process
  • Transitioning to college: Supporting first-time college students arriving in the fall or spring, and acclimating transfer students to MSU and the university environment
  • Transitioning year-to-year: Understanding student needs from semester to semester and year to year as they navigate MSU, majors, and social and emotional experiences. Key transitions include first year to second year, second year to third year and transitioning to a final major
  • Graduation: Completing tasks on the final checklist for graduation, including applying for graduation and obtaining a degree
  • Graduate school and/or career: Preparing for graduate school studies or the professional working environment 

“Specifically, I’m going to be focusing on the Spartan experience for undergraduate students,” Martin said. “The idea is that sabbatical is time for me to focus on building out this project and then to propose what it would look like to implement this model in the next three years as a part of our student success strategic planning.”

There are currently many ongoing student initiatives, but there is little that holds them together. Martin’s project will bring those various pieces, programs and resources together.

“This is meant to provide more of a higher-level map of what is the value proposition for undergraduate education at MSU,” she said. “What are we offering to students and how can they see themselves navigating this institution based on their interests and their goals.”

“We have hundreds of majors and over a thousand student organizations,” Martin continued. “How can we better help students navigate those choices based on what they are hoping to achieve?”

Once the work is done to map the student experience at MSU, Martin will work with leaders across campus to begin determining the opportunities and resources already available to students and identifying anything MSU is doing that could be acting as a barrier to some students. The research will assess the overall program and what areas need to be filled out or adjusted.

Once the research is completed, Martin wants to work toward bringing the several aspects of student life together, like curriculum, housing and other student experiences, to enable more collaborative communication between those different facets. Martin believes it is important to not operate in silos.

“We have faculty and staff at MSU who really want to create a great experience for students and for students to be successful, but a lot of times they’re working in isolation. They might not know something else exists and they could duplicate efforts,” Martin said. “They also don’t have other people to talk to or to work through challenges with. It becomes hard to prioritize – What are the most important things we should be doing? What are the things we could let go of? I think a map like this helps the institution and everyone in it. It provides direction not only for the students, but for us as well.”

And with clearer direction for the faculty and staff who serve students, the student’s pathway to success becomes clearer too. If you have any questions or would like to engage with Amy Martin while she completes her research, reach out to her at or to her research assistant, Julia Barnes, at