On October 9 and 10, over 100 academics and university leaders responsible for promoting success for low-income college students gathered in East Lansing for the fall convening of the University Innovation Alliance (UIA). MSU is one of the 11 members of the UIA, a national collaboration among large public research universities to graduate over 94,000 additional students from low-income backgrounds by 2025. Each university has two University Innovation Alliance Liaisons – MSU’s are Dr. Genyne Royal (Assistant Dean of Undergraduate Studies for Student Success Initiatives and Director of the Neighborhood Student Success Collaborative) and Dr. Kristen Renn (Professor of Higher, Adult, & Lifelong Education and Associate Dean of Undergraduate Studies for Student Success Research) – and one UIA Fellow, MSU’s is Dr. Renata Opoczynski. Working with the central staff of the UIA, Dr. Opoczynski led the design of the October convening at MSU, with strong support from Drs. Royal and Renn.
Participants at the convening included UIA campus liaisons and fellows, as well as, for the first time, representatives from several non-UIA campuses who came as guests to learn from and with UIA members.
Past convenings have focused on UIA-scale projects such as predictive analytics, proactive advising, and financial aid strategies such as completion grants. At MSU, the group turned to issues of improving the teaching and learning environment, such as attention to MSU’s recent math reform (which eliminated the Math 1825 course and created two pathways for students, depending on their needs: one leading to quantitative literacy, one to the college calculus sequence). Other topics included improving campus climate for diverse students, involving graduate teaching assistants in student success efforts, and considering uses for adaptive learning.
MSU showcased two distinctive additions to the student learning and success landscape: the Neighborhood Student Success Collaborative (also known as “the Neighborhoods”) and the Hub for Innovation in Learning and Technology. Tours introduced UIA visitors to the innovative physical spaces of the Neighborhood Engagement Centers and the Hub that promote collaborative support for student learning and success efforts, and to the people who make the Neighborhoods and the Hub more than just spaces, but locations for innovation, experimentation, organizational learning, and human interaction in the interests of improving MSU.
The convening featured an add-on session focused on a strategy that UIA members use to see their campuses from the perspective of students and redesign the spaces and organizations around supporting success for low-income, first-generation, and underrepresented students. First, colleagues from Iowa State and MSU joined for intensive discussions of a technique called process mapping, which MSU has used to examine a number of organizational activities from communication with students to the medical leave process. The Iowa State team wanted to learn more about MSU’s experience, and MSU learned from Iowa State about their innovations to new student orientation, an area MSU in which is making substantial changes. This kind of exchange – of strategies, ideas for improvement, and try-to-avoid-the-mistakes-we-made – is common among UIA members. The twice-yearly convenings focus on building relationships across campuses that can used later for the kind of follow-ups and questions that can be hard to explore in a few days.
As MSU keynote speaker Dr. Ann Austin (Professor of Higher, Adult, & Lifelong Education; Associate Dean of the College of Education; and Assistant Provost for Faculty and Academic Staff Development-Academic Career Paths) reminded the convening, this kind of relationships and trust are at the heart of networks of organizations seeking to create change in higher education. The UIA will convene again in April 2019 at Purdue University to continue the work of transforming institutions to improve outcomes for low-income, first-generation, and underrepresented students. The teams of colleagues across MSU who are working to improve outcomes here will continue to draw inspiration, ideas, and resources from MSU’s participation in the UIA.
Kristen A. Renn, PhD
Professor of Higher, Adult, & Lifelong Education
Associate Dean of Undergraduate Studies for Student Success Research