by Renata Opoczynski, Assistant Dean for Student Success Assessment and Strategic Initiatives

As we engage in student success work, I am mindful that we always need to keep our students centered. Their voice, their experiences, their needs.  Last fall we launched our new Spartan Voice Surveys. These are short surveys we send to all undergraduate students on a mostly monthly basis. They are less than 5 minutes long (usually only 2-3 minutes) and focus on things relevant in the moment. For instance, at the start of the year we asked how they were feeling about returning to campus, in February (when we know mental health issues are often at their highest) we asked about sense of belonging and mental health. We also partnered with some campus colleagues on issues they were interested in learning about as part of our surveys (technology, internships, online learning).

These surveys helped us understand what students were needing and wanting and feeling in that moment. Right now, what do students need most to feel supported and like they can be successful? We were then able to make policy changes based on this feedback or adjust and tweak programs and projects based on their responses. We also were committed to reporting back out to campus. We shared results with campus stakeholders and most importantly, back out to the students. Each time we sent a survey, we included an infographic with a few key summary facts to help create some social norming around the responses. Seeing things like “78% of Spartans felt stressed or anxious to the point it impacted their ability to focus on schoolwork last month” helps students understand they are not alone in feeling this way. We also would provide suggestions for support in the areas of need identified. Letting students know how to reach out to CAPS if they were feeling depressed, or letting students know how to find clubs and organizations on campus if they were lacking a sense of connection or friendships.

Throughout the year we were pleasantly surprised to have decent response rates to all our surveys. Even the one we sent during finals week (and I will publicly own that I was wrong about that as I did not feel we would get a strong response rate in May)!  This allowed us to also disaggregate the data to identify differential experiences, needs, and ideas. To understand how different students were experiencing campus and to identify any areas where our students may overall be doing well but some pockets of students may be struggling or having a different experience. It also allowed us to provide data to campus partners for targeted outreach.  To give staff  data for their students and the ability to outreach to them to say, “How can we help?” We are eager to engage even more in this partnership next year as we continue the Spartan Voice Surveys and as we onboard our new Strategic Retention Manager.

Each survey we also asked an open ended question, letting students share anything else they wanted to. The thoughts, ideas, concerns, and experiences shared in these spaces were incredibly enlightening about what our students are thinking, feeling, and experiencing. I was heartened by the number of students who took that space to recognize someone who supported them, heartbroken by the number of students who took that space to share trauma they experienced, and delighted by the students who simply shared appreciation for campus in that space.

I want to end with deep appreciation for the thousands of students who took the time each month to share their thoughts, ideas, and perspectives with us.  MSU is stronger and better because of the feedback you shared.