New network of services designed to better meet students’ needs

With an end goal of not only high retention of students, but more importantly, the overall success of students, Dr. Esther Peralez is leading the charge.

In fall 2012, the Student Success Center was unveiled on the Winona campus, and in fall 2013, its offices were physically united in one handy location.

Peralez, as the new dean of student success, has brought together a host of related student services under one umbrella. Calling it a one-stop academic shop, Peralez said many offices now make up Student Success Services: advising, disability support services, career services and internships, tutoring,  and the writing center.

“Too often students can get chased around,” Peralez said. “If we have all the pieces that are key to their success together, we can provide them with the resources they need and refer them to the right place.” Peralez said each of the components that now make up the center had been successful in the past, but were single entities.

There hadn’t been a concentrated effort to look at student support services as a whole — while taking into consideration emerging university initiatives like First-Generation and living and learning communities.

“We need to collaborate and cooperate even more to make sure all of these units work together,” she said. “This gives us an opportunity to do cross training and support each other.”

Peralez is starting to see more students take advantage of workshops hosted by the center, and she is anxious to see how many students who use their services go on to have successful academic careers – and eventually earn diplomas. A total of 200 undergraduate students this past semester have asked for some form of tutoring support. Additionally, 457 students were  contacted by members of the Student Success Center during fall semester because of low midterm or major GPAs, or after four-week or 12-week progress reports. Common concerns included lack of attendance or preparation, low test scores and missing assignments. A total of 105 students were tracked through the university’s early alert reporting system, used by faculty and staff to document students of concern.

Faculty, she said, play a key partnership role in identifying students in need. But, Peralez added, “This office is not just about those students having difficulties, we also want to know what will keep our honor students engaged, keep them excited about their learning.

“We can’t force students to take advantage, but we want students to know what is available to them,” Peralez said.

That effort includes getting into the residence halls, meeting with student groups and leaving behind brochures and contact information. “And hopefully by word of mouth, as students find they are more successful, they will be telling all their friends,”  she said. Peralez said the goal of the center includes helping students achieve success past graduation as well, hence the addition of the Career Services and Internships Office. “We realize that students are not just here to get an education, it’s eventually about getting a job. We want them to be in touch with career services as they are selecting their majors so they can think about the career possibilities and choices they have.

“It’s not just about helping students who are having trouble academically, it’s also about helping students grow and move on and have all the skills they need to be successful after they graduate.

“Your job should match what you love to do,” she said. “I love what I’m doing. I get to work with students.”

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