What does it mean to Support the Whole Student?

« Back to Support the Whole StudentResearch has repeatedly shown that the most successful models for addressing the complex problem of supporting diverse students in completing STEM degrees are multifaceted (Campbell et al., 2002; Matsui, 2003; Jolly et al., 2004; NAS et al., 2011, IBP, 2014). A holistic approach to supporting students is fundamental to their learning and appears to be particularly important in helping minority students persist in STEM majors. So what does it mean to support the whole student?

Jolly and others (2004) conceptualize programs that support the whole student as addressing three major components: engagement, capacity and continuity. Quoting from their article,

  • Engagement: Having an orientation to the sciences and/or quantitative disciplines that includes such qualities as awareness, interest, and motivation.
  • Capacity: Possessing the acquired knowledge and skills needed to advance to increasingly rigorous content in the sciences and quantitative disciplines
  • Continuity: Institutional and programmatic opportunities, material resources, and guidance that support advancement to increasingly rigorous content in the sciences and quantitative disciplines.

A Sense of Belonging - A Critical Underpinning to Engagement

For students of color, having a sense of belonging in the science community can be one critical aspect of persistence (Matsui, 2003, Johnson, 2007, Strayhorn, 2012). It is difficult to remain engaged in the study of a STEM field, if one feels an outsider to the learning community or cannot imagine oneself as successful in the profession. Many aspects of course work, departmental activities, or research experiences can strengthen or diminish a student's sense of belonging. Cohorts that give students opportunities to develop meaningful relationships with other students and key STEM faculty have been used successfully to help students from groups underrepresented in the sciences develop the sense that they belong in the sciences. Undergraduate research experiences are proven mechanism for building a students sense of themselves as a scientist, a critical step in feeling as if you belong in the sciences.

Academic Support - Building Capacity

A student's academic success is central to building capacity. Institutions and departments have a wide variety of approaches to supporting their students' academic success from advising, to help centers, to student networks. These programs are an essential part of supporting the whole student. Equally important is attending to the barriers that may exist for students from underrepresented groups in making use of these programs. The challenge of seeking help is closely connected with students' comfort and belonging in the science community. Students may have a reluctance of asking for help in class or in office hours. They may fear that seeking help will label them as less prepared or will confirm stereotypes.

Mentoring and Advising - A Source of Continuity

Continuity of learning experiences, and indeed of professional experiences depends heavily on mentoring and advising, from their peers, their professors, and their professional mentors. For students of color, peer mentors are more than a source of tutoring or advice on course selection. Peer mentors serve as role models with whom students can identify. Peers that have been through their academic challenges and have succeeded serve a role beyond that of a TA, providing emotional support for students just beginning in their science studies.

Faculty advisers provide guidance on future plans, goal setting, and navigating the major. Like peer mentors, advisers can also provide more than just academic support for students. In supporting the whole students, advisers are viewed as a source of encouragement and help students gain confidence and a sense of assurance in the advancement of their studies.