Supporting the Whole Student

The ideas and information on this page are derived from presentations and participants' discussions at the February 2016 Supporting the Whole Student Workshop, held in Des Moines, Iowa. The workshop focused on multifaceted, effective approaches and strategies for supporting students in STEM majors, with particular focus on increasing the success of underrepresented minority students in STEM. Workshop participants identified a variety of options that faculty, departments, and institutions have to supporting students by instilling a sense of belonging, strengthening mentoring and advising, and helping students feel comfortable seeking help.

Jump to: Team Building for A Network of Support | Creating a Strong Support Team | Designing Programs to Support Students | Additional Resources on Supporting Students

Uncovering the Need: Some students don't know what they don't know

Oftentimes, students are reluctant to discuss challenges they are facing. In many cases, they will say they are okay, even if they would benefit from further support. In some instances, such as for high achieving students, they are not likely to want to show weakness and they feel they need to overcome on their own. Students don't want to tell someone who is grading them that they are experiencing a challenge. Alternatively, students want to talk about things that are going on in their lives to get accommodations. In other instances, students may not realize they would benefit from support or do not know what type of support to seek. First generation college students often do not have a role model who they can turn to for guidance; some have a lack of trust in society or others who are different than themselves; some feel tremendous and potentially stifling pressure to succeed; some feel isolated and as though they are the only one struggling from lack of knowledge; some may not know what to expect; and others do not know who to turn to when they have questions.

Ideas for uncovering needs and providing support:

  • Strengthened mentoring can help overcome some of these challenges: Mentoring can build an extended relationship and sense of trust between students and mentors. For some instances, mentors may need to extend beyond faculty and instead utilize peers who are not in a position of power (e.g. grading etc.) with the student. Programs such as Student Support Services (SSS), offered by TRIO, and department-level diversity programs can help build communities that support students and help them to feel a sense of belonging, purpose, and pursue interests in STEM disciplines.
  • Uncover areas where support can be strengthened through surveys: Instructors, departments, or institutions may benefit by surveying incoming students. Surveys can help identify what, if any, campus resources would be valuable for a particular student. Additionally, it can identify if students are already connected with support networks and could be helpful in identifying who needs to be connected or strengthened connections. An example survey (Acrobat (PDF) 92kB Jan28 16) was shared by Jim Swartz at the workshop.
  • Encourage or require students to meet regularly with student support services or support systems provided by the institution: These services are equipped with trained employees and may have resources unavailable to individual instructors. This also has a benefit of alleviating instructors' feelings of needing to 'do it all' alone. Encouraging students in front of other people is really important. The impacts can be surprisingly important. Even for 'good' students. This feedback needs to be authentic. Having good timing can make a lifelong impact.
  • In and out of the classroom, authenticity in the interaction with students is critical: Sharing stories of when things did not go well in your own life/career can help them understand that their small setbacks are not confounding and can help them relate to you. Being authentic also helps lower students' inhibitions - they see that their advisors are real people so they are more likely to be.
See workshop presentations from the February 2016 workshop:

Team Building for A Network of Support

It can be a challenge to build trust with students, and the work cannot always be fully on the mentor -- helping students find their own network is important. Also of importance is building a network for faculty members to be able to tag team on students. Faculty life can be hectic; if we are running around crazily, it's not a good way to model good behavior for students. Having our own networks to be able to lean on and share burdens with other people is important. We need to be able to practice having our own network and our own self care to be able to model for our students.

Faculty Teams
Getting a 'team' of faculty together to talk about issues that arise and share best practices in supporting students can help boost others' confidence in supporting students, provides a sharing place for support mechanisms, and can relieve some of the overwhelming feelings one might get by tackling it on their own. Typically, when faculty do meet with one another, it's usually about other things; and texting and ad hoc communication requires familiarity or connections between individuals. To overcome these barriers, designate a special time to talk through these challenges, whether it be at a faculty retreat or part of a regular faculty meeting. This idea of a faculty 'team' can extend to other campuses as well, building an even stronger network. Identifying the 'team' on individual campuses and making strong connections with them can be a great benefit and provide other perspectives and experiences that may not be available at a single campus. Additionally, seeing how teams function at different institutions can help in understanding how each person on the campus helps support the student experience and may bolster the ability to navigate the political climate that impact campus and the classroom.

Faculty Networks: Building bridges with students
Campuses benefit from having faculty who are 'like' the students they work with. Students benefit greatly from seeing more people on campus that look like them, who can share in their experience, and who serve as examples for positions they can attain. For instance, hiring an internship coordinator who represents a minority group can help students understand that people like them can attain positions they may not have considered themselves for; they can also serve as role models for students. This is not an 'easy fix,' as it is ultimately a hiring problem and takes time and funding to address. Also keep in mind that, while having minority representation in faculty and mentor positions is crucial, it is also important to remember that it is not a simple solution; for example, not all Latinos 'click' just because they are Latinos. While sharing the same ethnic, racial, or gender qualities may help provide understanding and relatability, everyone has their own unique experiences and personality, perspectives, and challenges.

Creating a Strong Support Team

Institution-wide offices for student support offer great resources for students. In addition to these resources, or in cases where these are not available, teams of faculty and/or students can be formed. These can include:

  • senior or advanced students who have had first-hand experience with navigating school, work, and personal responsibilities
  • first or second year students who may have navigated difficult situations and be able to contribute ideas to the support network
  • advisors, who may have unique training or can provide a 'neutral' support person if they are not faculty in the students' department. Advisors who are not faculty members or who are not in the STEM fields can provide a challenge, but including a mix of expertise can provide pieces to build a strong network.

In addition, it may be helpful to consider building connections with faculty and students from other institutions. Cross-institutional relations can help with sharing best practices for identifying underrepresented students who are potential STEM students but are not having a personal identity as STEM or with the faculty member who is not their age and doesn't look like them.

  • Facilitate cross-institutional connections by setting up graduate student visits from one institution to another. This has potential for a dual benefit: providing teaching experiences for graduate students and may also get more diversity in the instructor pool.
  • When building cross-institutional connections, it may be helpful to get the word out on individual campuses about who your institutional body is. This may help in raising awareness and connections among the people who are working to support underrepresented students or working on the Whole Student model or, in instances where a cross-institutional network is set up and looking to expand, within your network.
  • This can also include communication of the importance of institution-wide efforts to support underrepresented students (e.g. what are best practices for broadening the conversation to a bigger part of campuses?). You may also want to schedule campus visits to provide other institutions with more context and information about building cross-institutional connections of support; this also helps deal with obstructionist tendencies on individual campuses.

Designing Programs to Support Students

Coursework can be used to bring together a cohort of students as they start their college experience. Consider how a Gateway course could be a place to identify potential STEM students (e.g. calculus, introductory-level course in sustainability, introductory science course that incorporates service learning). Research experiences, internships, and other authentic experiences, such as service learning can also have a variety of benefits -- these experiences can get students more familiar with STEM-related careers, make coursework more applicable to their daily lives, give students a sense of belonging builds bridges with the community, and can give students real experience that can be documented on their resume and potentially help them build a network with future employers. For example, Iowa State offers the RiseUp program, which is designed to give undergraduate community college students research experience. Bridging programs, such as those offered at University of Texas - El Paso can make early connections with students and higher education institutions by engaging students in authentic research experiences when they are still in high school - not only do students get experience conducting research, they are also connected with instructors and other students who can support them as they continue their academic experience.

Practices that Can Provide Support:
  • Break down student-faculty barriers to get the students to see faculty as a resource.
  • Use novel mechanisms (e.g. portfolios) to help students track their competencies across their academic career.
  • Explore the the curriculum by design matrix -- while this approach is focused on program design, it could also be used to assess how to support students and prepare them for the workforce through their academic career.
  • Think about holding a Second Year Retreat, such as the one held by Grinnell College.
  • Develop a plan for strengthening student-advisor interactions to help students plan their path.
  • Plan time for interaction with students to let them know they are thought of as unique individuals.
    • This can be done as an assessment wherein the instructor surveys students' sticking points or areas that can be further explored.
    • Make longer-term connections with students. For instance, follow up with students on a previous discussion later so they know you remember them.
  • Encourage experience-sharing -- have students make a context-specific set of 'myth buster' posters.

Additional Resources on Supporting Students

Go to /integrate/programs/diversity/whole_student.html
InTeGrate: Support the Whole Student
The "Support the Whole Student" page from the InTeGrate project offers a gateway to information related to supporting students through building community, instilling motivation to succeed, advising and mentoring, and more. It also provides an overview of what it means to support the whole student.

Go to
SAGE 2YC: Supporting Student Success
This suite of web pages from Supporting and Advancing Geoscience Education in Two-year Colleges (SAGE 2YC) addresses the particular issues and concerns of supporting students at or from two-year colleges. The site tackles issues of Stereotype Threat and Solo Status, supporting English Language Learners and First Generation Students, and [link/sage2yc/studentsuccess/validation/index.html 'empowering students'], among other topics.

Go to /integrate/programs/diversity/programs.html
Program Descriptions from InTeGrate
Explore examples of programs from a variety of institutions across the US that were successful in their efforts to attract and support diverse students learning about the Earth. Each program description offers a glimpse at keys to their success, how they attract new students and support their majors, and how they prepare their students for the workforce.

Resources from the 2015 Earth Educators Rendezvous

Go to /earth_rendezvous/2015/talks/session_10.html
Teaching for Diversity oral session at 2015 Earth Educators Rendezvous
Browse abstracts for oral presentations given at the 2015 Earth Educators Rendezvous in Boulder, CO.

Broadening Access to STEM and Geoscience through Support for the Whole Student
Click to view
Broadening Access to STEM and Geoscience through Support for the Whole Student (PowerPoint 2007 (.pptx) 21.6MB Jul16 15), a presentation by John McDaris, SERC, provides an overview of the importance of increasing diversity in the geosciences and highlights resources from InTeGrate and SAGE 2YC that address supporting underrepresented groups.

Resources from the 2014 Broadening Access to the Earth and Environmental Sciences Workshop

Dual-Credit Geology Classes at High Schools as a Recruiting Tool for University Geoscience Programs
Click to view
Dual-Credit Geology Classes at High Schools as a Recruiting Tool for University Geoscience Programs (PowerPoint 1.2MB Feb24 14), a presentation by Dirk Baron, CSU Bakersfield, discusses how dual-credit courses can provide a gateway for students to study geoscience at the undergraduate level.

Diversity within the Geoscience
Click to view
Diversity in the Geosciences (PowerPoint 2007 (.pptx) 223kB Feb24 14), a presentation by Joshua Villalobos, El Paso Community College, makes the case for why programs should strive to increase diversity in the geosciences.

Supporting Underrepresented Undergraduates in Solid Earth Science (Acrobat (PDF) 9.8MB Feb24 14), a presentation by Aisha Morris, UNAVCO, provides an overview of opportunities offered by UNAVCO aimed at increasing diversity by supporting under-represented groups in the geosciences.

Resources from Workshop Participants

  • A Second Year Survey (Acrobat (PDF) 92kB Jan28 16) was used by faculty members at Grinnell College as part of a study of the impact of programmatic and co-curricular activities on student outcomes. Jim Swartz has provided the questions they used so that others may adopt or adapt these questions for their own use.
    • Questions drawn from:
      • Renninger, K. A. & Schofield, L. S. (2014, April). Assessing STEM Interest as a Developmental Motivational Variable. Poster presented as part of a structured poster session (K. A. Renninger & S. Hidi, Chairs), Current approaches to interest measurement. American Educational Research Association, Philadelphia, PA.
      • Gross, D., Iverson, E., Willett, G., Manduca, C., (2015) "Broadening Access to Science With Support for the Whole Student in a Residential Liberal Arts College Environment," Journal of College Science Teacher, 44, 99-107.
      • Lopatto D, CURE Survey