Audrey Pozernick was a freshman at the U, feeling lost, overwhelmed with her classes and not sure where to turn for help when she stumbled upon a poster for the Student Success Advocates (SSA).
“Oh hey, I’m a student and I want success,” thought Pozernick.
She found their website, read through the bios of the 11 SSAs, and picked Jon Bernal, who had majored in her field of study, political science. He had also interned in Washington, D.C. with the Hinckley Institute and later helped her learn about and apply to the program.
For students like Pozernick, navigating campus and finding resources can be overwhelming. College life is full of attending classes, homework, making new friends, taking time for self-care and mental health, setting academic goals, finding financial resources, joining clubs and declaring majors. The list goes on and on.
That’s where SSAs come in. These academic professionals nomadically roam campus, offering aid and resources to help students succeed in college. They go to where the students are because they don’t have permanent offices. They carry their mobile offices with them and meet students in classrooms, study areas and cafes.
“This is a one-of-a-kind program,” said Amy Bergerson, director of the Office of Student Success and Empowerment at the U. “While there are Student Success Advocates or coaches at many other campuses, they don’t operate in the modality that we do. There’s no one else who has these people who are literally carrying their office in their backpack and going out to connect with students.”
SSAs are part of the support network of the U’s Office of Student Success and Empowerment. The goal: To help students make the most of their college experience and navigate college life, including academic and financial success, mental health and self-care. The SSAs direct students to the resources and tools they need to be successful throughout their college career.
Program evaluation research showed three major areas that students identified as ways SSAs helped them succeed. First, learning important skills, such as time and stress management, test taking, and goal setting. Second, connecting to resources, networks and student organizations like ASUU, Financial Aid and Scholarships, and gatherings where students could meet peers with similar interests. Third, helping students find a sense of belonging by having someone who cared and not only helped them succeed, but followed up with them along the way.
“The Student Success Advocate’s job is to empower students so that they can become advocates for themselves,” said Bergerson.
The success of the SSA program helped the University of Utah win the Lee Noel-Randi Levitz Retention Excellence Award from Rufalo-Noel Levitz, a national organization that consults on enrollment management issues. This award identifies some of the most successful retention programs in use at institutions of higher learning.
“It is a prestigious national award that recognizes our commitment to undergraduate student success, which I think has been a significant shift in our focus on the last decade,” said Bergerson. “It recognizes how important undergraduate students are to us and how committed we are to providing an exceptional educational experience on campus.”
Retention rates for the U have gone up 3 percentage points since the addition of SSAs, who are one lever in a multi-faceted approach to ensuring that every student who starts at the U completes their degree in a timely fashion. Part of that success is due to the fact that SSAs’ goal is to reach every student on campus, not just the ones who are struggling. In the last academic year, SSAs had 29,000 interactions with students with over 6,000 unique individuals.
“It is definitely a way for us to help the university feel smaller and to personalize the students’ experience here,” said Bergerson. “That’s their goal ultimately—to serve every single student.”
Pozernick credits the SSAs for her success, and as a junior currently, she has landed a job as a paid administrative intern for the Utah Prison Education Project (UPEP), which she doesn’t think would have been possible if it had not been for the connections she made and the resources she learned about through meeting with an SSA.
“The greatest thing about Student Success Advocates is that they know everyone and everything on campus. So if you’re struggling with food insecurity or housing or anything of that nature, they know where to go,” said Pozernick. “All of the things that you might not know as a freshman, they know it.”
To find out more information, or to schedule an appointment with a Student Success Advocate, click here.