Three years ago, two academic resource offices at Drexel University merged into one and rebranded.
The Center for Academic Success, on Drexel’s Center City Campus, and the Drexel Learning Center on the University City Campus, became the Center for Learning and Academic Success Services — or CLASS — aimed at empowering students to develop skills and strategies that foster academic success and personal growth. The merger took about a year of figuring out the right staffing and systems, eliminating redundancies and finding opportunities to grow services.
“There was, with the reorganization, the opportunity to say, ‘We do very similar work. We're already colleagues who work on a lot of things together. We don't need to be these two entities anymore,’” recalled Rebecca Signore, director of the Center in Center City.
What has resulted is a unified entity that provides the same resources across multiple Drexel campuses, becoming a “concierge,” or one-stop-shop for students seeking academic assistance, according to Assistant Vice President of Student Life Rebecca Weidensaul, PhD.
“If a student can’t find resources or doesn’t even know what they need or what’s available, they can come to us and we can help unpack that and help them develop a plan of people that will assist them in whatever it is that they need,” she said.
But students unfamiliar with these two resources before the merger, or unknowing about the merger itself, may be asking themselves, “What does CLASS actually do?”
Though the answer is not a simple one, the Center’s staff would like to clear up some common misconceptions students may have about its resources and programming.
CLASS only offers tutoring
Left over from former services of the Center for Academic Success, CLASS still offers tutoring specifically for the College of Nursing and Health Professions, the Dornsife School of Public Health and the College of Medicine’s Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences and Professional Studies through a certified peer-educator model. Additionally, limited tutoring is also available for students in CLASS-supported programs.
For students from other colleges looking for course-specific tutoring, CLASS can help connect them to available resources. The staff recognizes that a gap exists in that not every course at Drexel is represented by tutoring.
“That is true for institutions across America,” Signore said. “That’s not a Drexel thing, that’s a higher education reality.”
“The message that we need to help strengthen is that if there is not tutoring, try coaching. Coaching can help,” added Tasha Gardner, director for CLASS in University City.
Gardner’s reference is to academic coaching, which is the non-course-specific development and strengthening in study skills, time management, organizational skills, test-taking and more. CLASS’ academic coaching is also a peer-to-peer model, or students can choose to work with one of the Center’s professional staff members.
“Whatever it is that they would like to work on to improve their academics, the coaches are trained and able to help them work through different techniques and strategies to improve those skills and behaviors,” Signore said.
Academic coaching may not be the right solution for students struggling with the content of a certain course, but Signore said oftentimes it’s not just the difficulty of the material that’s holding students back.
“Oftentimes, it's a matter of keeping up with all of the reading, keeping themselves organized, how they are taking notes, the study cycle, what happens right before class, right after class …” she said. “We hear students say, ‘No one ever taught me how to do this. I just figured it out and it worked for me all the way through high school, and then I came to college. I didn't realize I had to change and I wasn't really equipped to shake it up.’ That oftentimes for students is a really pivotal moment, when they stop and they think strategically about how they're processing the information, how they're spending their time and how much time they're spending on their studying.”
If I came the CLASS, I would only be able to work one-on-one
Outside of individual programming, CLASS also offers a workshop series that runs in the fall, winter and spring quarters. These workshops cover many of the same topics as in individual coaching but offer the opportunity for students to build their skills alongside friends.
“It has that sort of social community learning feel, which is appealing to a lot of students,” Signore said. “They can connect with each other that way and they can share ideas with each other that way.”
Workshops for this term start on Oct. 1 with a session on time management and planning, and others planned for fall include critical thinking skills and test preparation. All workshops take place once in Center City, once in University City and once online in real time with a physical event.
Outside of these planned sessions Signore said CLASS is also willing to work with other student groups to create workshops they think would be appropriate.
CLASS offers the same support that my academic advisor does
If CLASS staff had to choose the type of student they’re trying to reach, they’d say it’s not just the student with high honors or the one on academic probation. It’s also for the student right in the middle who, with a little boost, could be able to obtain more opportunities.
“One of our values is access, and so we want every student who’s sort of seeking new ideas, new ways of doing things academically, to feel like they can come through the door,” Signore said. “Sometimes we focus a lot on high-achieving students. We focus a lot on the students who are struggling. Those students who are right in the middle are the ones who do come in.”
But the academic coaching provided by CLASS does not mirror — nor can it replace — support from academic advisors. There is a system through which advisors can refer students to CLASS and its services, but for students who are really struggling, CLASS should be viewed as a supplemental resource to advising as the Center can’t direct a student in their plan of studies at Drexel in terms of completed their intended major or program.
“We've made a concerted effort to make sure that we are working together so that we are leveraging the strengths of both advising and academic support in order to give the student a holistic experience in terms of resources,” Weidensaul said.
“And that referral works both ways. We take referrals from advisors, we refer right back to advisors sometimes,” Signore added.
CLASS doesn’t work with other academic resources on campus
Just as it works directly with advisors and merged to become a more holistic, centralized resource for students, CLASS also works with other academic resources on campus through the Learning Alliance. Signore said this network of offices working together to guide students to the proper resources has helped students navigate and not get lost in the shuffle, as is the nature of a large university.
CLASS and the Learning Alliance begin navigating new students to programming during Welcome Week, and also work closely with residential living and student conduct to partner with individual residence halls on CLASS and Learning Alliance introductions.
“We are very intentional,” Signore said. “We go into a number of UNIV 101 classes to sort of talk about, ‘Here’s CLASS, here's what CLASS does. Here's the Learning Alliance with all of our partners and they're awesome and there's all of these things here to help you.’”
They also work with these partners to reach students in a timely manner, Weidensaul said. For example, you might have seen a DrexelOne announcement reminding you about CLASS and Learning Alliance resources right after midterms.
“So somewhere along the way, any student who really could benefit is hopefully going to get that referral in a very personalized way, and in a timely way,” she said.
CLASS support programs won’t help me
Despite all of the ways that CLASS reaches out to students, and the many different angles from which they receive referrals, some resources — including support programs — are still underutilized.
For many of these programs, students who qualify receive direct outreach inviting them to participate. This includes Act 101, a Pennsylvania state grant which provides transition programming, counseling and more for academically at-risk or economically disadvantaged students currently enrolled at the University; the Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation, or LS-AMP, funded by the National Science Foundation to promote success in students from underrepresented populations pursuing bachelor’s degrees in STEM disciplines; Dragon Scholars, a summer program to prepare first-year freshmen conditionally admitted to the University for the transition from high school to college; and the Dragon Navigator Program, which supports Drexel students from underrepresented populations through community building, academic support and leadership development.
Gardner said that when recruiting for these programs, qualifying students sometimes default to blindly ignoring the email.
“They get so much that they don’t know the value these programs can add for them as a Drexel student,” she said.
Weidensaul said another underutilized resource is the Drexel Autism Support program — a peer-mediated community promoting academic excellence, self-advocacy and social integration among Drexel’s neurodiverse students.
“I think they don't want to be identified or labeled,” Weidensaul said of the lack of participation. “No one really wants to be identified or labeled. But I think everyone also wants to have the appropriate amount of challenge and support in their life to be able to succeed and to know who their advocates are and when they have a question or they're struggling with something to be able to quickly get that addressed.”
For any student reluctant to use programming or services for any reason, Signore said there is one message she would wish to get across.
“Seeking a resource or asking for help, that's what a good student does,” she said. “And that doesn't mean that's with the A-plus, 4.0 student does. It’s for the student who looks around and says, ‘This could be going better. Let me just ask the question. Let me just see what's available.’”
To discover more about CLASS, click here.