When they arrived at SUNY Cortland two years ago, all first-year students were given red and black rubber bracelets with a simple phrase printed on them:
“Red Dragon Strong.”
The expression is a nod to the College’s red dragon mascot and the belief that a strong campus community relies on students, faculty and staff all doing their part to support each other.
“(Red dragon strong) means helping others, reaching out and contributing to our caring community,” said Abby Thomas, director of Advisement and Transition, the campus office that coined the phrase and provides support for students related to academic planning. “There are all of these resources that make us stronger, and we want students to know that they exist.”
The statement red dragon strong is meant to encourage student success, a broad term that can be defined in many ways: everything from retention and graduation rates to skill development and career outcomes. Along those lines, SUNY Cortland is home to many offices and programs that look to make a lasting impact, whether students are struggling in a class, feeling alone or simply seeking additional guidance.
“It’s not just one thing that works,” Thomas said. “It’s all of these things collectively because every student needs a different type of support and everyone plays a role.”
The numbers suggest that SUNY Cortland continues to succeed in helping students earn their degree. The College’s six-year graduation rate was 71 percent over a five-year span for Fall 2007 to 2011 cohorts, compared to the 63 percent average for SUNY comprehensive counterparts. First-year retention for Fall 2012 to 2016 cohorts was 80 percent, in line with the national average for four-year public colleges.
The path to a successful undergraduate experience at Cortland starts at Orientation, where students are introduced to campus resources and classmates in person. They also receive a pre-built schedule and review it with a faculty member in their department. That interaction underscores a personal advising relationship that is crucial to the Cortland experience.
“The connection with a faculty advisor is so important,” Thomas said, noting that all students are required to meet with their academic advisor before registering for the next semester’s classes. “Our students really value that one-on-one interaction.”
COR 101, a semester-long, one-credit course, continues the immersion experience for first-year students. Discussions and assignments are built around the people, places and events that can help with the transition to SUNY Cortland. In COR 101, students also complete the College Student Inventory (CSI), an extensive online survey that involves self-reflection on the social and academic adjustment to college.
In digging deeper into undergraduate trends and attitudes, SUNY Cortland relies on the CSI to identify first-year students who may need additional support. These students may receive more targeted outreach from faculty advisors, COR 101 instructors or residence hall staff members.
“We’re continuing to share data internally to reach out to students who we think are in need,” Thomas said.
Additionally, there are many campus outlets where students may turn for help or support in various forms. The following list of offices and programs is not comprehensive, but it’s a sampling of SUNY Cortland efforts aimed at student success.
ASAP provides free tutoring and academic support services to students of all abilities. Undergraduates can receive one hour of peer tutoring each week for each course. Additionally, supplemental instruction and peer-led team learning offer workshop sessions to help students with traditionally difficult classes.
Professional tutors offer sessions in biology, chemistry, math, physics, and writing and reading across the curriculum. They also coordinate all peer-led programs and provide assistance with test-taking, personal learning preferences, and successful study and time-management habits. Located in Van Hoesen Hall, Room B-205, ASAP also offers an online after-hours tutoring service known as Nightowl as well as dog visits in its office to help with stress relief.
This office, located on the first floor of Memorial Library, helps students navigate academic life at the College. They might be interested in learning more about course registration, a new major or evaluation of their transfer credit coursework.
All first-year students benefit from Orientation and COR 101, while transfers, non-traditional students and undergraduates who have not yet declared an academic major also can find specialized help. Walk-in Wednesdays take place each week during the semester, where any student can drop in without an appointment, meet with an advisor and learn more about a timely advising topic.
Students can receive short-term individual and group counseling from professional counselors on the first floor of Van Hoesen Hall to address elevated stress, anxiety, depression, relationship concerns or other psychological issues. Counselors also provide crisis management or intervention as well as consultations and referrals, when needed.
All clients are protected by strict rules of confidentiality. In addition to services for students, concerned parents or campus community members are encouraged to consult as well as refer students who may be struggling. All Counseling Center services are by appointment, but emergency walk-ins for crises may be accommodated.
Launched in Fall 2018 by the Multicultural Life and Diversity Office, this program matches new students from underrepresented groups with successful juniors and seniors. Participants receive an expenses-paid weekend trip to the SUNY Cortland’s outdoor education facility in the Adirondacks early in the fall semester as well as a personal mentor to help ease the transition to campus life.
This mentor teaches the importance of utilizing campus resources and building habits for success inside and outside of the classroom. First-year students are expected to meet regularly with their mentor and submit journal reflections throughout the academic year.
This campus-wide group includes a subcommittee focused on the recruitment and retention of students from underrepresented backgrounds. In an effort to improve trends that reflect a broader national pattern, the subcommittee has developed several recommendations for the College.
Suggestions include updating academic appeals letters, creating a dedicated academic appeals group for underrepresented students and providing more support for at-risk students. This type of support would be modeled after established campus programs such as Cortland’s Urban Recruitment of Educators (C.U.R.E.) and Educational Opportunity Program (EOP).
SUNY Cortland’s retention efforts rely on technological solutions as well — most notably an online referral system known as Promoting Academic Student Success (PASS), which eventually will give way to Starfish, a software used across the higher education industry.
Using PASS, faculty members can easily report concerns about a student’s academic performance. An electronic alert is sent to Advisement and Transition staff, who work to connect the student to helpful resources and a plan for success. Starfish will build on PASS — pulling in early semester feedback, sharing academic progress and allowing students to schedule appointments with advisors or instructors.
Located on the second floor of Brockway Hall, this office provides support for students at any stage of the writing process. Writing consultants are instructors and graduate students who provide thoughtful guidance and critical feedback as opposed to line-by-line proofreading.
Sessions typically last a half-hour and walk-ins can be accommodated. Students should bring their assignment prompts, current progress and specific questions. Discussions can be about any part of the writing process, ranging from brainstorming paper topics to suggestions for revision. The Writing Center also hosts larger group workshops on interesting themes.