UMSL launches new hub for college access and academic support services

Student Academic Support Services

Elementary education major Chanelle Barrett reads during fall break inside the new Student Academic Support Services space in the Millennium Student Center. The unit highlights UMSL’s commitment to student success and supports students on their path to degree completion. (Photo edited by Steve Walentik)

Underpinned by its 2018-2023 Strategic Plan, the University of Missouri–St. Louis introduced the new Student Academic Support Services unit this fall to better align, enhance and advocate for academic support services and college access initiatives across the university and within the broader St. Louis region.

Natissia Small, announced in September as UMSL’s first assistant provost of access and academic support, was charged with overseeing growth of the new unit, which includes Precollegiate Student Services, Multicultural Student Services, Student Enrichment and Achievement and the newly created University Tutoring Center.

“The contributions of the new SASS unit to the retention and graduation of our students is key to the success of our campus,” Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Kristin Sobolik said. “We look forward to the continued positive impact that these support areas will bring to UMSL under Natissia’s guidance.”

Small has more than 20 years of higher education experience, including overseeing college access initiatives and academic support services at UMSL. She said her new role is an opportunity to support the university in identifying needs, implementing interventions and providing student services that increase access and student persistence to degree completion.

“I am extremely committed to administering a unit that provides a centralized infrastructure with services that support all populations on campus and the St Louis community,” Small said. “The comprehensive support model in place allows the implementation of strategies and procedures that best leverage resources to promote student achievement. Interfacing with key stakeholders further strengthens our resolve to foster student success.”

Small’s first task was to enhance the visibility of existing departments while creating a central tutoring center. University leadership identified a high-traffic area on the second floor of the Millennium Student Center to serve as a key location for two departments under the SASS umbrella, Multicultural Student Services and the University Tutoring Center.

While Multicultural Student Services has long provided academic support services for all students – including academic coaching, professional development, mentoring and a large scope of workshops – the University Tutoring Center is a new department that evolved from tutorial support previously offered through MSS. The center is the first of its kind at UMSL, serving as a focal point for high-quality individual, group and student organization tutoring, walk-in sessions, study halls, alumni tutorial support and more. These two departments are now located in a renovated, student-friendly space in Room 225 of the Millennium Student Center.

“Tutoring assessment data and student focus groups conducted over the past several years served as the catalyst for creating the central tutoring center,” UTC Director Tyson Holder said. “Our thorough training model equips highly-skilled student tutors with the tools necessary to meet student needs and demand with proven results that remove barriers to degree completion.”

Student group tutoring session.

Hunter Campbell (standing) leads a group chemistry tutoring session in UMSL’s new University Tutoring Center, located in Room 225 of the Millennium Student Center. (Photo by August Jennewein)

The SASS unit also includes the restructured Student Enrichment and Achievement department – formerly Student Retention Services – which provides targeted support and workshops for students facing academic challenges. Here, a team of success coaches partner with students to create a culture of enrichment and achievement through a commitment to holistic and individualized support.

SEA also provides oversight for the early alert system, which initiates electronic communications when a student experiences a success barrier in a course in partnership with faculty and other support service departments.

“We provide timely interventions, guidance and mentorship to facilitate the continued development of the students’ short and long-range academic goals,” SEA Director Christopher Miller said. “Our objective is to ensure that students needing additional academic assistance receive that support and progress toward degree completion at UMSL.”

The SEA department is located in 107 of Lucas Hall alongside Precollegiate Student Services, which provides year-round college access programming for K-12 students and parents. Its nationally recognized UMSL Bridge Program continues to equip thousands of area students and families for a successful transition to college.

“Our department is committed to demystifying the college-going process, and we are strategic in our efforts to make continuous improvements aimed at meeting the needs of our students and parents,” PSS Director Channon Peoples said. “The many successes of our students serve as tangible reminders of the impact of the services we provide – where the ultimate gratification for our team is seeing our students fully engaged and primed for the college experience.”

For Small, the SASS unit not only supplies support services and resources for students, it also provides a means for fostering and maintaining collaborative efforts to promote student success.

“We have a great leadership team in place with a shared focus to engage in high-impact practices that prepare students for academic and career success,” Small said. “Whether it’s supporting high school students and families with navigating the college-going process or it’s supporting our undergraduate students, we are intentional in ensuring that students have a holistic support system in place that will lead to degree completion.”

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