Episode 52: Increasing Student Success Post Covid with John Andrick

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Shiro Hatori
Hello, everyone. Welcome to the higher ed demand gen podcast hosted by Concept3d. My name is Shiro Hatori, and I will be your host today. And I’m really, really excited to be covering a bit of a different topic than we usually talk about here on this podcast. But, you know, we’re gonna be talking about increasing student retention with a focus on community engagement, especially during the new student orientation process. And for that, I’m also very excited to introduce our guest today, he is the Assistant Dean of Students and the director of the Center for Student Success at Concordia College. Please welcome John Andric.

John Andrick
Yeah, thanks so much for having me. I’m excited to visit and talk a little bit more about my role and the work that we do with retention and orientation. And yeah, just really excited to be here. Thanks for having me.

Shiro Hatori
Absolutely. It’s a pleasure to have you. And as always, I love to enter the conversation with a bit of an icebreaker, which is what do you love about higher ed John?

John Andrick
Yeah, that’s such a big question. Or it’s just, there’s a lot to love. I think the thing I love most about higher education is working with the students. The demographics that we work with age-wise, in particular, they’re just at the right place in their lives, trying to figure out who they are, what, what they want to do, who they want to be, what kind of an impact they have want to have on the world. There, they’re just really starting to figure out some big questions in their lives. And to be a part of that exploration to be a part of that discovery, to be a part of that maturation process with the students. It’s really exciting to me, it keeps me energized. It’s despite moving into more administrative roles and things like that in the work that I do. It’s really important for me to keep a student caseload a student workload so that I keep that connection. Because that’s, that’s why I’m here, I’m here for the students. That’s what I love most about the work and it’s what I love about the environment.

Shiro Hatori
Love it. Thank you so much for sharing that. And speaking of students, I think when I asked you, you know, what, what is your title really reflecting? What would others around campus say you do? Think you mentioned like student retention was a big focus? Like that’s what others would say, obviously, there’s a lot more to your role than that. But can you tell me a little bit more about the interesting thing Concordia has done in terms of orientation for students. Love for you to go in a little more detail about that?

John Andrick
Yeah, our orientation is a little bit different than I think a lot of other institutions do in that we don’t, we don’t have a required summer orientation, we launch our new student orientation, right before the start of fall term. You know, other institutions might do more of like a welcome week when students get to campus, but ours is is formal, and it’s required. And there are certainly the social and cultural and fun components to the orientation experience, but it really build some of that content that would normally fall in a summer orientation in into that, that first week that they’re on campus. So three days prior to the start of classes launching, our new students arrived, they move into their residence halls, they are assigned or they join clubs. And those clubs are the the cohort or the group that they move through the orientation experience with. I think it gives us an opportunity to have students who are shifted into college mindset, as opposed to still being in the high school mindset where they might still be in late June, early July, you know, and they’ve really started to make that transition mentally to being a college student. And so I think it gives us a chance to be a little bit more fruitful and productive in that orientation experience. And if we were having them come while they’re still thinking about graduation, or baseball season, or going to the lake or whatever the case might be. So we have made that shift. And we think it’s really made some difference for us in terms of onboarding students into the academic experience and the cultural experience of being a student at Concordia.

Shiro Hatori
I love that. And you mentioned a little bit about how you’re grouping students to into these different clubs. I think you said and I was curious, how do you go about doing that? And you know, how, what are some of the outcomes of it?

John Andrick
Yeah. So we have a whole range of First Year Experience first year transition, programming and courses and things like that for our students. And one of those courses is it is a we call it now an engaged citizenship seminar. And those engaged citizenship seminars have a common set of learning outcomes, but the topics for the course source might be very different based on the faculty member that teaches them. So, you know, one course might be geared towards thinking about hunger and homelessness, another course might be geared towards thinking about baseball, another one might be interested in history of the Samurai, though, so really wide ranges of topics, even though there’s a shared outcome. And students select which of those courses that they want to go into in the first year. And then they are putting their clubs based on their registration for those courses. So you know, students who are selecting the samurai course, there’s the assumption then that they have at least a shared interest in that topic. And they chose that class for a reason. So we have that sort of jumping off point that we can use as a, hey, you all selected this course, due to an interest in this particular topic area. And it’s a little bit more specific than just a major, I mean, if students are biology majors or psychology majors, they might be coming to that major for very, very different reasons. But chances are, if they selected the baseball course, they have a real interest in baseball, you know, so that that can become a jumping off topic for students that are that are in that club together, it gives them a common set of interests, it gives them a little bit more of a foundation, in our opinion, to move through that orientation experience together, they get through orientation, and then they have that shared class as well throughout the course of that first semester. You know, so it builds this nice cohort model for us, to keep those students together to build deeper relationships. To have stronger connections, it’s actually quite fun at our commencement each year to see orientation clubs get together again, and take photos together and say, you know, this is my club that I started with, and here I am graduating with them as well. So it’s fun to see them progress through their four years to do that. More recently, we we listen to some feedback, particularly from our students of color who, who had suggested that that cohort model maybe didn’t work as well for them, in certain circumstances that caused them to feel a little bit more isolated. We’re a historically white institution, a predominantly white institution. And so in a lot of cases, our students of color were then sort of being isolated in these groups of white students in those clubs. And so they came in so asked us if they could create some sort of an opt in club that would allow them to move through the orientation experience with others that had shared lived experiences shared cultural experiences that they were bringing to the table. So this past year, fall of 2022, was the first year that we tried that sort of additional opt in club option. And the feedback that we’ve gotten from the students that joined that club has been nothing but positive. You know, of course, we just have one year of, of outcomes and one year of understanding of it. But it’s certainly a practice that we plan to continue to give those students that option of, you know, I chose to be in the baseball group. But I do still also want to connect with other students of color who are on campus and go through this experience with them. And so it gives that sort of flexibility to choose even further, a group that better fits the type of experience that they want to have. You know, I anticipate in the next couple of years, we’ll give some additional consideration to how we might grow those have other opt in options. So that again, students can further group themselves together based on interest or based on shared experiences.

Shiro Hatori
That’s fantastic and amazing. I remember my I went to a large university public university, and I didn’t really understand the purpose of orientation week, I think there was like a concert, and maybe a showcase of facilities and like clubs, we could join, but it was, it was not streamlined in a way that really helped me like develop relationships. And what happened was, I was from out of state, so I lived in a dorm. The dorm is how I met most of my community. And so if if there’s some kind of program out there that really kind of guides you and helps group people who are like minded alike. I think that’s really powerful. Because I know a lot of students who didn’t find a place their first year they, I mean, I saw them go, right, they didn’t, they didn’t, they didn’t commit to a second year or they switch schools. And so I’m assuming that’s, you know, part of the business outcome you’re hoping to expect from putting in programs like this? Yeah, I

John Andrick
think ultimately we are we’re very aware of the importance of developing a sense of belonging and how important that piece can be towards a student retaining not just through their first year but through through the entire For years are completion of their degree. You know, so I think what what we have really tried to be thoughtful on is, is providing multiple layers of opportunity to find that sense of belonging. So, you know, they, our students are required to live on campus for their first two years. So they have that same sort of dorm opportunity to develop a sense of belonging on their floor or in their building. But we know that that that isn’t the only way that we want them to develop that sense. So this, this club model, in our orientation, experience is just another layer of that the shared courses that they have through that first semester is another layer there, you know, we introduce them to student organizations as quickly as possible. We’ve got a strong culture of athletics on our campus, which is another layer, we’ve got an incredibly strong music program, which is, you know, built around ensembles and large group music opportunities. So again, another layer there, you know, and so we’re looking at all of these things, as as you know, it’s not a one. It’s not a one tiered approach to developing sense of belonging, it’s, where are all of the ways that we can help develop that sense, because we know how important that’s going to be to their progression as students.

Shiro Hatori
And in terms of like measuring your understanding how, how you’re, you know, the different programs, different resources you’re putting in place, how they’re working, does it come down to surveying students at the end of their first year in the end of graduation? Like, how do you understand it looks like you’re making pretty quick pivots. Right? And so you want to understand pretty quickly, what you’re doing is working? How do you go about that?

John Andrick
Yeah, I think, you know, like a lot of institutions, we probably over survey our students at time, you know, so we check in with them immediately after orientation is going on. And in fact, like, each of their orientation sessions has a QR code associated with it. So they can, they can provide some quick hit feedback, almost like exit slips for those orientation sessions, where, you know, we’re trying to do some formative and summative assessments along the way, as well, so that it’s beyond just participation and student satisfaction that we’re trying to measure. We’re also trying to measure like, are they actually learning something in these experiences. But the satisfaction piece is also important to us. Because we we know if they’re enjoying themselves, we know if they found value in it, that that again, that’s going to sort of solidify that sense of belonging, or that connection to the institution. So, so yeah, we do those sort of quick hit check ins during the orientation experience, once the orientation experience is over, they’re surveyed, we do a fit a first year transition lab where those those orientation clubs then get together at multiple touch points during the first year. They provide feedback during those labs, once those labs are completed, you know, and then there’s some some ongoing checkpoints with them again, as they progress through through their experience. We also use, you know, some of the more common measures like the Nessie or the National Student Survey of Student Engagement, those those kinds of things to also then measure, you know, how are we doing longitudinally, because students will get that, you know, in their first year and their senior year. So that’s, that’s good comparative data for us to look at.

Shiro Hatori
That’s amazing. Is there a specific question? Orientation first year orientation, specifically, that really helps you stand out like, hey, we really nailed this one this year? Because I know you’ve done a couple student orientations already. Right? And like, is there something that you like, Okay, this one that felt good to you kind of know, immediately afterwards?

John Andrick
Yeah, actually, I think my favorite question to look at when they’re done with orientation is, is we asked them to, to sort of identify which portion of orientation was the most impactful for them. And it’s almost never the social time, it’s almost never the free time. We do an experience in our orientation called hands for change, in which students go out and they do service projects in the community as a club. And that is almost always the number one. This was the most impactful experience for me. It’s a way for them to get off campus to connect with our broader community in which Concordia sits another way for them to sort of have a shared experience with their club mates. And so to see that one consistently rise to the top makes me think, okay, we’re doing something right here. It falls really closely in line with our mission as an institution, you know, so again, I think it attaches them to who we are as a college right off the bat. And that I think, opportunity to serve with their fellow classmates as opposed Still just learning or doing something fun, again sort of adds to that that sense of belonging that they can develop during that short orientation period, we often get really high marks to on their opportunities to meet with faculty or with their advisors. So So again, those things just make me feel good, because those are the learning components of orientation, not just the fun components of orientation. Love it when the fun components also get good marks in that survey. But it’s it makes me feel even better when it’s some of the learning components that rise to the top.

Shiro Hatori
Love to hear that. And was that when you implemented that question? Are you expecting that result where you are where you’re probably expecting the social events are going to be the top? The top experience?

John Andrick
Yeah, that’s an interesting question. You know, we we, for years heard feedback from our students, that orientation was too much, there was too much crammed into it, that they were trying to do too much with that, that three days. And so as we’ve opened up more free time, or more, sort of self guided time or more social time, we’ve, I think, anticipated that those things would them rise that they would say, thank you for giving us more time to relax, or more time for fun, or those kinds of things. And I enjoyed that part the most. So I think it has been a little bit surprising to see these learning components still consistently rise to the top of of that, have that feedback. You know, and again, that just that makes me feel good that we are doing something right, and that we’re approaching this in the right way. And, you know, maybe if we hadn’t given them more free time that those things wouldn’t rise, that they would would still or that they would find something else. Because they they would be getting overwhelmed by the learning parts or the work parts of orientation. But But I think it’s allowed a strong balance that has kept the learning as the focus for the experience overall.

Shiro Hatori
Gotcha. And when I think back to move in day, which was a week prior to orientation week, is a bit hard to like find my dorm, I remember and I think I found out I actually didn’t sign up for a dorm room. So I live with my RA for like, two weeks, which was not a fun surprise. But how is that is? Is the progress or the process of students understanding your campus and like ready to go? Is that ever an issue during the orientation week? No, the nap on the campus?

John Andrick
No, it’s really not too bad. I mean, we’re, we’re a pretty small college, that that, you know, I think is relatively easy to navigate, you know, and we’re pretty deliberate with the orientation experience on, you know, making sure that they’re moving around campus and getting introduced to different buildings, getting introduced to different facilities on campus. So I think we’ve done a pretty solid job of helping them do that. So that by day one of classes, there isn’t a mystery as to like, oh, my gosh, I need to go to biology lab on Thursday morning, and I have no idea where that’s at. We do a pretty solid job, I think of making sure that they know here’s where you’re going to be going. You’ve already been in this building once before, you just need to find the right room number. And we give those opportunities to, to take campus tours or to do self guided classroom tours, those those kinds of things too. So hasn’t really been a big issue for us. Once we get to that first, first week of classes where students are saying, oh my gosh, I don’t know where anything is. I’m lost and couldn’t find it. Those kinds of things. Or if they are they’re using that as the excuse because they overslept or stayed at lunch too long, or or whatever the case might be. So yeah, we feel pretty good that they know where they’re going by the time orientation is over. I

Shiro Hatori
think I need to go through the orientation process. Go back to school. That’s awesome. Well, shifting gears slightly. I know. I love this comment. I think he made on our introduction call. Or you said, if you looked at the student body Concordia maybe 510 years ago, it was really, really different than what we see today. That means both in demographics, as well as just like, where where students are coming from. Right. So more like geographically. I’d love for you to tell me a little bit more about that change and how you’ve kind of adjusted the services you offer to students based on that as well.

John Andrick
Yeah, you know, I think I mentioned in one of my earlier answers to we we are a predominantly white institution and were in a predominantly white region. But those that’s changing. Both Minnesota and North Dakota’s demographics are changing pretty dramatically. And we as an institution, I think have had to respond to that and think about how how do we compare demographically to the region that we’re in, but also reflecting the fact that most institutions now are drawing more from a nationwide base or a larger regional base. And maybe we have historically. So we’ve we’ve made some concerted efforts to recruit out of out of communities that we haven’t in the past, or that maybe didn’t see us as an option. We’re also are affiliated with the ELCA Lutheran Church in America. So that has, I think, historically, sort of set the tone for what types of students have, you know, see us as as the first option or as the right option. You know, and so we’ve made some pushes over the years to better recruit international students to better recruit students of color to better recruit non native English speaking students to better recruit students who are not Lutheran or not Christian, we have a pretty strong and growing Muslim student population on our campus, which is a point of pride for us. You know, so I think there’s been some of those, like, purely demographic shifts for us. You know, and I think we’ve had to sort of, again, grow that recruiting base that we look at, and not think exclusively about Minnesota, North Dakota, you know, Western Montana, eastern Montana, those kinds of things. You know, so our athletic programs are dipping into Arizona and Nevada and California and Texas, and Louisiana, and Florida, you know, so we’re really, really casting a wider net, than maybe we have in the past, which again, then sort of contributes to some of that demographic shift, you know, students that are coming to us from from Florida or Arizona, might be coming from more heavily black and, and Latin X populations, which is, which is awesome, I think it’s, it’s been fun to see those demographic changes, maybe not even as dramatically as we want them to be, we would love to see more of it. But but that shift has definitely, definitely risen to the top in terms of our mindset, these these last 10 years, for sure. You know, I think, obviously, COVID had some major impact on who our students are and what they’re like, and how we need to serve them. You know, I think they just got very comfortable with a different level of flexibility and a different level of, of understanding in terms of, of what attendance looks like, and what deadlines look like. You know, and so I think we’ve even had to give some real consideration to what the post COVID student looks like. And, you know, even in the short six years that I’ve been at Concordia that I think, as has had one of the bigger impacts on who our students are, and how we need to serve them, we just need to provide a different level of flexibility and understanding than we have in the past. But, you know, as far as like the way that we serve, and and approach students and program for students, you know, I think one of the biggest things that we’ve had to do is just consider some of those different cultural expectations that students might have, you know, we’re drawing from, from student populations in which there’s a different level of expectation for family involvement, even once they’re there on the college campus. We’ve had to develop our programming around like Ramadan, for example, as a as a Lutheran institution, historically, I don’t think we gave much thought to Ramadan. But these last couple of years, in particular, we’ve made a really significant effort to, to understand Ramadan to understand what our students are experiencing during that timeframe to provide, you know, appropriate resources, appropriate access to food, you know, all of those kinds of things. That again, I just, we would not have even given that consideration six years ago when I first started because we just didn’t have near as many students. So we wouldn’t have done it in as much of a formal fashion for sure. But so, you know, my office has developed strong partnerships with our interfaith office and our campus ministry offices and those kinds of things, to develop programming around around those types of things to to better suit the needs of that changing demographic in our students. So fun to see. And, you know, I look forward to seeing what additional changes and what what each group of new students brings to us that we weren’t really expecting. And one other thing I want to make note of is, you know, we always kind of knew that we had students on campus that were struggling with food security, with housing, security, those those types of things. COVID gave us an opportunity to really study and understand our students from that standpoint, what were the basic needs of our students? How were those not being met, particularly when we sent them away from campus and now they no longer have access to a residence hall. They no longer have access to a dining center at And I think it confirmed for us what we maybe already knew. And also, I think helped us understand that things maybe were worse than we expected. We had more students that had issues with food insecurity, we had more students that, you know, for, for all intents and purposes were homeless when they weren’t here. You know, so I think that has given us the opportunity to shift into a more basic needs support, mindset, you know, so we launched a food pantry within the last couple of years, we’ve really developed some strong financial resources around emergency grants that that help students overcome, really acute financial concerns that they might have can’t afford rent for the month, their car breaks down, and they can’t get to work. They have a death in their family, and they need to travel home but can’t afford it. Those kinds of things that again, I think, also to help them develop a sense of this place cares about me, and I want to stay here, that that sense of care, that sense of belonging that can come from those things, when they know that we’re thinking not just about who they are as students, but who they are, as people, I think can really can really help us in terms of of, of having them see the value in staying at Concordia.

Shiro Hatori
I love it. I’m trying to think of all the different spider webs of connections, you’re able to create with students that really help them feel the belonging, not just from, you know, the amazing first week orientation, that you’ve set up with the clubs, grouping the cohorts, but also just like, you know, as a center for students like providing all these resources, I think I watched a documentary a year or two ago about like students in California, obviously California gets all the, the highlights, but students in California like humble or something, we’re living out of their cars, because once they got out of dorms first year, what whatever student loan they got, like, they couldn’t afford rent in the area, because it wasn’t just they lived in a town where it wasn’t just a college town. So like housing had gone up because people are other people are moving that are not students. Yeah, there’s living out of their cars going to class. And that was one of the big reasons why students were dropping out of a class, even though if you looked at all their grades, their participation in class, you would never be able to expect that because they were doing fine.

John Andrick
Yeah, it’s, I think a lot about students having divided attention. And it’s really difficult for them to focus on being a student, when they’re having to think about how am I going to how am I going to pay for my bills next month? How am I going to pay for groceries, how, how am I going to overcome this, this, this personal challenge that I have, and also write that paper that’s due or study for that test? That’s Do you know, and so I think as much as we can think about not necessarily solving or taking away those problems, but reducing the amount of mental physical, emotional energy that they’re putting into those problems, that allows them to still free up some of their capacity to focus on on their schoolwork, that I think is that has become a bigger part of the work that we do is just helping them free up some of that capacity to turn that paper in to do well on that exam, to be in class every single day. You know, and it’s a challenge, we can’t fix all the problems, and we can’t, we can’t keep every student here. And that can be really disappointing and difficult to live with. But I think we’ve also taken the approach that that students success for us is not just is not just success at Concordia, it’s helping them identify what their long term goals are. And if that means we have to help them go somewhere else that success as well. If they graduate from a different institution, because that institution had the right resources or the right academic program, or, you know, whatever the case might be that that, to me is a success story for our office as well. If they just disappear if they if they fail out if they you know, any of those kinds of things, that that’s where I’m disappointed because we didn’t help them succeed in in doing what was next. But if we help them make a decision to transfer to a place that’s a better fit for them, I’m okay with that. I would still much prefer that they stay and finish with us, of course. But but at the end of the day, what we want them to do is is reach their goals and become the person that they want to be as an adult and as a citizen in the world. So we can we can help them move on to if that’s what’s in their best interest. But we hope that their best interest is to stay with us.

Shiro Hatori
I love that John, that is amazing. I’ve loved this conversation. It felt very like I don’t know, I just felt so good. You know, I’m learning a little bit more about what you love to do. I think It really ties back to my first icebreaker, I can just tell you know, love what you do, and you love helping students. And you can really feel that through this digital conversation we’re having. So

John Andrick
yeah, thank you, thanks for saying that, I think we take a lot of pride in our student affairs or student development and campus life division of, of developing that type of a mindset and of hiring people that that have that mindset of just, we care about our students, and we want to see them succeed. And we know that they are, they’re oftentimes making a really significant investment in coming to school here. Taking a risk and coming to school here at times, and, and we want to make sure that they leave here seeing value beyond that the four years or five years that they spend with us has been worth it. And that it’s laid a foundation for them to go and be successful in whatever comes next for them. That’s, that’s at the core of what we do here. And so I’m glad that that’s shining through

Shiro Hatori
of it. And wondering, you know, if our any of our listeners would love to reach out to you and be like, hey, like, can you tell me a little bit more about how you structured your first week orientation, which open? A lot of people have questions about, where can they reach you?

John Andrick
Yeah, I would love to hear from folks if they have questions or want to chat more, or if they have ideas of what they’re doing on campus that we could also learn from best ways to get in touch with me would be through LinkedIn, you can just search my name, John Andric, on LinkedIn. So my URL is just the extension is my name with no dots, spaces, dashes, or any of those kinds of things with John Andric. Or you can email me at Jay andric@cord.edu. You could also go to the Concordia college.edu website and search my name and you’ll find me.

Shiro Hatori
Awesome, I got a little background noise. But thank you so much. For all the listeners. There’s some construction going on. But thanks so much for all the listeners tuning in. Thank you so much, John, for joining and speaking about all that you’ve talked about today, and to our listeners, please check out the next episode. You know where to find this. Thank you

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