In the L.C. Smith College of Engineering and Computer Science, Assistant Dean Lori Hunter emanates an infectious enthusiam. She prides herself on knowing the college's students and makes it a point to speak to them wherever they cross paths. "I want students to understand that I can be trusted, that I believe in them and care about them," she says. "That, I think, makes a difference in terms of what I do and how I do it, and how it's received by students." |
When students enter Hunter's office, they know this is someone dedicated to inspiring success. Her office wall is decorated with framed quotes, including a favorite one from the Greek historian Polybius: "Some people give up their desires when they have almost reached their goal, while others, on the contrary, obtain a victory by exerting at the last moment more vigorous efforts than before."
Above all, Hunter wants students to achieve academic excellence. "I let them know from the beginning that I care about their successes and will match their efforts one-for-one provided they're working toward their goals," she says. "Sometimes just having someone else instill the belief that you can do something can make all the difference in the world."
At the forefront of Hunter's mission is Programs Rooted In Developing Excellence. PRIDE, as it's known, is designed to provide programs that foster the development and success of all the college's students, with an emphasis on the college's underrepresented populations, including African American, Latino, Native American, and female students. Among its offerings are Academic Excellence Workshops, incentive programs, the Syracuse Academic Improvement Program, and Summer Start, which eases transition to the college environment for incoming students. PRIDE also helps students identify financial aid and scholarship resources, offers career and personal counseling, and assists the campus chapters of the National Society of Black Engineers, Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers, and Society of Women Engineers. By including all students, each one gains from the diversity and a heightened awareness of the issues, Hunter says. "The best benefit is to give all students exposure to as much as we can and keep the focus on academic excellence."
Case in point: the Academic Excellence Workshop created to help students master calculus. Since its start in 1995, the workshop blossomed from 25 students and 4 facilitators to 137 students and 16 facilitators last fall. At the center of the popular workshop are trained undergraduate facilitators. They represent a variety of ethnic backgrounds and majors from the college's departments and have made the program immensely effective. Workshop participants profit from peer guidance and insight, while facilitators develop skills in leadership, group interaction, conflict resolution, and time management. "They are accountable and responsible, week in and week out, for preparing to go into the session and lead it," Hunter says. "They have to put essential skills into action, and they know they're contributing to the students' success."
Through PRIDE's support of student organizations, members develop personally and professionally, attending conferences, finding internships, and receiving other opportunities. The organizations also perform community outreach-an important service in the development of future students. "Those organizations reach back into the community and talk to young girls about math and science and their studies," Hunter says. "They tutor African American and Latino kids; they read to them and do educational activities in a way that the kids see that if these students can do it, they can do it too."|
Such positive interaction between students and the community plays an ever-increasing role on campus today. As the Middle States Report notes, the University must "create a positive campus environment for the education and personal development of undergraduate students." One of the most visible innovations aimed at improving the student life experience is the Center for Public and Community Service (CPCS). The center, established in 1994 under the direction of Associate of the Chancellor Mary Ann Shaw, serves as a strong connection between the University and the community, matching student organizations, individual students, faculty, and staff with public and community agencies. According to CPCS Director Pam Heintz, the center works with about 400 nonprofit organizations in Syracuse and Onondaga County, including up to 200 on a regular basis. More than 4,000 volunteers from the University annually contribute 400,000 hours of service to the community, Heintz estimates. "Service learning opportunities at the University have exploded," she says. "It has given a lot of students the chance to choose and engage in an activity that's good for them to do."
While Heintz admits service learning is not for every student and not every placement works out, she believes participants learn a great deal. "It's probably one of the most integral parts of overall learning that a student can participate in while at an institution of higher learning," she says. "A tremendous amount of individual consideration goes into each placement. It's very student-centered; every aspect of that experience is an opportunity to develop skills and learn about the application of theory in a practical setting."
The experience begins with the student's initial contact with the agency and encompasses everything from transportation worries to the realization that social ills aren't solved in a semester. Nonetheless, the experience can teach perseverance, a true appreciation for the complexity of today's social issues, and that assumptions are best left behind. "A lot of it makes the students uncomfortable, but they realize as they go along in life that they'll have to reexamine their assumptions all the time," Heintz says. "It can really have a profound impact on their lives."