John N. Gardner Institute for Excellence in Undergraduate Education

Pellissippi State Technical Community College

Institutional Profile

Foundations of Excellence® Cohort:
2005-2006 Two-Year Founding
Carnegie Classification:
Regional Accreditation:
Southern Association of Colleges and Schools
Contact Information:

L. Anthony Wise, Jr., Ph.D., Vice President, Academic and Student Affairs

Best Practices, Common Academic Experience, Connections, and Academic Momentum
L. Anthony Wise, Jr., Ph.D., Vice President, Academic and Student Affairs

Pellissippi State participated in the pilot phase of the Foundations of Excellence® program for two-year colleges beginning in the spring of 2005. The Vice President of Academic and Student Affairs created a task force of approximately 20 faculty, staff, and students to examine the proposed Foundational Dimensions® for two-year colleges. The rich weekly conversations in FoE allowed the group to discuss the fundamental principles of working with first-year students and to imagine what we might accomplish by being more intentional in this area. After selection as one of the pilot institutions in June 2005, a leadership team that included the Vice President of Academic and Student Affairs, Dean of Academic Advising, Articulation, and Curriculum; Director of Student Life and Recreation, Department Head for Liberal Arts, and Director of Institutional Effectiveness, Research, and Planning guided the project.

The self study and action plans were completed in 2005-2006 by a task force and Dimension committees made up of 144 volunteers. The task force and committees sought (1) to recognize and build on the existing foundations of excellence within the College and (2) to identify those areas where creative and integrative strategies were needed to take us to a higher level of performance in terms of the quality of our first-year students’ educational experience.

Organizing Themes

Committee recommendations were organized into four themes: Best Practices, Common Academic Experience, Connections, and Academic Momentum, and developed into an action plan. The plan was presented to the College’s executive leadership and academic and student affairs leadership teams where it was approved as submitted. The four themes and related initiatives were announced during the College’s first Fall Conference on Student Success in August 2006. Major initiatives included:

•  Mandatory advising for first-year students

•  Mandatory attendance at New Student Orientation

•  Creation of a Student Success team that includes nine Student Success Coordinator positions and nine Student Success Mentor positions

•  Implementation of a Common Academic Experience that includes a common book used in four or more first year courses and related co-curricular events including a President’s Convocation at the end of the second week of fall semester

•  Creation of a permanent First-Year Council

•  Development of a program and services to identify and support undecided majors

Pellissippi State’s approach may have been unique in several regards. Concerted efforts were made to insure faculty and staff looked for things that were working well in addition to identifying areas for improvement. Two years after we distributed gold stars to all employees so they could recognize their co-workers for outstanding efforts to help students, the stars are still seen on doors and walls across the college. We tried not to take ourselves too seriously. The self-study year was kicked off by a play of significant comedic value during the opening session of the first Fall Conference on Student Success. The implementation year began with a movie entitled “The Goose Poop Debacle” that made us laugh until we cried but also reminded us of how easy it is to lose sight of the reasons we commit ourselves to the important work of educating students.

Our Student Success Coordinators (SSCs) and Mentors (SSMs) have been functioning for a year and a half and we have yet to realize the full impact from this innovation. The SSCs are full-time faculty with six hours of reassigned time. The original design included one SSC for each of the College’s six academic departments and one for each of our site campuses for a total of nine. This year we have eleven with one site and one department splitting the responsibilities between two faculty members. The SSMs are students recruited by the faculty or other SSMs who work with the team 15 hours per week. SSCs and SSMs helped with the design and implementation of the new mandatory orientation program and are currently leading the college’s effort to pilot an early intervention program targeting first-year students. Other initiatives include setting up computer support stations at various locations across campus at the beginning of the semester, coordinating Supplemental Instruction efforts at one of our site campuses, and developing the program for undecided majors in conjunction with appropriate student services offices. The Student Success team focuses on initiatives that support the program’s Connections and Academic Momentum themes while providing a sort of bridge function for students with faculty and for faculty with student services personnel.

"The rich weekly conversations in Foundations of Excellence allowed the group to discuss the fundamental principles of working with first-year students and to imagine what we might accomplish by being more intentional."

FoE Results

Selected results for 2006-2007 include:

•  Forty-six percent of students in common book classes discussed the book with family and/or friends

•  Pass rates (A-C percentage) increased in eight of the twelve highest enrollment first-year courses

•  Fall-to-spring retention improved for first-time freshmen by three percent between 2005 and 2007

•  The number of freshmen and sophomores was approximately equal in Spring 2007

During the 2007-2008 academic year, Pellissippi State became the first community college to pilot MAP-Works, an early intervention survey designed to assess the academic and social adjustment of first-year students. Participation in the pilot has reinforced many of the important conclusions drawn from our experience with Foundations of Excellence. It is important to focus on the earliest experiences of our first-year students in ensuring students are connecting with each other and the college; we must be proactive and imaginative in our response to first-year issues; and the college must continue data-driven conversations about this work and its impact on our students.