John N. Gardner Institute for Excellence in Undergraduate Education

University of Akron

Institutional Profile

Foundations of Excellence® Cohort:
2005-2006 National Select
Carnegie Classification:
Research University (High Research Activity)
Regional Accreditation:
Higher Learning Commission
Contact Information:
Karla T. Mugler, Ph.D.,

Associate Provost and Dean of University College

Foundations of Excellence® Implementation Update
Karla T. Mugler, Ph.D., Associate Provost and Dean of University College

The University of Akron formed a First-Year Experience Task Force in 2002, which included representatives from key units on campus serving first-year students. From 2002-05, members of the Task Force reviewed enrollment data for classes with high enrollment of first-year students and created interventions to help more students succeed. Leading researchers in higher education were invited to campus to speak with faculty selected for the Symposia for Teaching & Learning (SoTaL) as well as to address the campus community. Work at UA on these topics prepared the campus for the next step; in 2005 and 2006 the campus participated in the Foundations of Excellence (FoE) process.

Selection of the steering team (4 members) for the FoE process was critical to our success, as was the selection of each of the Dimensions chairs; some Dimension committees were chaired by two campus leaders. Our task force worked hard to meet the deadlines set for us by the Policy Center. After Finals Week in May, we held a retreat which included all of the individuals across campus who had served on one of the Dimensions committees as well as members of UA’s Diversity Council. The participants wrote UA’s Philosophy statement and helped to prioritize the recommendations that were made by the Dimensions committees. Copies of UA’s Foundations of Excellence Report were shared with the University’s Board of Trustees during a presentation made by the FYE Task Force leaders. Copies were also given to the deans of the University’s undergraduate colleges, and a presentation was made to the department chairs at one of their regularly scheduled meetings. A presentation was also made to the Associated Student Government.

Developing Recommendations

Since the FYE Task Force is an ongoing campus committee, it was logical to have the members work on the recommendations. Seven priorities were addressed in 2006, and as a result, changes have been made at UA. A hand-out for first-year faculty that lists campus resources from Academic Advising to the Zip-Card Office was made available to full-time and part-time faculty as well as TAs who have first-year students in their courses. Many of these teachers were new to campus themselves, and we made sure that the FYE Task Force presented information about the FoE process and our recommendations at faculty and TA orientations. The Institute for Teaching & Learning (ITL) has made student-faculty engagement a focus for presentations. A First-Year Council was established last year and it continues to meet twice each term. The members made recommendations to the University Registrar, the Office of Student Financial Aid, and the Office of Student Advising for Student-Athletes regarding the multiple forms that faculty were being asked to complete about students; their suggestions helped these offices to streamline the process, thus benefiting faculty. This year (2007) the First-Year Council is addressing student-faculty engagement activities. A reward system for those teaching first-year courses was recommended and was implemented in part last year: a letter explaining the work of the FYE Task Force was sent, thanking them for their important work in helping UA’s first-year students succeed. Some of these letters have been included in RTP materials, so they made an impact on those who received them! Around the 8th week of the term, those teaching first-year classes receive a coupon for a free cup of coffee or tea for their good work engaging students. In April 2008, the Outstanding First-Year Faculty Award—which includes a plaque and a check—will be presented for the first time at UA’s Celebration of Excellence in Learning & Teaching conference.

During the 2007-08 academic year, the FYE Task Force composition changed, due to the promotion or retirement of some of the original members. This gave us the opportunity to get even more individuals on campus involved in this important work. While the Task Force continues to work on some of the on-going recommendations, (i.e., professional development for faculty/administrators who teach first-year courses), a number of new recommendations are being tackled this year. The committee working on improving the computer literacy of first-year students is piloting an assessment instrument. Two recommendations focused on advising; the Task Force decided to combine these and have the Advising Committee consider both. The members represent each of the undergraduate colleges and have a vested interest in increasing students’ access to advising. To help all on campus understand how important good advising is for students, the ITL and University College invited Dr. Charlie Nutt, Executive Director of NACADA, to present a number of workshops for faculty as well as professional advisers. Assessment of our FYE programs is key to their success and authentic assessment has been, and will continue to be, one of our priorities at UA. A committee is working to develop a Welcome Weekend which we haven’t previously offered all new students at UA.

“As the University of Akron’s physical campus has been transformed and our enrollments have increased, it was important for us to take part in the FoE self-study to know the areas that faculty, administrators, and students felt needed improvement."

Project Outcomes

An unexpected consequence of UA’s participation in the FoE self-study has been a new committee on campus! The Senior Vice President & Provost was so pleased with our report, that she felt we needed to examine the experience students had during their sophomore, junior, and senior years at The University of Akron. A Student Success and Retention Committee (SSRC) was convened with appointments made by Faculty Senate as well as by the Provost; the Dean of University College serves as co-chair of that committee. The SS&R Committee will also be an on-going committee that looks at policies and institutional research to effect change to benefit students. An associate director of the ITL for Student Success & Retention is in the process of being hired to work with the committee and lead this University initiative; the individual will work with deans, departments, and committees to implement the SSRC’s recommendations and develop programs for faculty to enhance student success. SSRC has sponsored Student Appreciation Day in September, with colleges and units competing for the most engaging booth. Students who study in the campus libraries during Finals Week are also treated to a coffee/cocoa break each night.

As the University of Akron’s physical campus has been transformed and our enrollments have increased, it was important for us to take part in the FoE self-study to know the areas that faculty, administrators, and students felt needed improvement. By including the faculty responsible for the high-enrollment first-year courses in the First-Year Council, we have an opportunity to impact the experience students have in those classes. UA recently hired a new Vice President for Student Affairs who has read the FoE report and supports the work of the FYE Task Force; he understands the role of Student Affairs in partnering with the academic units on campus to improve the first-year experience. Those of us on the FYE Task Force realize that we still have a lot of work ahead of us, but we can see that we are changing the culture of the campus to benefit our students.