Addition of Focus Group Sessions to Assessment Day Receives Mixed Reviews

Kat Cooper, ’18, shares feedback from the female Greek focus group during the large group session. PHOTO BY ROBERTA BURNS.

BY ROBERTA BURNS
STAFF WRITER 

Most Westminster students view Assessment Day as a day off, but this year, the Assessment Committee took steps to ensure that it was truly about hearing student voices.


The structure of Assessment Day in years past has included a lecture about future careers, a lunch reunion for freshmen who took the Westminster Seminar, senior exit interviews and department meetings with majors. In an effort to hear from current students, the 2017 schedule added small focus groups to break down student experiences into campus office categories such as academics and student life.

The change was made in an attempt to collect more feedback from current students. Last year, the Student Satisfaction Survey garnered only a 19 percent response rate, showing that it was necessary to take additional steps to engage students at a satisfactory level this year. A format that has been used successfully to get information from graduating seniors was selected in hopes of receiving feedback and encouraging fruitful discussions from a broader range of campus organizations.

Last year, the Student Satisfaction Survey garnered only a 19 percent response rate.

For approximately one hour, 10 small groups met to give feedback from their positions on campus. The small groups were split into male and female leaders from resident advisers and seminar mentors, international students, Student Government Association representatives, athletes and Greek members. Students who participated were asked to answer the questions of what is working and what is not working in academics, student life and other campus offices They were asked to rank the top three most important issues in each area.

After these focus groups met, all participants came together to listen to the feedback. Dr. David Jones, associate vice president and associate dean of faculty, welcomed the students and introduced the large session. He explained that this was the first year the committee has done a small group discussion to get student ideas.

“We want to find out what’s going well and what we can do better; that’s the purpose of today,” he said.

“We want to find out what’s going well and what we can do better.” –Dr. David Jones, associate vice president and associate dean of faculty

Student groups uniformly praised professors and staff members, class sizes, the wide offering of activities and the decision to have the Hazel wing of Reeves Library open for extended hours. In areas that needed improvement, many groups brought up: email overload or poor communication in general, confusion regarding Tier requirements or prerequisites and the infrequent offerings of certain courses.  Each group cited the necessity of updates in multiple places including residential halls and athletic facilities, student apathy and disengagement, and understaffing in several areas.

Jones said that the Assessment Committee, which is comprised of Jones along with four faculty members and four staff members, has not had a chance to process all of the feedback yet, but that they have substantial student input to review. Once feedback is organized, it will be passed on to all relevant offices across the campus.

The addition of the focus groups in the Assessment Day schedule created a bit of a complication for students who were involved in more than one campus organization. Many students had to choose which small group session to attend, as they belonged to multiple groups that were asked to participate.

Yunus Yenikalayci, ’18, was one student who had to choose between the male mentor group and the male international student group.

“There were a substantial number of mentors that could have attended that day,” he said. “It was the best fit for me to be there as an international undergraduate.”

The addition of the focus groups in the Assessment Day schedule created a bit of a complication for students who were involved in more than one campus organization.

Kappa Kappa Gamma Chapter President Jocelynn Keller, ‘18, said that this was a unique opportunity to voice concerns about the happenings of the college and also made a decision to attend as a female Greek over a female mentor.

“As a Greek member and chapter president, I saw this as a chance to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the college from a different perspective,” she said.

The Assessment Committee struggled to get students to attend the day’s events. Not a single male mentor attended the small group session, and only one female mentor participated. Some students did choose to prioritize other small groups, but overall turnout was extremely low for these two focus groups. Although female international students made an effort to meet up with their focus group leader later in the day, none of them showed up at the advertised 9 a.m. start time.

Students who attended the focus groups had a wide variety of responses to the new Assessment Day feature. Many reacted positively to this direct interest in hearing from them face to face.

“I thought the focus groups were effective because they really highlighted what students felt were the good and bad things about Westminster and didn’t just ask for opinions from one group of students,” Peyton Hall, ’18, said.

She added: “We were able to provide feedback, as well as potential solutions, to the areas we thought needed to be addressed. It was also nice to tell the committee what Westminster was doing well to show that improvements have really been noticed and appreciated.”

Few students participated in the focus group sessions, but most of those who did reacted positively to the college’s interest in receiving face-to-face student feedback.

Sydney Franklin, ’18, who attended the focus group as a female resident adviser, said that she was dissatisfied with the low turnout.

“I appreciated the cross section of students that the committee included, but was disappointed by the students who frequently voice concerns on the sidewalk, but did not show up when the college wanted to listen,” she said.

Franklin added that the focus group activity was quite similar to the resident advisers’ regularly scheduled class, where they often offer suggestions and voice concerns.

“Nonetheless, I am grateful that the college reached out to the students, and I’m interested to see what they do with the information they gathered,” she said.

Because of the packed schedule this year, several students spent all day participating in assessment activities when their normal schedule would only have them in class for a few hours.

Jeremy Hill, ’17, said that he typically has class for about two hours on Tuesdays but that this year’s Assessment Day schedule kept him busy from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m.

“Most people just have a day off of school and go out the night before, but I had more to do than ever,” he said.

First-year student Emily Nordsieck, who has never been part of an Assessment Day without these sessions, said that it was a great experience to be able to express concerns to faculty and staff members who want to help.

“I wish that more people had come to participate, but knowing that this opportunity can only grow in future years shows great promise,” she said.

Tirza Kroeker, director of the college transition program, participated in the day as a small group leader. She said that the feedback made her feel validated, because of students’ overwhelming appreciation for the faculty and staff on campus.

“[Assessment Day] provided an excellent opportunity to actively engage student leaders in our college-wide assessment process,” she said. “I would love to see participation in the sessions expanded to all segments of our student population next year.”

Although the focus groups reported a general feeling of apathy on campus, Kroeker said this might be a developmental gap.

“The freshmen I interact with have really big hearts and still seem very focused on their relationships with others—as friends, family members, and community members,” she said.

Although the focus groups reported a general feeling of apathy on campus, Kroeker said this might be a developmental gap.

Students can provide feedback about the college regardless of whether they attended this year’s Assessment Day events, by completing a Student Satisfaction Survey. The survey was sent to students through email on March 15.

The new Assessment Day structure will be evaluated in the future, but Dr. Jones said the focus groups would most likely be here to stay.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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