In Q & A, Laurie Koehler reflects on victories for the student experience—from enhancing residential life to chipping away at manual paperwork requirements.
Not yet a year old, the Enrollment and the Student Experience (ESE) unit is beginning to hit its stride, with staff spending this academic year tackling old issues while finding new ways to support students.
Senior Vice Provost Laurie Koehler, who has led ESE since its formation in July 2018, recently discussed some of the improvements with GW Today.
Q: One of the main reasons for establishing the ESE unit was to provide a more unified structure that better serves students. What are some ways you have seen this in action in the past year?
A: As we go about our work, we are guided by our core values—collaboration, comprehensive problem solving and a student-first approach—and always ask ourselves the question, “How does this serve and impact our students?” I am energized by the improvements that have resulted from ESE’s work with students, faculty and staff across campus.
For example, we implemented significant changes to improve services and outreach in the Office of Student Financial Assistance. As a part of a comprehensive look at the first-year experience, we developed a new approach to New Student Orientation and worked with our partners in facilities to enhance residence halls—upgrading community rooms, revamping kitchen appliances and modernizing spaces.
Improvements such as these directly benefit students, and we hope to continue to build even more on the tremendous upward trajectory we have seen in our first-year retention rate and four- and six-year graduation rates. So much of this work is interconnected and collaborative, and this success is a testament to the dedication of our faculty and staff who work so hard to ensure students’ success at GW.
Q: The Office of Student Success and Office of Student Systems, Services and Analytics were newly created when ESE was established. How have these offices made the student experience better?
A: In lots of ways! The Office of Student Success (made up of the Office of the Registrar; Enrollment Retention; Student Support and Family Engagement, including the CARE Network; International Enrollment; and Summer and Non-Degree Students) comprises teams that are providing academic coaching and support to hundreds of students, mapping retention activities and identifying new programs to introduce GW to high school and international students. The Office of Student Systems, Services and Analytics has been working with the schools and academic advising offices to expand the use of a system that will provide advisers with a shared platform to keep advising notes and better communicate with current students.
Finally, these offices, in collaboration with the Division of IT, have been streamlining systems and processes within the Office of the Registrar, eliminating the need for paper-based forms and saving students from waiting in line at Colonial Central for simple requests. The first process, certification services, allows students to submit and track electronic requests online to obtain certification of enrollment and registration, among other common requests. This process is now live, and we expect more to roll out in the coming months.
Q: Part of the student experience involves student life and community building. What is new in these areas?
A: I hope students have already started to notice their lives on campus have improved for the better—whether it is upgrades to residence halls and campus spaces, changes to residence life to better support students or the elimination of counseling fees for students who want to talk with a mental health counselor.
I’ve been thrilled to work with the Student Experience team, which focuses on campus and residential life, student engagement and student health and wellness. The staff bring so much energy and creative ideas to their work, helping students make sincere connections on campus and around D.C.—like through the recently launched District Connections.
The Student Experience team is also focused on supporting students’ mental and physical health and wellness and has had numerous conversations with the Student Health Advisory Council to discuss improvements, such as the addition of group counseling opportunities, which not only provide an outlet for shared concerns but also help students build community. Meanwhile, Colonial Health Center staff are working to create more student-centered programming, like wellness dialogues, and recently partnered with the School of Nursing to provide counseling services on the Virginia Science and Technology Campus.
Q: The university has long emphasized students putting “knowledge in action.” What is ESE doing to support this?
A: One of the areas we're spending time focused on is just that—we call it experiential learning. Our Career Services team is examining how we can expand students' understanding of this beyond internships. For example, the team is bringing together key partners from across campus—the Office of the Vice President for Research, ESE, Libraries & Academic Innovation, the provost’s office, students and faculty—to consider how to encourage more undergraduates to get involved in research and other academic opportunities with our faculty members across all disciplines.
Q: How are you continuing to get student feedback into your priorities? How can students or others get in touch?
A: Earlier this month, we surveyed sophomores to get a better understanding of their sense of well-being and involvement. We’ve also recently sent the first-year connections survey to identify how students are engaging with peers, faculty, staff and university resources. We want to continue to hear from students anytime—kudos, suggestions or difficult issues included—and we will continue to find more ways to bring their voices to the table. Students can email us directly at [email protected] or any university community member can get in touch through the student experience initiative website.