Wednesday, October 21, 2020 - 12:00
Offices helps new students navigate Rider on-campus and virtually
by Rachel Stengel '14, '20
This fall, Rider opened a new space for its Student Navigation Office. The office is located on the ground floor of the Bart Luedeke Center next to a prominent campus dining location, Cranberry's.
Rider added the Student Navigation Office as a new service for students this July. The office helps first-year students transition to Rider, ensuring they have all the resources they need to be successful in their first year and beyond. Director of the Student Navigation Office Amy Bennis-Kimball likes to think of the office as a one-stop shop that connects students to the appropriate resources for academic, social and professional development.
"In everything we do, we are 100% here for the students," she says. "Yes, we work with new students, but we're here for all of them. If anyone has a question or they're struggling and want to get back on track, we are a place where they can come."
The opening of the Student Navigation Office continues Rider’s ongoing investment in infrastructure to provide more support so students understand and take advantage of the University’s outstanding academic, social and career resources — an important component of the University's Lifting Barriers initiative.
In addition to Bennis-Kimball, the Student Navigation Office consists of two full-time navigation coaches, Christina Eugene '13, '15 and Amanda Gilliam, a graduate assistant, and 12 peer coaches. Together, the team is dedicated to Rider's advanced approach to student success.
The Class of 2024 is the first to experience this new model, which was developed by a faculty and staff task force. First-year and transfer students are assigned a faculty adviser and a navigation coach. The pair work together to track students' academic progress, assist them with course selection and introduce them to Rider's Engaged Learning Program. The program requires students to complete at least two high-impact engaged learning experiences, such as study abroad or guided research, to satisfy their graduation requirements.
All new students are required to complete the office's four-week online course called "Navigating Rider." The course introduces them to topics such as remote learning, Engaged Learning requirements, academic planning and Rider resources, including Financial Aid, the Academic Success Center, the Registrar, Residence Life, the Career Development & Success Center and Counseling Services. Student peer coaches assist with the course, answering students' questions and providing insight into the Rider experience.
"Our aim is to create meaningful connections with students so they feel comfortable coming to us for support whether that means personal, academic, social or beyond," says peer coach Elizabeth O'Hara, a junior computer science and graphic design double major. "We realize that students can’t utilize what they don’t know about so we take a proactive approach in sharing resources and promoting events. In a remote environment, it is easy to feel disconnected, but our job is to show students that they are not alone in navigating their first year and the same level of help is offered no matter the format."
Bennis-Kimball says the class has been a positive first step in getting to know the students as they have felt more comfortable reaching out remotely, opening the door to more one-on-one interactions. As most students are learning virtually this semester because of the COVID-19 pandemic, navigation coaches have been able to offer less traditional hours and evening drop-in hours for students.
As first generation college student and daughter to Haitian immigrants, Eugene says she hopes to be for her students exactly what she needed and more when she came to Rider as a freshman 11 years ago.
"Since the start of the semester, I've been challenging my students to step out of their comfort zone and become active members or leaders on campus," she says. "I've witnessed my students get elected as freshmen class president and vice president or assisted them in advocating for additional resources. Seeing their relief, even on Zoom, when they receive assistance or encouragement brightens my day."
This year, Rider is utilizing a new student academic progress reporting system that issues two reports per semester. The Student Navigation Office assists with intervention, helping students remedy issues ranging from green lighting for course registration to holds on student accounts to social issues and beyond.
"Our coaches are very busy, working hard to assist with complex student matters," Bennis-Kimball says. "In this remote learning environment, there may be family issues, learning issues and more, but our navigation coaches are tireless student advocates. They genuinely care and are committed to the vision of the office."
Bennis-Kimball's two new staff members bring a wealth of experience in student advising and student affairs. Eugene has maintained a consistent connection to her alma mater, holding various roles at Rider. As a student, she worked as an orientation leader and graduate assistant for Auxiliary Services. For the past five years, she has worked in Residence Life, most recently as the assistant director of recruitment selection and programming. She is also an adviser for three campus organizations.
Most recently, Gilliam created academic success and college readiness programs for under-resourced high school students at Ingenius Prep. Prior to that, she counseled first-year students, developed experiential learning curricula and administered summer fellowship grants at Columbia University's Center for Student Advising. Gilliam also accompanies immigrants to asylum and deportation hearings in the New York City area, and teaches outdoor education workshops.