Each online student at Florida Tech is assigned a student services representative to help support them throughout the student journey.
Student services representatives are there to assist with the many components it takes to be a successful online student throughout the learning experience, including registering for the right classes, ordering textbooks and completing all the necessary paperwork.
“The best help you can be to a new student is making sure they understand how much help they really have and where to find it,” says Matthew Kowalcyzk. “This is not limited to a student’s first term. We review any concerns the student has about their class that term and determine how to overcome the issue.”
The primary goal is “to clear the way for students to focus on their classes,” he says.
“Students often come to us seeking the convenience of an online program to help balance the commitments of their personal and professional lives. By helping students complete admissions and financial aid requirements in their first term, they have more time to focus on adjusting to an even more hectic schedule.”
We spoke with Matthew and other Florida Tech student services representatives recently to learn more about how they support students from their first class through graduation.
Navigating the Online Experience
For Candace Brady, success starts from Day 1. She walks “each new student through a classroom tour during their first few days of class. The tour includes a navigation through the course menu and identifying the syllabus, grade book, discussion board and weekly outline, which are all vital to completing coursework each week.”
After the tour, Candace follows up weekly to “discuss assignments and feedback from previously graded coursework.”
As a student services rep, Malaney Hupp maintains meticulous notes and reviews them before calling students, ensuring she’s “prepared to give them any details needed to complete missing documents so that they … focus on school only.”
Providing Support Along the Way
Arielle Click tries to provide students with emotional support by being there when they need to let out frustrations or share successes, as well as “being someone who holds them accountable for their actions.”
“We are a team, and I am here to be their educational support, so when they succeed, I succeed, same as when they fail,” she says.
Similarly, Malaney seeks to make students feel less alone by using “real-world scenarios, as well as [her] past experiences, to allow them to understand that they are not the only one” experiencing struggles or challenges.
“I try to remind them why they started and that I am here to help in any way, whether it be to listen or find additional resources,” she says.
Having guided countless students from their first paper to their final exam, Florida Tech’s student services representatives are keen to share advice for current or prospective students:
“Be honest with yourself and be honest with me,” Arielle says. “Do not be afraid to let me know your struggles, your weaknesses, your motivation and the reasons why you are pursuing this degree. It all matters. If they are honest, we will grow and build a strong path to graduation.”
“The advice I most often give to a new student is effort and communication make the difference in our program,” Matthew says. “It is imperative during the first phone call with a student to express how important communication is, both with a professor and with their student services representative.
“I also find it is important to speak with them about the feedback they receive and how to use it,” he says. “Reminding a student that professor feedback is their roadmap to success will help to keep a student focused on their grade and how to improve it.”
Candace agrees, emphasizing the need “for all online students to communicate with their professors on a regular basis to maintain the student experience and engagement as if they were attending an on-campus classroom.”
Create a Schedule
Candace encourages students to develop a weekly schedule by using the grade book, which “is a great tool to pinpoint the graded assignments for the week, including the due date and time. This allows a student to prioritize coursework for assignments that may be due earlier in the week.”
Use Resources Wisely
Jennifer Comstock says students have many tools at their disposal: “I recommend different resources depending on their needs and also recommend that they contact the professor if they feel like they do need some additional assistance, as there may be some specific subject resources that the professor can direct them to.”
Candace also directs students to the Student Resource Center, which is available via the online classroom, when they need help.
“The Student Resource Center includes links to library resources through the Evans Library, the Purdue Online Writing Lab, Khan Academy, American Psychological Association (APA)/Modern Language Association (MLA) help and, most importantly, the personal online tutoring service Smarthinking,” she says.
“The resources are there for our students, and I do my best to provide assistance and guidance to help my students succeed.”
Building Lasting Relationships
Florida Tech’s student services representatives spend many hours speaking with students over the course of their program, developing supportive and lasting relationships.
“Many graduates have reached out to me to express their excitement of the [graduation] ceremony and walking across the stage,” Candace says. Afterward, they even keep her updated on promotions and new career paths.
Matthew has had similar experiences.
“I can remember a time while speaking to a student when I referenced using a specific website,” he says. “I then followed up by saying, ‘A friend of mine really likes it.’ I then realized my friend was actually a student I have spoken to once a week for three years.
“I have had the pleasure of speaking with a few students after they have graduated and it is heartwarming to hear how well they are doing and how much they really appreciate the help you have given them.”