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Rebekah Chojnacki and Emmanuel Garcia, Advising High Achieving Students Community members

Chojnacki and Garcia.jpgHigh-achieving students come with great potential, but also great need for assistance, even though that may seem counter intuitive.  Academic advisors may face a broad range of students on a daily basis, and it may become all too tempting to focus on the students who seem to need the most help—the students struggling with balancing their academic career and in danger of academic probation.  However, high-achieving students have challenges of their own, such as dealing with perfectionism (Parker & Adkins, 1995) and lack of guidance and support for lofty goals (Reynolds, 2017).  

As academic advisors who have high-achieving personalities ourselves, we noticed an ongoing trend at our institution of students who were making good GPAs, but not getting as actively involved in their education as they could, such as by joining McNair Scholars or the Honors College.  These students were missing opportunities available to them, and the university was missing having more students engaged in high-impact activities.  Noticing this helped us realized that all of the programming from our unit for first-year students was geared toward students who were not doing well in their classes.  Programming and outreach was available for upper-classmen high-achievers, but there was a gap in reaching out to high academic performers in their first two semesters.  As advisors for high achieving student populations, we created a program that was designed to be a bridge for first-year, high-achieving students to connect them to resources that were already available on campus.  We called this program University College Scholars, the name deriving from our unit for first-year students.

Theory

Learning Theory is critical to our program because it is founded upon active learning and always pushing for that extra nugget of knowledge (Reynolds, 2017).  According to the literature, perfectionism can be as constructive as it is destructive (Dickinson & Dickinson, 2015; Speirs Neumeister, 2004; Parker & Adkins, 1995).  However, in the University College Scholars program, we concentrate on the positive side of the phenomenon and help students see that it can be used in their favor to perform better.  Learning theory principles include focusing on active learning, teaching students how to consider changing their own perspectives, and focusing on motivation for learning, not just learning to check a box (Reynolds, 2017).  

The University College Scholars program is explicitly aimed at making sure those high-achievers or almost high-achievers are not overlooked by the giant machine that a university can be.  As Dougherty (2007) indicates, there is an atmosphere of assumption toward high-achieving students that they will transition to college with no problem because “they will figure it out.”  By shifting the focus for high-achieving first-year students through promoting interaction instead of just transaction, the experience for these students can be transformative (Reynolds, 2017).

Development and Implementation

The University of Texas at Arlington (UTA) began a program to attract local high-achieving high school seniors to campus by offering the opportunity for early admission and enrollment (Garcia & Chojnacki, 2016).  Beyond providing these benefits, the program offered an opportunity for a special promotion of resources and ideas to assist high-achieving students, which UTA administrators called Admitted Students Day.  We created a video simulating a high-achieving student going to an academic advising appointment, with the goal in mind that high-achieving students could see an example of a student being proactive and planning for their entire college experience, not just picking classes.  In the video, the example student was directed to resources on our campus, such as McNair Scholars and the Honors College.  The students who attended successfully received the video, but the advising office wanted to do more afterward.

As advisors, we decided to take an active approach and create a program for incoming high achieving, first-year students to provide them with information about resources available to high-achieving students and explain the benefits of getting involved early in high-impact activities, such as undergraduate research.  This program also created a community for high-achieving students to find peers with similar goals and aspirations.  To meet the needs of students, the best fit was a workshop series, since this allowed us to reach students after the start of the school year in a non-threatening and personalized way.

We pulled the list of incoming freshman and filtered for students who met the entrance requirements for the Honors College at UTA, so students who scored at least a 27 on the ACT and an SAT score of 1270 (Prospective students: Apply to the Honors College, n.d.).  Outreach began in late September to allow staff and students' calendars to slow down and routines to settle.  Additionally, we created a Facebook page and were able to reach some students via social media (Chojnacki & Garcia, 2017).  Advisors in the University College Scholars program created a curriculum for the monthly workshops based on the resources available on campus for high-achieving students, including McNair Scholars, Honors College, and the Center for Service Learning, and the athletic department’s life skills coordinator.  Each organization was asked to give a 20–30 minute presentation followed by half an hour of question and answers.  For the Honors College and McNair Scholars office, this was an opportunity to recruit for their programs.  Feedback from students collected via paper surveys helped improve The University College Scholars’ workshops and provided data to present at local, regional, and national conferences for program advisors.

In our second year of the program, advisors and administrators successfully added upper-classmen student mentors to our program who serve as guides and provide valuable insight to workshop discussions.  The first-year students have gravitated toward the student mentors for advice and perspective on what to anticipate during their upcoming college years.  In the program, we now have participation from more departments across campus and are training other advisors to assist with the program.

Conclusion

Before University College Scholars was created, first-year students at UTA who were high-achievers did not have programming specifically designed to get them involved and engaged in high-impact activities.  As advisors of high-achieving students, we found and filled a gap in the service to this student population.  During the first year of the University College Scholars program, we served 51 students, averaging 15–20 students per session.  Student feedback included discussion from students on the helpfulness of the topics, excitement for the chance to explore new ideas, and the snowball effect of getting information from our sessions that students were able to implement and build on in their own time.  Now that we have successfully implemented and maintained this program, we hope that this can serve as an inspiration and a guide to administrators and academic advisors at other higher education institutions who may be interested in low-cost, highly efficient programming that can be implemented to meet the needs of their specific student populations.

Our advice for academic advisors at other institutions would be to find out what gaps exist at your own institution and look for creative ways of filling the gap.  For help with ideas, you can collaborate with other likeminded advisors through NACADA.  If you work with high-achieving students, please visit the Slack group for the NACADA Advising High-Achieving Students Community.  This group actively discusses issues and ideas for working with this population.

Rebekah Chojnacki, M.A.,
Academic Advisor, Department of Interdisciplinary Studies
Honors College
The University of Texas at Arlington
Rebekah.chojnacki@uta.edu

Emmanuel Garcia, PhD
Academic Advisor, University Advising Center
University College
The University of Texas at Arlington
egarcia@uta.edu

References

Chojnacki, R., & Garcia, E. (2017, December 1). UTA University College Scholars. Retrieved from Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/UTA-University-College-Scholars-700644583422309/

Dickinson, M. J., & Dickinson, D. A. G. (2015). Practically perfect in every way: Can reframing perfectionism for high-achieving undergraduates impact academic resilience? Studies in Higher Education, 40(10), 1889-1903.

Dougherty, S. B. (2007). Academic advising for high-achieving college students. Higher Education in Review, 4, 63-82.

Garcia, E., & Chojnacki, R. (2016, June 1). Admitted students day [Blog post]. Retrieved from https://nacada.wordpress.com/2016/06/01/admitted-students-day/

Parker, W. D., & Adkins, K. K. (1995). The incidence of perfectionism in honors and regular college students. Journal of Secondary Gifted Education, 7(1), 303-309.

Prospective students: Apply to the Honors College. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.uta.edu/honors/prospective/apply/index.php

Reynolds, M. M. (2017, December 1). An advisor's half dozen: Principles for incorporating learning theory into our advising practices. NACADA Clearinghouse of Academic Advising Resources. Retrieved from http://www.nacada.ksu.edu/Resources/Clearinghouse/View-Articles/Learning-theory-in-academic-advising.aspx

Speirs Neumeister, K. L. (2004). Understanding the relationship between perfectionism and achievement motivation in gifted college students. Gifted Child Quarterly, 48(3), 219-231.

Cite this article using APA style as: Chojnacki, R., & Garcia, E. (2018, June). Developing a low-cost program for high-achieving first-year students. Academic Advising Today, 41(2). Retrieved from [insert url here] 

Posted in: 2018 June 41:2

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