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Rishard Wedderburn, Shaw University

Rishard Wedderburn.jpgExpanding an advisor's toolkit promotes growth for the profession and increases the likelihood of student success. Primarily serving students on academic probation and students with multiple faculty referrals requires revised practices to address recurring negative behaviors affecting students' academic progress and matriculation throughout the time of service delivery. To combat these challenges, utilizing and implementing human services’ concepts and theories within an academic recovery program allows students to modify behavior(s), which harms their achievement. An academic recovery programs' prevention and intervention strategies derived from Bronfenbrenner's concepts of ecological paradigms as well as strategies from Multisystemic Therapy (MST) nine principles of an individual's development enhances students' opportunity for long-term academic recovery.

Academic advising, student engagement, and ecology system modifications foster an environment for students' substantial personal development. The core principles of academic advising create guidance and learning, thereby establishing an academic path for students to matriculate through college. The dyad with academic advising strategies and using concepts of ecological paradigms has enabled students to develop skills to overcome ecological system challenges affecting their college matriculation.

Per Kuh (2001), academic advising takes place in "situations in which an institutional representative gives insight or direction to a college student about an academic, social, or personal matter. The nature of this direction might be to inform, suggest, counsel, discipline, coach, mentor, or even teach" (p. 3). Additionally, these strategies provide a modified counseling strategy to reach students’ environmental needs in a non-traditional framework. Similar to the “Let’s Talk” program started at Cornell University, within our university community, we have served students while advocating for additional support services and resources.

Multisystemic Therapy (MST) was created approximately 25 years ago as an intensive family- and community-based treatment program to focus on juveniles presenting with serious antisocial behaviors and who were at-risk for out-of-home placement (Zajac et al., 2015). Based upon Urie Bronfenbrenner’s Social Ecology Theory, MST recognizes that each ecological system (individual, school, family, peer, and community) plays a critical role in a youth's world and each system requires attention when effective change is needed to improve the quality of life for youth and their families (Tighe et al., 2012).

Bronfenbrenner’s ecological paradigm addresses five environmental contexts of development: microsystems, mesosystems, exosystems, macrosystems, and chronosystems (Bronfenbrenner & Ceci, 1994). MST embodies characteristics of the microsystem. As defined by Bronfenbrenner and Ceci (1994), a microsystem is a pattern of activities, social roles, and interpersonal relations experienced by the developing person. These patterns happen in a given face-to-face setting with particular physical, social, and symbolic features that invite, permit, or inhibit engagement.

Critical components of MST focus on addressing nine principles: (1) the primary purpose of assessment is to understand the ʺfitʺ between the identified problems and their broader systemic context; (2) therapeutic contacts emphasize the positive, and use systemic strengths as levers for change; (3) interventions are designed to promote responsible behavior and decrease irresponsible behavior among family members; (4) interventions are present‐focused and action‐oriented and they target specific and well‐defined problems; (5) interventions target sequences of behavior within and between multiple systems that maintain the identified problems; (6) interventions are developmentally appropriate and fit the developmental needs of the youth; (7) interventions are designed to require daily weekly effort by family members; (8) intervention effectiveness is evaluated continuously from multiple perspectives; and finally, (9) interventions are designed to promote treatment generalization and long‐term maintenance of therapeutic change by empowering caregivers to address family membersʹ  needs across multiple systemic context (Zajac et al., 2015).

Within higher education, high impact practices increase student engagement and retention. Encouraging and supporting students to modify behaviors and address obstacles in each relevant ecological system provides a platform for academic advisors to encourage long-term transferable skills. Processing and reviewing systematic challenges with students will develop their problem-solving skills to attain resiliency traits. Additionally, extending the recovery programming to each paradigm encourages the utilization of external support systems within a student’s social network, thereby increasing their overall accountability.

The services of academic coaching, advising, and counseling provide students the opportunity to develop a strengths-focused approach to better navigate the college system while engaging students with faculty and staff (Kuh et al., 2008). Factors affecting a student's proneness to dropping, stopping out, or failing out tend to be regarding challenges within their microsystems.

MST supports individuals through a holistic framework. The tenets of holistic student support all draw on well-documented research on student success and persistence, especially those who may have fewer resources or struggle with navigating college (Kuh et al., 2008).

Engagement has compensatory effects on grades and persistence for students who most need a boost to performance because they are not adequately prepared academically when they start college while engaging in educationally purposeful activities helps to level the playing field, especially for students from low-income family backgrounds and others who have been historically underserved. (Kuh et al., 2008)

The field of academic advising will continue to evolve to meet the needs of students. As time progresses within higher education, student support services will continue to mirror the human services model. Higher education's institutional framework must continually challenge itself to diversify the scope of methodologies to achieve the overall goal of student success.

Rishard Wedderburn, MA
Director of Academic Success
Office of Academic Success
Shaw University


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Kuh, G. D. (2001). Assessing what really matters to student learning inside The National Survey of Student Engagement. Change: The Magazine of Higher Learning33(3), 10–17. https://doi.org/10.1080/00091380109601795

Kuh, G. D., Cruce, T. M., Shoup, R., Kinzie, J., & Gonyea, R. M. (2008). What student affairs professionals need to know about student engagement. Journal of College Student Development, 50(6), 683–706. https://doi.org/10.1353/csd.0.0099

Let’s Talk Drop-In Consultation. CornellHealth. Cornell University. https://health.cornell.edu/services/mental-health-care/lets-talk

Tighe, A., Pistrang, N., Casdagli, L., Baruch, G., & Butler, S. (2012, February 13). Multisystemic therapy for young offenders: Families' experiences of therapeutic processes and outcomes. Journal of Family Psychology. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0027120

Zajac, K., Randall, J., & Swenson, C. C. (2015). Multisystemic therapy for externalizing youth. Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Clinics of North America24(3), 601–616. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chc.2015.02.007

Cite this article using APA style as: Wedderburn, R. (2021, March). Utilizing an ecological theoretical framework to address student behaviors: Long-term student success within high needs populations. Academic Advising Today, 44(1). [insert url here]

Posted in: 2021 March 44:1


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