Olivet College holds nearly 178 years of deeply-rooted history, but continuous growth and evolution are required to ensure the College meets today’s students’ unique needs. As the third strategic priority in the strategic plan defines, the College must take what it has planted and nurture it to ensure quality. Many initiatives underway include enhancing student engagement opportunities, reviewing and implementing student success programs, and measuring the success of current programs.
“Higher education is facing a lot of scrutiny, so we must balance our commitment to remaining ‘uniquely Olivet’ while embracing the need to be innovative to meet the needs of our prospective and current students,” said KayDee Perry, Ed.D., special assistant to the provost for retention and student success, associate professor and chair of the Health and Human Performance Department. “The strategic plan seeks to foster this innovation while recognizing that we fill an exceptional niche in higher education and our greater society.”
Strategic outcomes include increasing the graduation rate, increasing job-placement and graduate school admission rates, performing well in student success, and improving inclusion and cultural competence, among others. The College has laid a strong foundation in many of these areas and work will continue to shape and evaluate steps toward reaching these strategic outcomes through 2030.
“This strategic priority is significant because it gives Olivet College an opportunity for reflection and introspection,” said Joshua Gillespie, director of career readiness and diversity strategic initiatives. “We need to be about the business of identifying best practices and extinguishing antiquated processes. The needs of students continue to diversify. To me, cultivating and changing the landscape means focusing on salient issues that are impacting our students such as, but not limited to, engaging in more meaningful diversity, equity and inclusion efforts; supporting student well-being (including mental health); fostering students’ sense of belonging; improving retention efforts for underserved students; improving coordination across existing student services; and expanding the use of data analytics. We must ensure that we are actualizing the practices that we are espousing.”
Programs and Resources Enhancing the Student Experience
Some of the programs that are evolving or that are currently offered to students include the Hiram Archer Student Success Academy (H.A.S.S.A.), a mentorship and support group for students of color; gender inclusive programs, like the Queers and Allies group; Comet’s Cupboard, a free food assistance program on campus; F1RST Comets, a support group for first-generation students; enhanced recreational programs, including intramural offerings; and Green Dot, a bystander intervention program and peer education initiative.
Many of these groups on campus serve a distinct purpose for unique populations of students, providing customized student support. Junior Destinee Hawkins serves as the president of H.A.S.S.A. For her, the group provides a safe place for students of color to connect and relate to one another, in addition to receiving tailored career-readiness and mentorship support.
“H.A.S.S.A. is important because it offers more than just academic knowledge for students,” Hawkins said. “We are creating spaces for students to see and learn in their own way, often providing life skills that go beyond what we learn in the classroom. While academics are always a priority, academics alone won’t get you through all the doors you will face in life. H.A.S.S.A. is important and needed on Olivet’s campus because the connections you make and the mentorship you receive bridges the gap between college and real life. There is always a message or a deeper reason for the events and programs we conduct. Students have to be comfortable to thrive and succeed at their fullest potential, and we help fuel their fire.”
In addition to student programs, virtual resources and tools for faculty and staff include a revised Comet Alert System, launching the Olivet College app, a dashboard used by the Department of Athletics to track retention and identify at-risk student-athletes, online advising resources, and revisions to the work of the Health and Wellness Center.
Serving Modern Students
“Research has established that traditional undergraduate students, who are Generation Z members, differ from previous generations in many ways, such as their behavior and consumption,” said Perry. “These differences require adjustments to the experiences provided by institutions of higher education to engage students effectively. The focus of ‘Cultivate and Change the Landscape’ acknowledges these differences. This strategic priority recognizes our need to shift our practices and processes to meet the needs of students to increase student success that will be measured through improvements in our retention, persistence and graduation rates.”
Providing meaningful and purposeful experiences for students has always been at the heart of the Olivet College mission. This is actualized through the College’s ongoing commitment to Education for Individual and Social Responsibility, the relationship-based education model and the dedication to creating a sustaining and vibrant college community into the future.
“It is essential that we learn from the past, impact the present day, and invest in the future for our students and community,” said Amy Radford-Popp, Ph.D., dean of student engagement. “A critical aspect of the strategic plan is that we must look within, as well as to the overall purpose of why today’s students are choosing college. The strategic plan process is intentional and gives us the opportunity to benchmark other college student experiences so we can be relevant and innovative while fostering a culture for change to occur.”
This feature was included in the winter 2022 issue of Shipherd’s Record and The President’s Annual Report, Olivet College’s alumni magazine. This special issue introduces the College’s new strategic plan, “Olivet College 2030: Vision for a Prosperous Future.” Sections also include updates from the Offices of Advancement and Alumni Engagement, Comet Sports, a 2021 Year in Review, Financials, Class Notes, Feature Stories, a Homecoming Recap and much more. View the full magazine here.