After Worcester State students began learning remotely, Director of Retention Thomas Kelley wanted to check in with them to see how the transition was going, answer any questions, and refer those struggling to helpful campus resources. But he faced the daunting task of contacting almost 5,000 students, all working away from campus.
So Kelley put out a call for volunteers from the Worcester State community, and more than 100 people responded, from every division and at all levels—administrative assistants to vice presidents. After a 90-minute training session, the volunteers began making calls, ultimately contacting more than 4,500 students in a span of three weeks, ranging from short voicemails to in-depth conversations of almost an hour.
Kelley says he will be analyzing the results of the data over the next few weeks, but overall, the interactions were positive.
“The general feedback was that the transition was going well, although there have been some challenges to online learning. Students miss the Worcester State campus, and they were happy to hear a voice from the community,” says Kelley. “It was a great reminder that students are the reason we’re here, and to let students know we’re ready to offer support.”
Some volunteers offered to contact students with whom they have existing relationships, such as staff in the Division of Graduate and Continuing Education who reached out to adult students, coaches who checked in with their players, and Office of Multicultural Affairs staff, who talked to their constituents.
“The fact that so many people from around the campus participated shows how important our students are to everyone,” says Kelley. “We’re here for them, as an institution.”
Volunteers were provided a script with specific information to cover, including reminders on advising and class registration, but the main focus was on starting a conversation and “having an active partnership,” says Kelley.
Recognizing that students are under stress for many reasons, Associate Dean of Health and Wellness and Director of Counseling Services Laura Murphy was involved in all training sessions to offer guidance on how to respond to distress and direct students to the proper campus expert. In fact, more than 500 referrals were made to about 20 campus support offices, such as counseling services or financial aid.
Callers asked about how the transition to online learning was going, and inquired about students’ accessibility to technology, online engagement and participation, academic course work, and their learning environment and family situation.
“This really was a team effort, including a lot of people working behind the scenes,” says Kelley. “This is an accomplishment that we all can be proud of.”