After leading the launch of an ambitious student success effort as interim associate provost, Tom Matthews now can drop the “interim” prefix from his associate provost title.

Provost Ben Vinson III today announced that Matthews will direct the Student Success office on a permanent basis.

“After playing an integral role in planning for this new organization, Tom accepted the daunting assignment of starting it from scratch,” Provost Vinson said. “The team he assembled provided exceptional support to first-year students, engaged effectively with the rest of our undergraduates, and worked closely with their faculty advisors. I am delighted that he will continue to lead this critical effort for our students.”

The idea for the office emerged from recommendations of the Provost’s Commission on the Undergraduate Experience (PCUE), which acknowledged that existing advising models had not met students’ needs and urged a more coordinated approach. Leaders from enrollment management, student affairs and the provost’s office studied successful models on other campuses, and made recommendations for a Student Success initiative customized for Case Western Reserve

In light of the commission’s report, as well as the demonstrated effectiveness of comparable approaches on other campuses, President Barbara R. Snyder embraced the recommendations, launching the Student Success initiative in the spring of 2018. Its original funding included $500,000 that President Snyder received as one of the Carnegie Corporation’s Academic Leadership Award winners and chose to direct entirely to the initiative; it also received a matching amount from the Board of Trustees’ strategic initiatives fund.

“Our efforts in admissions have continued to lead to incoming classes of increasingly impressive academic quality,” President Snyder said, “yet our retention and graduation rates failed to reflect comparable improvements. This initiative aims to provide undergraduates the guidance and assistance they need to make the most of their time at Case Western Reserve, and Tom’s leadership propelled it to an outstanding inaugural year. We look forward to even more progress in the future.”

The initiative began with first-year students as the initial top priority, with a focus on intensive outreach during the summer as well as a series of five scheduled contacts throughout the academic year. Of the 1,393 students in the Class of 2022, all but four engaged with their navigators at least once. Nearly a third participated in all five communications, with a comparable proportion meeting four times. The navigators also began engaging with sophomores and upperclass students in 2018-19, an effort they plan to expand in the coming academic year. They also developed a highly personalized referral system for students both within other areas of student success and offices across the campus.

Additional emphases for 2019-20 include creating a greater sense of belonging through one-on-one contacts, messages and programs, and working with entering students and academic advisors to develop a draft plan for their entire undergraduate experience by the end of their first year.

One of the efforts that continues to inform the navigators’ work was last summer’s formation of an advisory group of 12 faculty drawn from schools teaching undergraduates that psychology Professor Lee Thompson and Matthews co-chaired.

“I am grateful to Provost Vinson and President Snyder for their ongoing support, and to Professor Thompson and all of the other faculty who have engaged so constructively in helping us serve our students more effectively,” Matthews said. “Most of all, I want to thank each of our navigators for their enthusiasm, compassion and extraordinary commitment to each student with whom they work. It is an honor to lead our entire Student Success team.”