Office designed to improve graduation, retention rates

By Brian Singer

There’s an office on campus dedicated to making sure students graduate.

The Office of Student Engagement and Experiential Learning (OSEEL), a Vision 2020 initiative, was put into place to help improve graduation and retention rates among students to help secure more state funding for NIU.

“All public schools are in the same situation,” said Rachel Tripodi, assistant director for OSEEL. “Now we all get state funding by proving and demonstrating that students are graduating.”

OSEEL works with students through programs like themed learning communities, undergraduate research and service programs, Tripodi said.

Assistant Director Stephanie Ryding said themed learning communities are classes put together under the same theme, like humanities or psychology. These classes are formed into one group of students, composed mostly of freshman, with a peer leader who acts as a mentor. Professors and faculty associated with the theme give out assignments for the group to work on together, Ryding said.

Ryding said about 300 people, including peer leaders, are involved with themed learning communities. Students that have been involved with engaged learning since their freshman year had higher GPAs, Ryding said.

Junior psychology major Lauren Boddy was a peer leader through fall 2011, and felt her work not only helped freshmen in the program succeed academically, but also socially.

“A peer leader is like being a tutor…I helped with social support when it comes to things like homesickness or trouble making friends,” Boddy said.

Research help is also offered by OSEEL with the direct help of faculty in the field. One program that helps researchers is the Research Rookies program, which is designed to give students an introduction into what research looks like in their field of study.

Boddy said the best thing she got out of being a peer leader in the program was seeing people do better in school.

“I would help students outside of classes, coming to me for help with test preparation or questions about a paper,” Boddy said. “They came to me and did better.”