Taking Action with Student Sense of Community Data

Creating community and belonging at NC State matters. In 2019, units in the Division of Academic and Student Affairs (DASA) put data into action to further strengthen our students’ sense of belonging and community.

Background

The Retention Foundations Assessment (RFA) initiative in the Division of Academic and Student Affairs (DASA) brings faculty, staff, and students together to produce actionable data on the factors that influence NC State students’ success and retention. In 2018, DASA brought together an Implementation Team of division faculty and staff to review data collected on NC State students’ sense of belonging and community. The review of 2017 First Term Survey and 2018 focus group data found that students have an overall strong sense of belonging and community at NC State. The Implementation Team also identified data points suggesting opportunities for improvement in helping students develop their sense of community at NC State.

Findings

Sense of Community at NC State Overall

  • 81% of first-year and 71% of transfer student survey respondents had “some” or “a great extent” of a sense of community with NC State overall (First Term Surveys, 2017).
  • 73% of first-year and 65% of transfer students who responded to the survey felt the NC State community “completely” or “mostly” has recognizable symbols and expressions of membership such as logos, landmarks, and clothing (First Term Surveys, 2017). Students focus groups reported that displaying and viewing community symbols was an important contributor to their sense of belonging and community on campus (DASA Assessment focus groups, 2018).

Underrepresented Students’ Sense of Belonging

  • Underrepresented students feel that faculty and staff who educate themselves about diversity and inclusion can make a positive difference for underrepresented students’ sense of belonging on campus (University Housing focus groups, 2018).

Forming Communities Within NC State

  • 77% of first-year survey respondents had “some” or “a great extent” of a sense of community with formal organizations on campus, including student organizations, residence halls, villages, athletic groups (First Year First Term Survey, 2017).
  • 23% of surveyed transfer students reported the extent of community they feel with formal organizations, such as student organizations and athletic groups was “not at all” (First Term Transfer Survey, 2017).
  • Only 26% of surveyed first-year students and 23% of surveyed transfer students report experiencing a great sense of community in their college or major (First Term Surveys, 2017).
  • 76% of first-year and 58% of transfer students who responded to the survey reported feeling it is “very important” to experience a sense of belonging and community in small groups (e.g., with friends) at NC State. However, only 55% of first-year and 36% of transfer students reported experiencing a great extent of belonging in small groups (First Term Surveys, 2017). 

Sharing Findings

In 2018, DASA Assessment partnered with DASA Marketing and Communications to create an infographic of the most actionable findings for DASA that were identified by DASA faculty and staff in the Implementation Team. In 2019, the infographic was shared within DASA digitally and through unit-level workshops. 15 DASA units participated in a workshop facilitated by Implementation Team members from across the division. Units used the data that was presented to brainstorm opportunities for improvement in fostering students’ sense of belonging and community. 10 units who received a workshop reported making changes to their programs and practices based on these findings.

Data-informed Decisions

Informing New Programming

  • Wellness and Recreation partnered with New Student Programs and the Wilson College of Textiles to host a pilot scavenger hunt for incoming first-year students during orientation, and placed students in small groups of 5-6 to form connections with other new students within their college.
  • Prevention Services began a pilot program of “encounter groups,” with a focus on helping facilitate connections among first-year and transfer students. Additionally, the Alcohol and Other Drug Prevention team increased alcohol-free and late-night programming to provide further spaces for connection among small groups.
  • Academic Advising Programs and Services will explore the feasibility of an ambassador program of transfer students from each college at NC State. Ambassadors will support other transfer students within the NC State community and support the academic success of incoming transfer students.


Changes to Existing Programming

Several units partnered with New Student Programs to give presentations about involvement opportunities for students in New Student Orientation and Transfer Student Orientation.

  • Wellness and Recreation presented to transfer students on new “practice nights” in which students can engage in an informal setting playing Intramural Sports with other students, join a team, or form a new team.
  • Leadership and Civic Engagement presented to transfer students on the importance of involvement for their success and sense of community, providing an overview of ways to get involved with leadership programming.
  • Student Involvement held virtual involvement fairs and Get Involved demo sessions during New Student Orientation to increase student access to opportunities that help them form communities on campus.

Other changes to existing programming include the following:

  • University Housing has increased programming at the floor-level and decrease building-wide programming to foster students’ sense of community. Programs, activities, and events have focused more on small-group activities, opportunities for personal connection, and education about the various resources and involvement opportunities at NC State.
  • TRIO Programs began utilizing cohort models in existing programming in order to foster a sustainable sense of small-group belonging among its students.
  • Academic Advising Programs and Services is strengthening its partnership with the Exploratory Studies Village by setting up a notification system for students who may not feel a sense of belonging at NC State. Students who report feeling this way in required meetings with their RA have their advisor notified, and the advisor sets up an appointment to assist the student in their transition.
  • Leadership and Civic Engagement has expanded periods throughout the academic year that students can get involved in various programming, including their Ambassador program and Mystery Service Saturdays, in order to increase student access to involvement opportunities beyond just the start of the fall semester.


Changes in Communication to Broad Student Audiences

  • Marketing and Communications will target specific audience niches including transfer students, underrepresented students, commuters, and tweak messaging to serve these populations’ sense of belonging when working with DASA units.
  • University Housing revised newsletter content about residential education and involvement opportunities to emphasize experiences that help students foster a sense of community on campus.
  • Leadership and Civic Engagement has started to advertise leadership opportunities through new campus partners in order to reach audiences of “less connected” students who may not be reached by traditional communication channels on campus.
  • Wellness and Recreation shared out a video about the sense of community experienced by Intramural Sports participants and a new welcome back video with student employees prior to RecFest.
  • Academic Advising Programs and Services strengthened messaging to USC 101 students about community and belonging at NC State, including: talking to students about being part of University College, how they fit in to the larger university community, and how to reach out for help if they are struggling to feel belonging on campus. The Curriculum Committee shared a common slide deck to all instructors to emphasize these points to students.

Changes in One-on-one Communication with Students

Several units incorporated questions about students’ acclimation and sense of community into one-on-one student meetings, including discussions about how students are or are not connecting and helping identify potential sources of community.

  • The Disability Resource Office began focusing on asking about and encouraging students’ connections with their instructors and academic department.
  • The Office of Student Conduct began including messaging about students’ responsibility to their NC State community in conversations about how their behavior affects others.
  • In Prevention Services, staff for CARES and PackRecovery incorporated questions about student belonging and sense of community as part of their assessment of students’ support systems.


Faculty and Staff Training

  • The Office of Student Conduct has incorporated content on student reporting bias as a diversity/inclusion issue for faculty instructors, to be used as a training tool for responding to academic misconduct. Staff in the unit also intentionally affirm to students who experience discrimination that even when an incident is not considered a code violation, it is still “not okay” and staff point students to other campus resources such as those in the Office for Institutional Equity and Diversity (OIED) or the Counseling Center.
  • Wellness and Recreation’s Diversity and Inclusion Work Team has scheduled one training for staff per month related to diversity and cultural competency. The team also distributes OIED resources within the unit and encourages subscription to the Diversity Digest among its staff.

Sources

  • 2017 First Year First Term Survey n=2583 (54% response rate). 
  • 2017 First Term Transfer Survey n=627 (49% response rate). 
  • DASA Assessment spring 2018 focus groups (n=19) of undergraduate students across class level, on the topic of sense of belonging and community on campus. Focus groups were conducted by DASA Assessment’s Pack Assessment Ambassadors.
  • University Housing spring 2018 focus groups (n=63) with underrepresented (by race/ethnicity and sexual orientation) undergraduate and graduate students living in on-campus housing, on the topic of marginalized students’ experiences on campus and in housing.