A Conversation with Meredith’s New Director of Retention and Student Success

Brandon Stokes, who has been a staff member at Meredith College since 2010, is taking on a new challenge as Meredith’s first Director of Retention and Student Success. Campus Connections talked to Stokes about his plans for the position, his background as Phonathon director and in Academic Advising, and how faculty and staff can support the College’s retention goals.

Brandon Stokes photoWhat are your initial goals as Director of Retention and Student Success?

This first year, it is important that we effectively communicate what MAP-Works is and why it is a crucial tool in ensuring our students are successful and more likely to retain. MAP-Works is the new retention software that the campus will be learning more about during Faculty/Staff Planning Week. I intend to offer multiple opportunities throughout the year for faculty and staff to learn more and maximize their use of the program. Also, I intend to heavily assess and scrutinize existing retention initiatives and strategies that we are utilizing. I want to make sure that whatever we’re doing, we’re doing it well, and that students are truly benefiting. Finally, I hope to identify new opportunities to help with retention and student success. For example, so much of our time is spent focusing on students that are performing poorly that we often fail to praise those that are performing well. I would like to use tools available to me, MAP-Works being the most important, to identify which students are succeeding and commend them. After all, that personal touch is what makes Meredith special.

What is the longer term charge for you as director?

Of course, we want for our retention rate to rise over time. However, the overall college retention rate isn’t the only number I’ll be focusing on. We want to look at the retention rates of multiple categories of students (i.e. – first generation, high-need, low-need, various academic backgrounds, etc.) to dig deeper on why certain students choose to stay or leave and how we can be proactive. This will help us decide how best to devote our resources and steer our retention strategies in order to establish a comprehensive plan that will ultimately contribute to the larger numbers.

With all of that said, the success of the student is most important. Decisions must be made with the welfare of the individual in mind, and my background in advising helps to reassure me that I know how to navigate those delicate conversations appropriately.

Retention is an important issue for the campus. How can faculty and staff help in reaching those goals?

I’ll keep it simple. Colleagues that are reading (thanks for making it this far), I ask only three* things of you:

  1. Please use MAP-Works. This is such a cool and fun program once you learn it. I’m still learning a ton about it, and I get more excited about it every day. Take advantage of the opportunities you’ll have to be trained and learn more, as the program is only as good as the information it contains… and YOU supply half of that information (the student supplies the rest).
  2. Please pay attention to your students during the first three weeks of the semester. The first three weeks are universally viewed as the most critical for college students. Feelings of homesickness, inadequacy, unpreparedness, and more begin to show. Also, you instructors should have some idea as to the academic habits and performance of your students. Therefore, this is the time for early and appropriate interventions, and MAP-Works will help you determine who the best person is to reach out to the student so that you don’t have to do it all yourself.
  3. Let me know how I can help. If you know me, you know I’m ready to help in any way that I can. I’ll be relying on you to give me constant feedback, so please drop in, call me, meet me for lunch, send me an email, or whatever works for you.

*Just like a syllabus, this is subject to change at any time.

In your career at Meredith, you’ve served in a variety of roles. What interested you in the newly created Director of Retention and Student Success position?

I’ve very much enjoyed my variety of roles, but the two things they’ve had in common are working closely with students while presenting an exciting challenge. My first position in The Meredith Fund was a fantastic opportunity that I’m forever grateful to have obtained as I was tasked with revitalizing the Phonathon. I’m very proud of the achievements we made and of the students I helped develop and watch graduate. In Academic & Career Planning (ACP), I inherited a well-oiled machine with the Advising & Registration (now “Enroll@MC”) events and joined a very close, organized team that helped me develop tremendously. I’m also proud of the progress we’ve made in improving the advising and registration process for freshmen, the academic probation process for all students, and in promoting four-year planning.

This new position allows me to continue to advance my career while maintaining that contact with students that I deeply value and working to improve even more academic and student success processes and programs on campus. Certainly, this position will come with challenges. Luckily, I work with faculty, staff, and administrators that care greatly about our students and their success, so I feel that the support that already exists will make these challenges fun and worthwhile.

How have your previous roles and involvement at Meredith prepared you for this new challenge?

With the Phonathon, I was constantly assessing the effectiveness of our student callers and providing constructive feedback. This not only helped us improve our fundraising goals, but it helped our callers understand how to improve upon their conversation and persuasion techniques and become better fundraisers. This new position will be similar in that, as the campus coordinator for MAP-Works, we will have the opportunity to constantly share in assessing our students and their likelihood for success so that we may be constantly intervening, supporting, and improving.

Of course, teaching FYE and advising the Class of 2016 are unique roles that allow me to see our students from multiple perspectives. Additionally, I understand how FYE instructors and class advisers are such valuable resources when it comes to developing relationships with students and being another person on campus who can care for, advise, and support them.

With ACP, I’ve done so much to help prepare me for this. But since I have a tendency to be wordy in my written communications, I’ll sum it up by saying that the relationships I’ve built and continue to maintain with so many people – particularly those that play a direct role in student success and retention – are the most important. But, that’s what so great about Meredith… the ability to develop a relationship with faculty, department heads, deans, staff from so many areas, administrators, and especially students.

Is there anything else you’d like to Meredith’s faculty and staff to know?

Just how thankful I am to have this opportunity and serve in this role, work at such a great place, and work with such great people. Thank YOU for retaining ME!

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