Helping Students Find their Way
The University of Iowa

Think back to the time when you were starting your college experience.  Were you both excited, yet apprehensive?  What if there was a program to help you with all aspects of your college transition (academic, financial, and social or personal) those first weeks of college?  At the University of Iowa there is a network of programs to support first-year and transfer students coming to campus for the first time.  It all starts with an online course called Success at Iowa.


Success at Iowa

According to Angela Lamb, co-instructor of the course, “Success at Iowa is designed to help students transition to the University and become familiar with online tools that are specific to this institution.  Course content is organized in a way that provides just-in-time information as the student needs it.” 

Part one of the course starts in May, prior to fall semester enrollment and needs to be completed before a student participates in orientation.  Part two covers mandatory training on policies that are essential to know. By the first day of classes in the fall, a student is ready to take part three, and are soon taking a survey called Excelling@Iowa



Excelling @ Iowa Survey Categories
Danielle Martinez, assistant director in Academic Support and Retention oversees Excelling@Iowa and says, “We have been working on early intervention and retention initiatives for some time, and have used a variety of approaches. But, last year, we were able to build a tool specific to the University of Iowa utilizing a broad base of support and input from our colleagues on campus also working in this area.” This collaborative model continues to grow to meet the needs of the campus community. Part of the system includes an early intervention survey and faculty, staff and administrators use student responses to support all first-year and new transfer students’ transition to Iowa.  Based on a student’s responses and some precollege information, the system identifies students who may struggle with the transition to college or students who may be at-risk for leaving the university.

There are a core set of questions students answer in 12 categories. 

Examining Excelling@Iowa student transition data can be complex given the breadth of the survey and number of students involved. Last fall, Academic Support and Retention communicated the data in a way to create a narrative about the student experience; a narrative that is connected to best practices in student retention.

  • Self-efficacy in the context of bouncing back from challenge
  • Sense of belonging as viewed from the students’ perceptions of how or if they matter and fit with the University of Iowa
  • Perceived value of the curriculum, or academic skills or integration

New transfer students note Social Climate and Belonging as what they like most about the UI (12.88%), yet new students also state Fitting in and Belonging is one of the areas they like least about the UI (9.07%).  So the program needs to respond to a variety of needs within the new and transfer student population.  This is done using a variety of tools and intervention programs. 

Ambur Hageman, a transfer student from Wartburg College, was one of those students who listed Fitting in and Belonging as a concern on her survey.  She knew she may struggle with getting to know people at first.  “I knew to succeed at Iowa, I would need to connect with others,” says Hageman. “It can be really challenging at a big school especially when you live off campus.” 


Rebecca Don, advisor for TLC and Ambur Hageman, transfer student who found TLC.
Transfers Leading Change

Through Excelling@Iowa, new transfer students are assigned to a faculty or staff member as part of their network of support at UI. Hageman was connected with Brett Caskey, a graduate assistant in the Academic Support and Retention office and began meeting with him weekly.  One exciting outcome of their meetings was the development of a new transfer student program called Transfers Leading Change (TLC).  Hageman, along with three other transfer students, Madison Burns, Olivia Sun and Kathleen McHenry founded this program to help others like themselves connect on campus.  Rebecca Don, advisor for the Transfers Leading Change program is excited to see what impact this program will have on future transfer students.   

  • Developing a sense of belonging is just one of the categories identified.  Students may also need help identifying how to stay within a budget, manage their time wisely or cultivate good study or physical activity habits, among others.  According to a survey from the National College Health Assessment Summary, the University of Iowa compares better than the national sample in a number of key areas including:
  • More likely to report feeling very safe in the surrounding community
  • Less likely to report negative feelings associated with mental health conditions
  • Less likely to report issues with sleep
  • More likely to meet the physical activity recommendations for health 


Supplemental Instruction and Tutor Iowa

Students are encouraged to become familiar with academic support resources for all courses so that they can meet their individual academic goals. The best place to start to find resources is Tutor Iowa, a virtual resource to locate academic support options. Another type of academic support that has grown exponentially the past couple of years is Supplemental Instruction (SI), offered in the Academic Resource Center (ARC). Lead by Stephanie Preschel, assistant director in Academic Support and Retention, SI is offered for 20 courses each semester  and utilizes organized group study sessions facilitated by a student who has previously excelled in the course.  Some examples of course titles available for SI Leader support include Calculus and Matrix Algebra for Business, Elementary Psychology, General Chemistry, Foundations of Biology and Human Anatomy, to name a few.   

Many SI leaders found that attending SI contributed to their learning and academic success, and want to give back and help other students. Abigail Cunningham is one of those students.  Cunningham utilized the services of Supplemental Instruction several times before becoming a SI leader herself. 

“I found out about Supplemental Instruction at Orientation as a freshman,” says Cunningham. “I took advantage of the program for several courses including Nutrition and Health and General Chemistry.” 

Cunningham found that being able to talk through the key concepts of the subject matter with other people was the most helpful aspect of utilizing Supplemental Instruction.  In fact, Cunningham had such a positive experience that she jumped at the chance to become the leader of that course herself when the opportunity came up. 

Being an SI leader involves a ten hour time commitment each week including attending the course, prepping and facilitating the student sessions.  SI leaders also go to a weekly team leader meeting for all SI leaders on campus. 

According to Cunningham, “Being an SI leader led me to be a more confident public speaker.  As a nursing student and future nurse, I hope to be able to incorporate my speaking ability with education in the field.” 

These are several of the programs offered through Academic Support and Retention, a key office within University College that helps to facilitate the academic success for all UI undergraduate students.  Helping students find their way, keep on track and succeed to graduation sums up the mission of this unit.  For more information, visit