N of 1

N of 1 – that seems to be where medicine is moving towards. Advances in medicine point in the direction of an N of 1 strategy where studies use a sample size of one. This sample, while not statistically significant, could lead to cures for rare illnesses, which affect a very small number of individuals but which can be devastating, hence important to address. Arguably, the use of big data and innovative technology are enabling customization in unique ways. Student success is a non-negotiable commitment for Mizzou. How might we use the N of 1 strategy for student success?

While we like to recruit a large student freshman class and claim an even larger applicant pool, the N of 1 strategy implies that we respect and celebrate the fact that each of the 6,798 students we welcomed last year as freshman and transfer students, has a unique story, a special circumstance, and might bring a different perspective relative to what we are used to. This means that success comes to us one student at a time, and is not complete until we have helped every student tell their story and bring their aspirations to life. How do we do this in our classrooms, in our dorm rooms, in our dining halls and everywhere we want them to be?

First step to adoption of N of 1 is to have complete buy in – from faculty, staff, alumni, administrators. N of 1 requires that we help every student we bring into our learning environment. This means we help them when they struggle and that requires us to know when their struggles begin. Reaching out to help in a timely fashion can make all the difference. We also know that asking for help, does not come naturally to everyone. We are shy, we are embarrassed, and we worry about social stigmas when we ask for help.

Interestingly, big data allows us to do this in ways that work for the student and for us. Data and technology allow us to develop early alert systems and reach out when students need us. Studies show that students do best when they know we care – the best courses I took as a student and the courses that I aced were undeniably also those that had instructors who engaged me and reached out to let me know they cared for me as a person. I know that many of you do this every day, without thinking twice about it.

This year, with our data and early alert system, we reached out to the colleges and asked them to help us help our students. Many of them did. In particular, I want to applaud Dean Okker, her department chairs, associate deans and every faculty member in Arts & Science who took the time to engage and care, care and intervene. Intervention is a harsh word, but when a student needs help and does not feel comfortable reaching out, the right intervention can be a good thing, a great thing. That is exactly what Dean Okker did. Read what she says about this:

People often describe the College of Arts and Science (A&S) as the oldest and largest college at Mizzou. We’re proud of our size and our history, but we’re even prouder that A&S is a place where every single one of our students matters. One recent example of this is our efforts to help more students be successful at MU.   

This past semester we focused on Early Alert. Thanks to leadership of our newly created A&S Retention Team and the fantastic support from the MU Connect support team and Student Information System (SIS) we gathered data about faculty usage of Early Alert, focusing primarily on our 1000-level courses. Working directly with the chairs, we identified faculty who were not using Early Alert and had individual discussions with each faculty member to discuss the advantages of Early Alert and to identify and correct any difficulties they may have had with it. As dean, I also discussed the philosophy behind our commitment to Early Alert every time I met with faculty groups last semester. As I explained, many students experience difficulties in their first semester of college, but national data indicate that students do not seek help at the same rate. Many, especially first generation students, are less likely to seek assistance. Increasing our Early Alert usage, then, is part of our commitment to Inclusive Excellence. We will be a stronger college and a stronger university if all students have equal opportunity to be successful. Not surprisingly, response from faculty was overwhelmingly positive, and our Early Alert usage increased by 55% in one semester.

But identifying students who may be experiencing problems was just the beginning. We also quickly realized that we needed a triage team, to respond individually to the students who were experiencing difficulties. When our triage team did reach out to students at risk, they typically encountered situations that were complex. Students didn’t have “just” one challenge, and a review of the student’s success network, courses, and advisor meetings helped us develop individualized outreach and referrals. The range of referrals we made was extensive, including Academic Exploration and Advising Services, Career Center, Disability Center, Counseling, Student Health, the Care Team under Dean of Students, Veterans Center, Mizzou Online, Tiger Tutors, Writing Center, Study Plan Consultant, TRIO, Office for Financial Success, Financial Aid, Cashier’s, and advising offices in other academic units. In addition to individualized outreach, we also increased our drop-in advising opportunities with our associate dean for undergraduate studies and our director of advising. Both have tremendous knowledge of MU and can help students no matter the complexity of their individual situations.

For me, the biggest lesson here is that everyone at MU—literally everyone—plays a role in student success, and I am grateful to the many faculty and staff in A&S and our wonderful partners across campus who are working every day to make sure that all our students are successful here at Mizzou and beyond.

Please, if you see Dean Okker or her faculty or staff, give them a hug – they will not ask but will know why. We need to bring more of our humanity into what we do – in our classrooms, in our research and in everything we do for our students. It matters and we can then rightfully claim that we are In the Midst of What Matters.