Kent State Faculty and Staff Surprise First-Year Students With Calls

Erin Ahrens
Erin Ahrens
At Kent State University, Golden Flashes are known to take care of other Flashes. With the pandemic looming over the school year, more than 100 Kent State faculty, staff and administrators checked in on first-year students over the phone last November to talk about their well-being and pathways for success during their first semester.

First-year students at Kent State faced incredible challenges at the beginning of the academic year due to the pandemic. Between beginning their college careers in a nearly virtual setting and living on campus with firm guidelines to ensure safety, many first-year students have had questions and concerns throughout the school year.

Chris Tankersley
Chris Tankersley
Members of the University Retention Task Force recognized that some first-year students were struggling, and sought to support them by contacting students to ensure their first semester was going smoothly. They recruited over 164 faculty, staff and administrators to touch base with first-year students, demonstrating that “Flashes Take Care of Flashes.”
Joshua Perkins
Joshua Perkins
The “Flashes Take Care of Flashes” phone calls were organized to take place two weeks before Thanksgiving break by Erin Ahrens, coordinator of community engagement in the Honors College, Chris Tankersley, Ph.D., associate director Student Learning & Assessment, and Josh Perkins, Ph.D., director of Student Success Programs. Their mission was to check in with students regarding their semesters and to connect them with any resources the students needed.

“Campus doesn’t feel like it normally does, so this was our way of empathizing with students and pointing them in the right direction to the resources we have,” Ahrens said. “Following up with students really showed them how much people at Kent State care.”

Perkins gathered the roster of students from First-Year Experience courses, a continuation of Kent State’s first-year orientation program that introduces students to the university, their colleges, faculty and other classmates. More than 4,000 students were on the rosters.

“Because of the number of students we needed to contact, we reached out to other staff and faculty members on campus and said, ‘This is what we would like to do and we need your help,’” Tankersley said. “We received volunteers from a variety of different offices and academic departments.”

Talea Drummer-Ferrell
Talea Drummer-Ferrell
Each volunteer received a list of about 20 to 25 students to contact and a document with talking points during their conversations. Talea Drummer-Ferrell, Ph.D., dean of students, talked with students from the College of Education, Health and Human Services.

“I can’t imagine their thoughts when they heard the ‘Dean of Students’ is calling, but after the initial confusion and sharing the purpose of the call, they all seemed to appreciate the outreach,” Drummer-Ferrell said. “If I was able to help even one student through this initiative that may not otherwise have reached out for help, it was certainly worth it.”

Dennis Campbell
Dennis Campbell
Dennis Campbell, assistant director for Fraternity and Sorority Life at Kent State, agreed that the calls were impactful for first-year students who answered.

“Students normally hear from their advisor or their professors, but they don't necessarily hear from the average staff member,” Campbell said. “I think it makes a difference to those students when someone else from Kent State calls and says, ‘Hey, I don't teach you, but I care about you. What can I help you with to be successful moving forward?’”

Ahrens agreed that students were receptive to their phone calls and appreciated staff and faculty contacting them.

“The students I talked to gave very positive feedback and were excited that somebody cared and wanted to listen when they had questions,” Ahrens said. “They were eager to talk, and I wanted to address any issues they might have.”

Volunteers who did not have immediate answers to students’ questions or situations referred them to the organizers, who followed up with students to help them navigate their inquiries. 

Despite the usual circumstances, Tankersley said the initiative was very successful.

“As a university, it helped us identify where students are having challenges,” Tankersley said. “It's the best way to get data when you're calling students so we can later address what they're not receiving or understanding.”

The organizers are working on a spring “Flashes Take Care of Flashes” phone call initiative for additional first-year students before spring break.

“Looking toward the future, we hope to also focus our efforts on commuter students and get upperclassmen students involved in contacting the freshmen,” Ahrens said. “As long as this helps students connect to somebody who can answer their questions, helps them navigate the process and creates positive interactions like that students have, then we’re making a great difference.”

For students looking for further academic support or guidance, visit https://www.kent.edu/student-services.

POSTED: Thursday, March 25, 2021 - 10:12am
UPDATED: Monday, April 19, 2021 - 9:09pm
WRITTEN BY:
Brady Warmbein