a student and a writing mentor work on a paper together
Services through VCU Strategic Enrollment Management and Student Success include the Campus Learning Center and Writing Center. (File photo taken prior to the pandemic, courtesy of the Writing Center)

It’s a stressful time of the semester. Student support services are here to help.

If you are a student feeling panic because of assignments and exams, staff at VCU Strategic Enrollment Management and Student Success want you to know that there is “a whole team of people who want to support you.”

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Whether you are a successful student or struggling with research, at the beginning of your academic career or in the home stretch, Strategic Enrollment Management and Student Success support services at Virginia Commonwealth University has programming to help you succeed in your academic journey.

“We want students to think of staff in Student Success as their person to call on for academic or moral support, encouragement and tips from day one at VCU, that they always know, even when changing majors,” said Inta “Maggie” Tolan, Ed.D., senior associate vice president for student success. “The skills to acquire and build up through sessions at Student Success services are keys to strong academic skills.”

These services include the Campus Learning Center’s varied offerings like the Science Hub, Supplemental Instruction, tutoring and academic coaching, as well as advising, Student-Athlete Support Services and the Writing Center.

Professionals and peers 

Staff at the Writing Center and the Campus Learning Center help students become stronger writers and better manage studying through peer-based, in-person and online support, workshops and tutoring.

Tolan wants students to see the Division of Strategic Enrollment Management and Student Success services as an ally and a support system.

“Our role in Student Success is really to partner as much as we can with faculty to see what the students are struggling in in their courses,” Tolan said. “COVID has led to many other pain points of students than we normally have dealt with. COVID put a spotlight on the fragility of a student.”

Sofia Hiort-Wright, Ph.D., senior executive associate athletic director/SWA, said services aren’t just for students who are struggling. 

“It could be somebody who comes to the Writing Center who has never had a B grade in their life. They can still come and seek support at the Campus Learning Center. You can have somebody who's applying to medical school, is very successful, but still seeking our services,” said Hiort-Wright. “Sometimes students get to midterms, are not doing well and they're just going to give up because half the semester has gone by.”

But Hiort-Wright said it's not too late. “I would say to students: Hopefully, you take that step and seek help. We're here for your initiative to be a positive experience. You shouldn't feel bad about it.” 

The Writing Center and the Campus Learning Center are funded by the university learning fee and are free to students. 

“Our goal is to help students become the most confident, strongest writers they can be,” said Brian McTague, director of the Writing Center. “The way we do that primarily is meeting with students one on one for writing consultations. Our staff are all students, called writing consultants.” 

In addition to individual writing consultations, the Writing Center also offers at least two group workshops via Zoom per week. The sessions are open to the entire VCU community, focusing on one aspect or type of writing, such as structuring an argument for the reader, introductions or personal statements. The schedule of the workshops is available on the Writing Center website.

“What we try to do is look at the holistic picture when it comes to students’ writing,” said McTague. “We teach students how to structure their work in a logical way for their readers. A big thing we do is to get them to consider the reader, to make sense of their ideas, as they move forward and are expected to do more sophisticated types of writing.” 

When first-year students are used to writing five-paragraph essays in high school, the Writing Center offers assistance and guidance when the assignments change to the longer, more nuanced and often technical writing that professors expect at the university level. 

“Talking about their work and their ideas is really powerful and can help students feel more confident,” McTague said. “Professors are going to appreciate that students sought out support like the Writing Center, tutoring or supplemental instruction. They don't see it as a sign of weakness.” 

Creating and meeting goals 

The Campus Learning Center offers Supplemental Instruction, academic coaching and tutoring. In a time of multiple formats of learning, the center offers a connection on a consistent basis all semester with schedules available on the website.

“We're here to help students reach their goals,” said Michal Coffey, director of the Campus Learning Center. “All of our students across campus show up here with a goal. We see students who are in the Honors College, we see students who are seniors, we see students who are first-year students, and we might see students who are returning from an academic dismissal. 

“One of the lucky things that we're able to do is to customize to each student, depending on what point they're at. This isn't a one-size-fits-all sort of methodology.”

Coffey said sessions with organic chemistry tutors, meetings with writing consultants, or attending Supplemental Instruction where there's a couple dozen students and a peer leader in the room create connections as the VCU campus community comes back together. 

“Having most of our students back on campus allows us to support them in a holistic way,” Coffey said. “Because we're here on campus, we are able to really create those connections that tie students to VCU and help them feel supported by VCU and a part of our world.”

All services are now in person at the Campus Learning Center, with virtual options also available. 

“There's this very American idea that we have to [achieve] on our own, to be strong and push through on our own. And a lot of our students have done so much of that already,” Coffey said. “I wish I could say, ‘This is your break, for these years here at VCU, you don't have to do it on your own because you have a whole team of people who want to support you.’”

Tolan stressed there is no shame in reaching out for help, even for students who have been avoiding advisers. She said to think about these services as maximizing all that VCU has to offer for the cost of tuition.

“It's never too late to talk to your professors,” Tolan said. “Take a bold step, be brave, crack the ice with your professors if you haven't done that yet.”