iSchool Students Supported Every Step of their Learning Journey
Student Services Team Expands Services with Live Chat, Personalized Coaching, and Spanish-Speaking Advising
As the front line of student support for San José State University’s School of Information, the Student Services Team is consistently innovating to meet and anticipate the needs of its diverse population. To enhance its reach, the team has recently expanded in size and scope. The addition of two new staff members and increased engagement platforms has amplified access to the team’s services and resources.
iSchool Director Anthony Chow is especially excited about the hiring of a new bilingual staff member to offer more robust services for the school’s Hispanic population. Chow explained that Fabiola Arellano “will help us strengthen our commitment and support of all students and honor our role as a Hispanic Serving Institution, both for SJSU and the School of Information, where students of Hispanic/Latino ethnicity have continued to grow.”
Student-centered care and embedded support is the foundation of the team’s mission. They continually work to ensure that students feel welcome and know that staff and faculty are accessible and willing to help. Sheila Gurtu, the student outreach specialist, says, “We want our students to feel comfortable enough that they can come to us when challenges arise.”
From initial point of contact to long after they graduate, students in the master’s degree, Teacher Librarian Services Credential, certificate, and Open Classes programs are robustly supported and resourced by Student Services Team members. Staff work with prospective students as they prepare their applications and perform extensive outreach to new students, including distributing a New Student Checklist; convening a registration tips workshop; and providing messaging through the iSchool Alert email service, a help desk webform, and the iSchool advising portal in Canvas.
Gurtu helps coordinate webinars, such as the online open house sessions, and responds to new and prospective student inquiries. Three days a week, she offers Zoom appointments, where she coaches current students on a range of topics, including how to use the Advising Toolkit, file degree candidacy paperwork, plan a for-credit internship, and prepare for the e-Portfolio culminating experience.
In addition, Gurtu hosts community poster session events for students and alumni at annual iSchool receptions at the American Library Association and California Library Association conferences. “This is a wonderful way for students to meet in person with faculty, students, alumni, and other working professionals to network, share their research and internship experiences, and promote their projects in a supportive environment,” she says. This year, students will be able to participate remotely through a virtual reality poster gallery held in the iSchool Hubs environment.
Gurtu is part of a four-person team, which also includes Gina Lee, Arellano, and Taryn Reiner, another newer hire. Lee, student services coordinator, works behind the scenes to collate and facilitate information, messaging, and logistics. She manages live chat, appointment calendars, and the iSchoolAlert database, and liaises between the Student Services Team and other campus departments. Lee also works with students on candidacy approval forms, session changes, and special petitions and collaborates with INFO 203 Online Learning Tools and Strategies for Success instructors to orient new students.
As the Hispanic/Latinx student advisor, Arellano fulfills a critical role to support the school’s growing Hispanic, Latinx, and first-generation student body. As of spring 2023, 663 of Master of Library and Information Science students identified as Hispanic. In an exit survey of 105 students from fall 2022, 52% of MLIS students indicated that they were first-generation undergraduates, and 59% identified as first-generation master’s students. The school has recently developed a student group to support this growing population. Chow says that Arellano’s appointment resonates personally and responds to a clear need for representative support: “As a person of color myself, I know how important it is to have someone who understands you and your lived experience. We pride ourselves on offering a diverse suite of services and support.”
Arellano coaches prospective students on application submission and responds to inquiries about the school’s programs. She also reviews student candidacy forms for the Master of Science in Informatics and Master of Archives and Records Administration programs. All her services are available in Spanish and publicized on a Spanish language help form. She offers a Spanish live chat service four hours a week. Arellano wants students to know that “No Te Estoy Diciendo Que Será Fácil. Te Estoy Diciendo Que Valdrá La Pena” (“I’m not telling you it’ll be easy. I’m telling you it’ll be worth it.”).
Reiner, the new student support specialist, uses evidence-based approaches and strategies to help students succeed academically. All of the school’s students enter the online academic environment from a variety of backgrounds and vantage points. The Student Services Team’s goal is to maximize opportunities for success for all students. Staff have established specific support channels to target students who might be struggling, falling behind in course work, or facing extenuating circumstances. Reiner, who holds a master’s degree in counseling, works proactively with students so they can receive the resources and support they need to succeed in the program and fulfill their educational and professional goals. In addition, the Student Services Team maintains an iSchool Wellness page, which links students to available resources, such as SJSU Counseling and Psychological Services, the campus Accessible Education Center, and other critical supports.
It can be challenging to build community and feel connected in an online, globally dispersed environment. To address this reality, the Student Services Team works across multiple fronts to foster social belonging and initiates frequent touchpoints for student interaction. The team bridges and suggests resources to help students feel connected, such as linking students to specific faculty pathway advisors; student organizations and events; campus departments, like the Accessible Education Center and Financial Aid and Scholarships Office; and writing tutors and career center specialists.
Recognizing that students face competing demands for their time and attention, the team conveys information through multiple platforms and ensures follow-up with students who may miss communications regarding deadlines for graduation paperwork, or other items. In addition, staff is continually adapting and scaling services to incorporate feedback from post-appointment, workshop, and graduating student exit surveys.
Over time, the team has developed robust tools and resources to connect with students at critical milestones to ensure their success and well-being in the online environment. For example, to anchor students in thinking about their professional role in an expansive and constantly shifting Library and Information Science environment, the Student Services Team facilitates an MLIS Pathway Q and A webcast series, where MLIS faculty pathway advisors meet with students to share course and career planning tips. As a bookend to the New Student Checklist, students preparing to graduate are guided by a graduation checklist. The team’s assistance is amplified by targeted tutorials on graduation requirements and materials submission and personal appointments.
Public librarianship, one of the iSchool’s most popular MLIS career pathways, was the topic of discussion for this installment of the Student Services’ Lunch and Learn Webcast Series.
Students can obtain services through multiple channels, including live chat, email, a help form, or one-on-one Zoom appointments, a range that covers demand for urgent response and more extensive personalized guidance. The team is most proud of its recent efforts to increase accessibility. For example, the addition of live chat services has shown tremendous success, and the team has doubled their accessible hours this semester. They are now available 20 hours a week, including one evening, for a total of 36 student slots.
The iSchool is part of the College of Professional and Global Education, the nexus for connecting professionals, institutions, businesses, and industries, locally and from around the world, to the knowledge, resources, and talents of Silicon Valley’s premier public university. The Student Services Team serves within this framework to enhance student success for all learners which, in turn, supports information work in local communities and global information environments.
Chow says, “Our slogan is ‘High Tech, High Touch, and High Quality,’ and our student advisors fit squarely with our promise to offer students all three. We leverage technology to make connecting with us, their instructors, and their peers seamless and easy using whatever technology they would like.”
The Student Services Team ensures that all iSchool students thrive in graduate school and achieve their educational goals. The team can be reached at email@example.com.