Adopting a more holistic approach to student success, the Institute recently integrated several administrative departments that previously focused on separate aspects of student life, such as boosting retention and graduation rates, student diversity enrollment, and career development.
Now, those efforts, along with additional projects to help students succeed during and after their academic career, fall under the auspices of Jarrid Whitney, who assumed the new position of assistant vice president for student affairs, enrollment, and career services in May 2019.
Whitney, who previously served as executive director of admissions and financial aid since 2010, will now oversee a comprehensive effort to identify and expand the ways that the Institute can help undergraduates, graduate students, young alumni, and postdoctoral scholars succeed.
“The goal is to look at the factors that contribute to student success from the moment they are admitted and enrolled. We want to look at not only what students have accomplished as incoming students but to also look at the process they go through with registration, how they adapt to the environment here at Caltech, and then, ultimately, what they do when they're looking for jobs, internships, and graduate school opportunities once they graduate,” he says.
In his new position, which reports to Joe Shepherd, vice president for student affairs, Whitney will oversee the Registrar’s Office, Undergraduate Admissions, Financial Aid, and the Career Development Center, as well as work with the Institutional Research Office to identify and share data that may predict or promote student achievement. For example, admissions data might show that students who took a certain level of math class in high school had a statistically significant advantage in core curriculum grades or graduation rates. Knowing that could help the Institute inform prospective students about courses to consider before applying.
“What we want to do is look at what we already know to find out if there are opportunities to make recommendations that could help current and future students. The idea is to connect all those pieces of data together in a way nobody has been able to do in the past,” he says.
He adds that student success “is not just purely about graduation rates or persistence rates. It's really more about the students who are here—how can we support them better? We always want to do as much as we can for every individual student.”
Assisting in that effort in new administrative positions are Claire Ralph, director of the Career Development Center and lecturer in computing and mathematical sciences, and Nikki Chun, director of undergraduate admissions.
Ralph, who assumed the post on July 15, says her key aim is to help students, postdocs, and young alumni “figure out what their ambitions are, what pathways exist for achieving those ambitions, and then provide them with the skills and information necessary to make decisions from a place of confidence, whether those decisions involve pursuing further academic training, trying out industry, or giving back through public-interest work.”
That may involve providing workshops in resume writing, how to interview, or how to negotiate, as well as “soft skills,” she says, “like feeling comfortable at a fancy dinner or networking event. We want to make sure we’re providing opportunities for students from diverse backgrounds to feel comfortable navigating the professional work environment, especially because cultural and international norms differ.”
Chun, who assumed her new post in June, says her office aims to collaborate more intentionally with the Dean of Undergraduate Students Office, the Office of Residential Experience, the Caltech Center for Diversity, and other groups to identify and strengthen student retention and persistence, and boost enrollment of women and students who come from backgrounds that have been historically underrepresented in STEM fields.
She adds, “It takes an entire campus to enroll a student, and ultimately, our success in recruitment and enrollment leads to increased success with retention and graduation efforts.”
Shepherd says all the changes significantly reduce the number of direct reports to the Office of the Vice President for Student Affairs while providing more effective management of key administrative groups within Student Affairs.
Consolidating the various units with a shared responsibility for student welfare and joining them under a single leader, he says, “enables our campus to more effectively evaluate student success during their time at Caltech and in their subsequent endeavors.”