Indiana State University Newsroom

Indiana State community gains insights at student success conference

November 1, 2013

Indiana State University professor Beth Whitaker announced to her class that they were taking a short quiz, prompting her students to tuck away their notebooks and pens - and haul out their cell phones and laptops.

Whitaker, an avid supporter of using technology to teach students and for professional development, introduced some of the programs she uses to teach during a workshop at the inaugural Fall Student Success Conference at Indiana State. Whitaker presented "On How to Reach Them to Teach Them" during a conference that featured presentations about common challenges that college students encounter, along with programs and insights that can improve student retention and graduation. About 150 Indiana State faculty, staff members and students attended the daylong program.

"I have underlying reasons for doing what I do," Whitaker told her presentation audience as she introduced a variety of Internet resources available for educators - in the case of her students, aspiring educators - to use for free. "I want them to know that these tools are out there for them to use in their classrooms after they graduate."

Several presentations featured information about Indiana State students' experiences on campus. Christopher Childs, research analyst for the Office of Student Success, reported on student responses to the Diverse Learning Environments Survey. While the survey is a snapshot of diversity on campus, he said, the results indicate that students are satisfied with the racial diversity on campus, along with the expression of diverse beliefs on campus.

Survey questions covered a variety of topics, including students' experiences regarding discrimination and interactions among people of different racial and ethnic groups. The survey results will be used to help create a diversity plan for the university.

"It‘s a really good time to focus on these issues because I feel that staff and faculty are geared onto retention. We know that retention is not just a student success problem. It's everybody's problem," Childs said after the presentation. "This gives really good insight on general things that we can do better, how we can teach better, and for staff, what areas can we work on to help students."

Indiana State students such as Casey Jonas, who is from Merrillville and pursuing her master's degree in clinical mental health counseling, attended the conference. She works in the financial aid office and is working on an educational initiative to teach current and incoming students about the basics of financial aid.

"We deal with a lot of first generation students. Nobody in their family went to college, so they're coming in and they don't know about what tuition really is, their financial aid offers or anything they can really do," she said. "Many students enroll in school here and they don't understand the next step."

Crystal Baker, director of the Office of Financial Aid, presented about "the 3 Rs" of red tape, repayment and reciprocity of loan indebtedness during a conference presentation. Her session discussed the multistep student loan process "and how the institution is a critical component of the student loan cycle."

"One of the patterns we've seen is students take out all these loans and they don't realize exactly how much it's going to cost, and there's a growing risk of default," Jonas said. "We want to make sure people understand loans and how to repay them so we don't have that default."

Some students spoke during a workshop session about the teaching methods that benefited them and methods that frustrated them. Sowmya Challa, a doctoral student at Indiana State who is from India, stressed that open lines of communication between students and professors are vital for students to be successful.

"If the student is not comfortable, they may not be learning as much," Challa said after the workshop. "But if the student is completely comfortable with the course and has a clear understanding of the process, then it will help the student to effectively learn the content."

The conference included a lunchtime panel that featured Dennis Bland of the Indiana Commission for Higher Education and Rhonda Rhoads (R-70), vice-chair of the Education Committee in the Indiana House of Representatives. The panel discussed "Student Success and the Future of Higher Education."

The conference introduced more Indiana State faculty, staff and students to efforts across campus to increase student success, which is a major initiative for the university's strategic plan, said Josh Powers, associate vice president for student success at Indiana State.

"We really wanted to engage a broader cross section of people who maybe aren't involved in the strategic plan," he added, "and this was a way to do that."

Photo: Presenters of a workshop at the inaugural Fall Student Success Conference at Indiana State University.Photo: Several Indiana State University students, including Sowmya Challa (far right), discuss teaching methods during a workshop at the inaugural Fall Student Success Conference at Indiana State. The conference featured a variety of presentations on topics that impact college student retention and graduation.

Photo: Christopher Childs, research analyst for the Office of Student Success at Indiana State University

Media Contact: Josh Powers, associate vice president for student success, Indiana State University, 812-237-8378 or

Writer: Austin Arceo, assistant director of media relations, Office of Communications and Marketing, Indiana State University, 812-237-3790 or