Transformational Change Initiative eyes future of systemwide impact

classroom of students
WSU's LIFT Faculty Fellowship brings educators together to discuss how to maintain student engagement in large lecture-style classes.

After five years of helping students engage with learning opportunities and bringing instructors together to infuse new innovations into their classes, WSU’s Transformational Change Initiative (TCI) is taking significant steps to continue enhancing its offerings.

The Transformational Change Initiative began as a five year internally funded grant program. But following its successes with a parent handbook as well as its LAUNCH and LIFT Faculty Fellowship programs, university leaders opted to institutionalize TCI and make it a permanent part of the university’s programming.

“With this incredible support, our goal is to expand TCI activities and increase collaboration with other WSU efforts focused on teaching excellence,” Erika Offerdahl, director of the program, said. “We will do this by inviting even more faculty to LIFT as well as eventually creating LIFT trainings specifically for academic advisors and graduate students, who play a critical role in student success.”

Offerdahl also indicated the TCI will be hosting the first annual Engage Learners. Empower Voices. Advance Teaching Excellence (ELEVATE) conference on August 16 in the Spark in collaboration with Academic Outreach and Innovation. This one-day event will be feature presentations, workshops, and demonstrations designed to reinvigorate faculty and graduate students as they prepare for the 2022-23 academic year.

“The pandemic has been draining for our instructors and students,” Offerdahl said. “This event is an opportunity to reconnect, energize, and form collaborations that will help us all in elevating our instructional practice.”  

TCI is also launching a new internal grant opportunity focused on inclusion, equity, diversity and access, to address these topics in teaching at the undergraduate level. More information is available on the Division of Academic Engagement and Student Achievement website.

Elevating instruction

In previous years, a select number of faculty have been chosen in the fall as LIFT Faculty Fellows, who were then eligible to participate in trainings focused on evidenced-based teaching interventions that are known to improve student engagement. The goal of LIFT is to enhance the classroom experience to increase academic success, develop students’ life skills and resilience, and transform the undergraduate experience at WSU..

This year, LIFT will welcome a new cohort in May and a 2-day event on the Tri-Cities campus May 12-13 will be open to faculty systemwide. TCI will be covering hotel and meal expenses for the event as well to avoid the risk of individual financial barriers limiting participation. Applications are due May 4th.

“There are some real benefits in being shoulder to shoulder with faculty when thinking about resilience training for students, sharing personal stories and reflection in a way that doesn’t happen virtually,” Offerdahl said, noting that adjustments will be made if public health concerns arise. 

More information about how to become a LIFT Faculty Fellow is available on TCI’s website. An event for the Pullman campus in the fall is also being planned. The application process to participate in LIFT has been greatly simplified in hopes that all wishing to participate will be able to do so.

Helping students stay on track to graduate

TCI’s LAUNCH program has previously helped students become aware of experiential learning opportunities and provide mentoring and skills training opportunities. Much of this work is done by peer mentors, who can help their fellow students adjust to college life and find opportunities for them to gain valuable research or career experience.

The goal is to provide students with resilience training while encouraging a mindset focused on growth and mindfulness. Its offerings have principally been delivered in a small number of courses primarily on the Pullman campus.

In the years ahead, TCI will look to enhance offerings systemwide, embedding opportunities for students in more classes and campuses. The university had 28 LAUNCH ambassadors during the 2021-22 school year and will look to add to that number in the coming years.

Since its inception alongside LIFT, LAUNCH has coincided with improved retention and graduation rates, Offerdahl said.

Help without helicoptering

The third traditional component of TCI’s work is a handbook now distributed to parents or guardians of all incoming first-year and young transfer students.

The idea is to provide guidance to the parents of young college students originally took form in 2013 with a collaboration by Senior Vice Provost Laura Griner Hill, Professor Brittany Cooper and Chair and Associate Professor Matt Bumpus and colleagues from the University of Washington. WSU’s team brought expertise in young adult development to match up with UW’s parental research experts.

Together, the group created a handbook that helped parents understand how to support their students’ journey to becoming more independent while supporting their well-being.

“The beginning of the first semester for students can be a high-risk period,” Hill said. “The handbook helps parents understand how to support autonomy while communicating clear expectations and maintaining an emotional support role.”

Parents have provided overwhelmingly positive feedback regarding the handbook, and it has also garnered support from the National Institutes of Health as well as Washington’s Division of Behavioral Health and Recovery. The former supported a study of the handbook’s effects on alcohol and substance use among newly enrolled college students. The latter provided funds to help distribute the handbook to the parents of university students across the state.

Hill is hoping to distribute around 4,000 handbooks to WSU parents this fall, 3,000 to Western Washington University students and thousands more to parents of students at other Washington universities.

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