Most, if not all, housing programs have a minimum GPA standard for their Resident Assistants (RAs). St. Mary’s College of Maryland (SMCM) is no different. While this is a noble and important expectation designed to encourage good academic role modeling and ensure that our student staff members maintain high academic standards which is the mark of success in college, it could result in some potentially excellent student leaders being overlooked or high quality staff members being dismissed. SMCM started a program two years ago to help academically at-risk student staff members improve their grades.
As noted in our Residence Life Staff Academic Performance Policy, “Residence Life staff members are expected to be role models and community leaders. As with any leadership position, a significant time commitment is required if the staff member is to be successful. First and foremost, the staff member is a student. The responsibilities of the staff member are in addition to his/her responsibilities as a student. To be successful as both a student and a staff member requires a great deal of time and stress management. The Office of Residence Life recognizes that without the proper planning a staff member’s duties can conflict with his/her responsibilities as a student. We also recognize that continued support and assistance from the office will promote the success of each staff member.”
Staff members who have between a 2.00 and 2.50 GPA (semester and/or cumulative) are placed on academic job probation. RAs on academic job probation receive a letter of warning from an Area Coordinator, they are required to attend monthly one-on-one meetings with an Area Coordinator to discuss academic progress, they are told that failure to improve one’s GPA may result in termination, and they are mandated to participate in the Academic Improvement and Monitoring (AIM) program.
Residence Life Staff Academic Improvement Program
The Residence Life Staff Academic Improvement Program is an effort by the Office of Residence Life to provide support and assistance to Residence Life staff members who are concerned about their academic progress. The program includes the following:
• Regular workshops on academic topics. The workshop schedule is announced at the beginning of each semester.
• Monthly group support meetings prior to each workshop to discuss academic progress and resources.
• Mid-term grades will be monitored by the Area Coordinators. Staff members will be required to sign a release for mid-term grades.
• If extenuating circumstances exist, staff members may request to be waived from the AIM program by submitting a written request to the Area Coordinators.
All student staff members are invited to the various workshops, but those with GPAs below a 2.50 are mandated to attend in order to remain on staff. Those staff members who are required to participate are sent a letter and an AIM Assessment and Action Plan prior to the start of the semester. Staff members who participate voluntarily in the AIM program fill out the Assessment and Action Plan too (and we usually get one or two staff members who do not need to be in AIM). The AIM Assessment and Action Plan consists of:
• Demographic information (name, ID#, date, current GPA, goal GPA),
• A permission form allowing the professional staff to have access to their mid-term grades (for monitoring purposes)
• A section to write an action plan for improvement (What do you enjoy? What do you do really well? How does a college degree fit into your goals for the future? Based on your assessment of your study skills and motivational weaknesses, what are some specific things you can do to improve your academic performance?)
The information on the Assessment and Action Plan is used during the individual meetings between the RA and the Area Coordinator. The Area Coordinator provides support, monitors grades throughout the semester, offers suggestions, and gives the RA a “kick in the pants” (reality check) as needed.
This semester’s workshops include:
• Time Management: Balancing Academics/Job/Life (facilitated by an academic adviser from the Office of Academic Services)
• Test Taking/Study Skills (facilitated by an academic adviser from the Office of Academic Services)
• Writing Skills (facilitated by a staff member from the Writing Center)
• Stress Management (facilitated by the Director of Counseling Services)
• How to Talk with a Professor (facilitated by a student life-friendly faculty member)
The success of the program depends on the motivation of the individuals involved in it. While some staff members may be initially unenthused about participating, all of them end up learning some new tips that they can easily incorporate into their day-to-day lives. Of course, there is a big challenge to overcome. You can only help someone that wants to be helped. One of our staff members was released from the RA position due to academic reasons after a semester in AIM. Despite the assistance that was offered, the RA did not take all of the steps that the RA needed to take to make sufficient improvement academically. The RA was not prepared for upper division courses and did not look for assistance until it was too late.
This program allowed us to hire and/or retain RAs who would not have ordinarily been considered due to their grades. They excelled at their jobs and showed improvement in their grades, which may not have occurred without our intervention. Others at the College (our Acting Dean of Students, Registrar, Associate Provosts, Provost, and directors in Student Life) are impressed with our initiative and desire to go the extra mile and our willingness to take a chance on our at-risk staff members. Taking AIM is a win-win for everyone!
Submitted by Joanne Goldwater, Associate Dean of Students, St. Mary’s College of Maryland