Thomas Sudkamp, Ph.D., was perplexed—why were some Wright State students making it all the way through freshman year, only to falter and drop out prior to graduation.
Sudkamp, the associate provost for undergraduate studies and university college, thought it might be math classes.
“You hear more students complaining about math classes,” he says, “so your bias going in was that math was killing them.”
When Sudkamp brought his concerns to Barb Bullock, director of institutional research, she took action. Through a six-year study of two cohorts of students, Bullock and Sudkamp found that math was hardly a problem. Writing, on the other hand, was a make-or-break skill.
That’s where the new Wright State Academy comes in. Building on Sudkamp and Barb Bullock’s advice, Richard Bullock, director of the writing program, and his class of graduate students began to develop a five-week summer intensive course for at-risk students. Students in the Wright State Academy learn skills that will help them succeed not only in their English classes, but as college students overall.
“We’re trying to cover a lot of basic, good student skills, beyond just improving their writing,” says Richard Bullock.
The academy will feature not only reading and writing exercises, but also mock lectures and note-taking lessons.
“It’s much more than writing,” says Sudkamp. “It’s reading, organization, comprehension…all the things that make the pieces for people to succeed not only in the next writing class, but to succeed in the next general education class.”
Richard Bullock hopes that the academy will help his graduate students too. He wants to give them first crack at applying for the summer teaching positions. After all, they helped create the program.
“It’s an opportunity for them to get some summer work and some additional experience teaching a different kind of group than they normally do,” he says.
Class sizes at the academy will be limited to 15, allowing for more focused instruction. Students are selected based on ACT writing scores and Wright State’s writing placement test. A third selection criterion is in the research phase right now, based on overall ACT scores.
Richard Bullock explained that sometimes, students with decreasing ACT scores, who still score well on the writing portion, “may get all the way through their freshman year. Some time in their sophomore year, they fall apart and disappear.”
These students will particularly benefit from the college-prep aspect of the academy. Bullock says that sometimes, one of the most important lessons for a student is to adapt their thinking to encompass the unique challenge that college poses.
Says Sudkamp, “We want the focus to be ‘what do I do to get me to graduate?’”
Hopefully, six years from now, when Sudkamp gets together with Barb and Richard Bullock to review data on graduation rates, the answer to that question will be “The Wright State Academy.”