LAWRENCE — The first goal of Bold Aspirations, the University of Kansas’ five-year strategic plan, focuses on undergraduate student success in the classroom and beyond. Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little has highlighted the importance of this goal and the KU community's shared responsibility for implementing its strategies. A new position in Undergraduate Studies will play an important part in assisting students struggling to succeed and connecting them to the KU community.
The Student Special Advocate is a new position that encourages campus collaboration to help students deal with academic and personal challenges and persist in their educational endeavors at KU.
Mary Ann Rasnak, former director of the Academic Achievement and Access Center, hopes her role as Student Special Advocate will ensure students are connected with the right resources to help them succeed. Rasnak’s goal is to ensure students have a human face they can turn to in times of need.
“The best thing an institution can do to move the needle toward higher retention and graduation rates is to provide personal contact for students who are facing extreme situations in their personal lives,” said Rasnak.
The position is designed for students who need assistance contacting campus resources and faculty about challenging circumstances, as well as students looking for a neutral sounding board to discuss a difficult situation. The advocate helps students navigate their options in resolving current or past issues blocking their path toward a degree. Additionally, the Student Special Advocate is a resource for faculty and staff when they recognize that a student may need added help to succeed in the classroom and at KU.
Rasnak highlights the importance of individualized attention to re-integrate students into the classroom after a personal issue or an extended leave of absence.
“It’s important that students know what can be done during and after their personal situation. I am here to link students with the appropriate resources during their time of need and then to ensure that those students seamlessly re-enter the classroom. I want to communicate to students that KU wants them here, wants them to stay, and wants them to graduate on time.”
The purpose of this position is to build a network of support for students so they know where to turn for academic help. By working closely with other members of the KU community such as Student Affairs, the Office of Diversity and Equity, Financial Aid and Scholarships, and many others, the advocate will foster a network of Jayhawks ready to help Jayhawks. The advocate will also be working with individual schools and departments to create additional support networks students can contact.
The advocate position is just one piece in the university’s shared responsibility of student success. Over the next decade, KU hopes to expand first-year retention rates to 90 percent and six-year graduation rates to 70 percent. In recent years, many mechanisms have been set in motion to accomplish these goals. The new KU Core, KU’s first university-wide undergraduate curriculum, recruiting standards and four-year renewable scholarships, all help students graduate on time.
Vice Provost and Dean of Undergraduate Studies Ann Cudd believes a key role of the Student Special Advocate is to act as a model.
“This new position is a great step toward our shared responsibility for the success of our students. We see Mary Ann’s position as the first step towards similar efforts across campus to ensure that all undergraduates have the tools they need to graduate on time.”
Students, faculty, and staff wishing to contact Mary Ann Rasnak, the Student Special Advocate, may call her direct line at 864-2818, e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org or schedule an appointment at 864-4064. Rasnak also holds office hours and encourages walk-ins from noon to 5 p.m. Monday and Wednesdays and from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays. If necessary, appointments can be arranged outside of normal office hours.