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Helping students "Bounce Back" from early struggles

- February 15, 2017

Dal's new Bounce Back program pairs students with advisors and peer coaches. (Natalie Mike photo)
Dal's new Bounce Back program pairs students with advisors and peer coaches. (Natalie Mike photo)

In January, Dalhousie launched a new pilot program to support first-year students struggling academically.

Called “Bounce Back,” the program is designed to help these students do just that: bounce back from poor first-term grades and get back on the path to success.

Inspired by the University of Guelph’s Bounce Back program, Dalhousie’s program engages faculty and staff partners across the university and uses a peer coaching model.

“The idea behind Bounce Back is that it provides students the opportunity to work collaboratively with both a Bounce Back advisor and peer wellness coach,” says Heather Doyle, senior advisor, student success. “Each will work with the student to create goals, increase resiliency, and gain an understanding of the academic expectations of university. Helping students make meaningful connections with resources and faculty will help increase their success.

“Retention and student success are among the highest priorities at Dalhousie,” says Provost and Vice-President Academic Carolyn Watters. “The Bounce Back program is one very promising program that addresses many of the factors influencing student academic success, including nurturing confidence, building academic and peer connections, and providing individualized learning support.”

Matching students and advisors


In this pilot year, the program targeted first-year students in the Faculties of Agriculture, Arts and Social Sciences, and Science. Students in those Faculties with a GPA of 2.3 or lower were invited by email to take part in early January, and 27 per cent of eligible students have registered in the eight-week program (ahead of initial program targets).

“Our goal is to provide proactive and targeted programming to those students who most need the support to increase their chances of successfully completing the first year of study,” says Anne Forrestall, senior assistant vice-provost, Student Affairs and co-lead of Dalhousie’s strategic priority 1.1  to increase retention and degree completion.

Upon accepting the invitation, the students were matched with an advisor from Student Affairs and a peer coach. Bounce Back participants meet with their advisors for three one-hour sessions between January and March, during which they build on students’ strengths and help them identify skills needed to be successful. There is a mandatory initial meeting with the peer coach with subsequent meetings taking place as often as needed.

A unique feature of the program is that the peer coaches are students from the School of Nursing who are completing a placement as part of their Community Health Assessment and Planning class.

Peer advisor Jean-Marc Daigle says he’s excited to be part of the program, and to provide students peer support and wellness coaching.

“Bounce Back is an excellent opportunity for students to recover a positive experience in their academic career,” he says, “and the nursing framework is ideal to provide the students with guidance."

Developing new strategies


Participants are required to do a Learning and Study Strategies Inventory (LASSI) to determine their strengths and areas that need to be improved. Based on the results of the LASSI, the students are assigned modules to complete that focus on the areas that can be strengthened. These modules cover topics like studying strategies, information processing and learning how to access resources. Their advisor and coach also provide them with goal-setting tactics and advice on how to build resiliency — factors known to contribute to student success.

As an added incentive, those who complete the program’s core components and have a winter term GPA of 2.0 or higher will be entered in a draw to win one of five $500 tuition rebates redeemable in the next academic year.

Bounce Back is just one way Dalhousie is helping to foster student success, alongside other initiatives such as the new First-Year Interest Groups.

Read also: Making the most of first year with new First-Year Interest Groups (Dal News: Jan. 18, 2017)

“As someone who interacts with thousands of first-year students, I recognize the need for some sort of early intervention before the completion of first year,” says Leanne Stevens, chair of the 1.1 Priority Project Team’s Early Alert Working Group and academic advisor in the department of Psychology and Neuroscience. “The earlier they can be connected with the proper resources, the better. We want to make sure we are doing as much as we can for students.”

For more information about Bounce Back visit dal.ca/bounceback.


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