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Driving Academic Success with Their Own Data

UNLV Academic Success Center staff use their research to improve their student services.

Research  |  Oct 1, 2018  |  By Nicole Rupersburg
students walking into building

In addition to offering services to help students, the Academic Success Center researches which interventions are most effective in helping students move through their degree programs. (R. Marsh Starks/UNLV Creative Services)

Editor's Note: 

This story highlights the Academic Success Center’s Research Week Poster Session, which will be held noon-1 p.m. Friday, Oct. 12, in the Claude I. Howard Academic Success Center as part of UNLV Research Week 2018. For a full list of events celebrating UNLV's research, scholarly, and creative activities Oct. 8-12, visit the Research Week webpage.


Did you know that UNLV students attending this first-year seminar experienced both an increase in their social connections and their academic success?

Just as intriguing as this finding are the researchers who discovered it: administrative faculty in UNLV’s Academic Success Center (ASC), now in its 10th year.

Where similar centers on other campuses might focus more strictly on the student services aspect of their responsibilities — tutoring, supplemental instruction, and the like — UNLV’s ASC administrative faculty emphasize the academic aspects of their roles just as much. They conduct research, encourage their graduate assistant researchers to do the same, and then integrate best practices gleaned from their findings into the center’s services.

In the case of boosting the aforementioned seminar students’ connections and success, peer mentors turned out to be the key, ASC researchers discovered.

“Research like this only helps inform our programs, so we foster an environment that encourages it,” said ASC Associate Dean Dan Gianoutsos. “We’re always assessing our programs and making adjustments, using research as our foundation to make data-driven decisions. We see the research side and the administrative practitioner side going hand in hand.”

Much like academic faculty, ASC administrative faculty researchers regularly publish in journals and present at conferences regionally and nationally. They hold Ph.D.s in education, English, anthropology, and more. And their research considers academic success within higher education from these various lenses, making their work as academics integral to their jobs as administrators.

“There are many Ph.D.s in the ASC, which helps creates synergy between academics and student support programs,” Gianoutsos said. “The study of higher education is still relatively new—especially compared to traditional fields—and I think that’s something that we, as a center, can contribute to the larger national body of knowledge for student success research.”

To introduce their research to the greater UNLV community, the Academic Success Center is hosting its first UNLV Research Week event, a poster session highlighting the work of ASC administrative faculty as well as ASC’s graduate assistants. Topics will include higher education research relating to retention, progression, completion, and student success interventions such as tutoring, supplemental instruction, peer mentorship, and online modules. Gianoutsos will present a study on first-year seminars he co-authored with newly minted Ph.D. Megan Cogliano and former UNLV education professor Matthew Bernacki.

Brandy Smith, special assistant to the dean of the ASC and another researcher who will present at the event, said that one goal of this poster session was to give graduate assistants the experience of taking part in one. While poster sessions are a common part of the research experience, many graduate students don’t have opportunities to present their research at one until they’re further along in their programs.

“We wanted to give UNLV graduate students this experience earlier in their careers,” Smith said. “We employ more than 30 graduate assistants at the ASC, and we also have an internal graduate student professional development program for our GAs. This session is designed to enhance that professional development.”

Smith said that about one-third of ASC graduate assistants’ research focuses on academic success issues, while the rest covers subjects that the students are studying in their respective programs — subjects like marriage and family therapy, counseling, and stress that, Gianoutsos pointed out, also fit within the Venn diagram of student success.

“We encourage people on campus and in the community to stop by because we’re presenting a wide range of research that is relevant to student success and, more specifically, how our students are achieving,” Gianoutsos said.