Student Affairs

Student learning enhanced through a number of recent initiatives


A couple of years ago, leadership within the Division of Student Affairs identified core themes as part of its strategic planning process. Theme identification was part of the division’s ongoing effort to better define its scope in support of the university’s goals as an institution. The four areas that resulted were health, safety and wellness, student learning, inclusive excellence and staff experience.

Staff members from Student Affairs gathered to hear about some of the work done by their colleagues on Nov. 19, 2019.
Staff members from Student Affairs gathered to hear about some of the work done by their colleagues on Nov. 19, 2019.

On Tuesday of this week, colleagues from Student Affairs came together for the second part of a new series known as Experience: IMPACT. The interactive series, held in Hendrix Student Center, is designed to bring light on some of the great work being done across the division in support of Clemson students. Tuesday’s session focused on student learning.

“Our presenters all delivered meaningful content in an effective way,” said Kristin Walker-Donnelly, director of assessment for Student Affairs Business Operations. “It was easy to see their passion and we thank them for sharing it with everyone in attendance.”

The series will conclude in the 2020 spring semester with the final two core themes, inclusive excellence and staff experience.

Since 2013, Clemson University Housing & Dining has been utilizing the residential experience model to more broadly be able to measure student learning. Its curriculum is based on the following foundational statement, provided by Associate Director of Residential Learning Eric Pernotto during the first presentation:

Living on campus at Clemson University is a transformative experience that will prepare and empower students to explore who they are, connect meaningfully with others, engage intellectually and lead as global citizens.

Eric Pernott of University Housing and Dining speaks to a Student Affairs group in November 2019
Eric Pernotto serves as associate director of residential learning within University Housing and Dining.

The opportunity in front of Clemson’s residential learning staff was to identify what type of impact the model had on learning within a non-traditional environment.

Tiger Talks were implemented, which allowed for specific and guided interactions between students and resident assistants. What resulted is a more unified residential experience, indicated by a higher number of intentional interactions in the living environment as well as a more consistent data collection because of standardized training and resource allocation for resident assistants.

“In a classroom, it’s pretty easy to measure learning,” Pernotto said. “You can give a test or a pop quiz. But, how does it work with students who are moving fluidly in and out of their residential environment?

“Every question we ask when assessing the model ties the focus back to student learning.”

The Clemson Outdoor Recreation and Education (CORE) program traces its roots back about 25 years. Today, its reach far exceeds that of some lean years when CORE was still in an infancy stage.

Robert Taylor and Taylor Lollar of Campus Recreation during a November 2019 presentation
Robert Taylor and Taylor Lollar present to Student Affairs staff on the CORE trip leader experience.

The program, offering outdoor adventure trips, is a student-led initiative. In the fall of 2006, just four trips were conducted. This past spring, the number had ballooned to 56. The CORE trip leader staff now consists of more than 30 students.

“We really believe that learning that happens outside of the classroom — what we know as the idea of experiential education — is learned best by doing,” said Robert Taylor, director of programs and assessment for Campus Recreation.

To expand CORE’s growth, Campus Rec staff adopted a model of what they call continuous learning. Students who lead trips go through training and monthly in-service meetings. They attend clinics to learn new skills, such as backpacking or backcountry cooking, or progression clinics where classroom instruction leads to hands-on implementation. They also attend student-led regional conferences and professional-led national conferences.

After a trip, the group debriefs and CORE staff holds 1-on-1 meetings with trip leaders to assess effectiveness.

“You can’t truly learn from an experience unless you’ve debriefed and taken the time to reflect on it,” said Taylor Lollar, a graduate assistant with the CORE program.

Suicide is the second-leading cause of death in the United States for people between the ages of 18 and 22, an alarming statistic well known to mental health practitioners across the country. At Clemson, faculty and staff have been working together to employ suicide prevention strategies for the campus community.

Kristi Bussell of Healthy Campus having a conversation during a Student Affairs event in November 2019
Kristi Bussell of Healthy Campus administers Tiger Together advocacy training focusing on suicide prevention and mental health initiatives.

One of the top strategies is through an educational campaign known as Tigers Together. Developed by psychology professors Heidi Zinzow and Martie Thompson, Tigers Together is a 90-minute advocacy training program. It provides trainees with data and facts, including high risk factors and warning signs. They learn through experiential exercises, such as active listening. Trainees develop an understanding of crisis situation protocol, which helps differentiate urgent and non-urgent situations.

To measure its effectiveness, eight behaviors are analyzed among trainees. Six of the eight behaviors were significantly enhanced through advocacy training. The biggest increase has been in the percentage of program participants who actually took the information and publicized suicide prevention resources. Students, faculty and staff are trained to not only intervene, but also facilitate advocacy training for others in the future.

Advocacy training is typically offered a couple of times each semester but can also be requested by contacting Healthy Campus.

“We know Clemson is not immune to this issue,” said Kristi Bussell, assistant director for suicide prevention and mental health initiatives for Healthy Campus. “Tigers Together equips students, faculty and staff with the skills to be able to recognize warning signs, intervene and connect those in need to resources.”

There are about 500 student organizations at Clemson and the process of finding the right ones to join can be a challenge. Freshmen and other new students are introduced to the breadth of opportunities to get involved on campus during Kick-Off Clemson through Tiger Prowl, an organization fair each August that attracts thousands along the concourses of Memorial Stadium.

Myles Surrett of Campus Life during a Student Affairs staff event in November 2019
Myles Surrett, associate director for student organizations and clubs, speaks to staff from Student Affairs following a presentation on the various pathways to campus involvement.

As successful as Tiger Prowl has been, the next step was devising more targeted approaches to involvement. Staff members in Campus Life have launched alternative pathways for students aspiring to not only join various organizations, but also hold leadership positions within those groups.

Tiger Connect and Place Finder are a couple of options that emerged. Tiger Connect is an involvement fair on a much smaller scale that aims to connect students with department or office representatives to discuss interests and values in order to increase their sense of belonging at Clemson. Place Finder launched this past summer as a follow-up mechanism for all students who attended Orientation, and it provides near-instantaneous feedback and contact information to effective resources or areas based on a student’s survey answers.

“It’s not just an email that says, ‘Good luck!’” said Agassy Rodriguez, assistant director for student organizations and clubs. “It actually puts a name with the right resources to connect them further and hopefully spark an involvement on our campus.”

The results speak for themselves. Of all students who participated in Tiger Connect, 88.6 percent joined a student organization and 72.7 percent ended up in an officer position. In addition, 42 percent of participants took part in one or more programs sponsored by a match identified through Place Finder.

“We believe supplementing Tiger Prowl with other involvement interventions is a better way to get students connected on campus,” said Myles Surrett, associate director for student organizations and clubs. “And the data we’re seeing certainly supports that.”

Almost five years ago, the Center for Career and Professional Development (CCPD) noticed projections for significant changes in the workforce. Current college graduates will average 15 jobs over their lifetime. Sixty-five percent of first-grade students will work jobs that currently do not exist.

Kathy Horner presents during a Student Affairs event in November 2019
Kathy Horner is associate director for analytics and initiatives for the Center for Career and Professional Development.

These changes prompted CCPD staff to ask two questions: how is Clemson helping prepare students for life after Clemson, and how can Clemson help students effectively articulate the competencies and transferable skills they are learning inside and outside of the classroom?

“We’re no longer in the world where you work for one employer for 30 years and then retire,” said Kathy Horner, associate director of analytics and initiatives for CCPD. “Because of that, we knew we needed to adapt to keep our career services program relevant.”

In order to stay relevant and better prepare graduates for the evolving workforce, CCPD’s Michelin Career Center launched its core competencies initiative in 2016. It identified nine competencies that were commonly valued by employers and professional schools, grouped into three categories:


  • Communication
  • Collaboration
  • Leadership


  • Adaptability
  • Analytical Skills
  • Technology


  • Self-Awareness
  • Integrity and Ethics
  • Brand

The core competencies initiative also identified five proficiency levels to be able to accurately portray a student’s level of application. Proficiency ranges from awareness, or a theoretical knowledge, to expert, recognized for mastery in all competencies.

Since implementation, Clemson has been one of the national leaders in this conversation. In 2017, CCPD staff hosted the first national symposium on core competencies. The competencies have been successfully integrated into academic curricula, career counseling, workshops and co-curricular activities (e.g. tour guides, Orientation Ambassadors).

Horner said while higher education has traditionally been slow to implement change, Clemson was at the forefront of embracing career readiness for its students.

“We want students to connect the dots and reflect on their experiences, what skills they’re gaining, why they’re important and how they’ll be used moving forward.”

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