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Supporting Success in a Virtual World

Supporting Success in a Virtual World
Arrupe College gets creative with drive-thru welcome for first-year students.

“This is really happening. I’m going to college!” exclaimed first-year student, Andrea, through tear-filled eyes, as she received her computer and diploma frame through her car window.

In the ongoing virtual world, Arrupe College has gone from a physical campus to a box on a computer screen. Yet Arrupe is finding creative ways to translate its intentional, caring community-based model to continue to foster connections that count. A week-long orientation program, small group advising, and the forging of friendships have all been relegated to Zoom, but the college is continuing to seek out creative ways to demonstrate its commitment to each student’s success despite the social distance.

In early August, incoming freshman students were instructed to stop by the Water Tower Campus for “Tech Pick-Up,” a quick drive-thru lane for students to receive their free laptop provided by the college. Much to their delight, Arrupe’s dedicated team had much more in store for its newest students. They were greeted by mask-covered smiles from staff, faculty, and Arrupe’s new dean, Fr. Tom Neitzke, S.J. Several academic advisors made a special trip in to meet advisees, even if handshakes and hugs were replaced by waves. Students received their first “Arrupe Cares” package: a branded Arrupe tote bag, reusable water bottle, note pad, calculator, online math software, and much more. The university’s mascot, LU Wolf, even surprised students one morning and welcomed them to the Loyola family.

Along with the computer and Arrupe swag, students also received a frame for their Arrupe diploma, setting their sights on graduation from day one. Inside the frame, a placard read:

Our promise starts here…with a place for your college diploma. Consider this the beginning of your college journey, as well as our promise to help you along the way. Over the next two years, we’ll work with you to help you achieve your dream and earn your degree. Welcome to the Arrupe community!

The technology pick-up served as a great example of the high-touch experience that Arrupe College is known to provide,” remarked Arrupe’s Assistant Dean for Student Success, David Keys. “I was so happy to see the excited eyes behind the masks from students and family members as they stopped by to pick-up their laptops, goodie bags, and frames. The technology pick-up also provided a sense of community showing the students that we care, we want to see the students academically succeed, and we want them to be a proud Arrupe student!”

When first-year student Muhammad learned about Arrupe, he said “it was prefect. This is the way to go. Arrupe is the right fit for me and it helps me in so many ways.” When he showed up outside of Maguire Hall, he was “welcomed by happy faces” and found the atmosphere “upbeat and connective, even with COVID going on.” Muhammad was also overwhelmed by the success package he received and said “it was way above my expectations.”

For the first generation college students that Arrupe serves, establishing a strong sense of belonging, community, and the belief that students will succeed is key. During this global pandemic, Arrupe College’s commitment to supporting students shifted from an intensive, in-person advising and community-building model to a virtual atmosphere where this close knit structure persists. The college has significantly bolstered student success since its inception five years ago, and the results are outpacing national averages: 45 percent of Arrupe students graduate in two years compared to 13 percent nationally. 75 percent of the first cohort, who transferred to four-year programs, earned bachelor’s degrees within five years compared to less than 10 percent for their peers nationally.

Despite the current climate, Arrupe students remain committed to their education and are eager to be back on campus when it is safe to do so. Ninety-two of the college’s students earned grade point averages of 3.5 or higher during the spring semester, the largest group of Dean’s List members ever. The college also saw its largest enrollment for the summer 2020 term, a key component of their year-round program that ensures students remain on track to graduate.

Fr. Tom Neitzke, S.J., dean of Arrupe College, emphasizes that “While we will be online this fall, our commitment to supporting our students on their educational journey remains unwavering. We are finding new ways to build community and ensure every student has the resources to be successful at Arrupe.” Virtual supports offered by the college include two social workers, advising office hours and regular appointments, and a weekly “coffee and conversation” to help students navigate academic, personal, and other challenges.

The college is also planning to send several “Arrupe Cares” packages throughout the semester to foster a community of achievement and support for students. Arrupe College is a tangible example of Loyola University Chicago‘s commitment to social justice and serving students at the margins. The college is an archetype of higher education without higher debt.

Arrupe’s Associate Dean for Student Success, Sarah Shaaban, said what she enjoyed most about the pick-up was getting to meet the new students. Shaaban said “It was heartwarming to hear that this experience made it ‘feel real to them’ that they were starting college or that now they were sure they had made the right choice in choosing Arrupe College. The energy and excitement of students and their families was palpable. It re-energized me for starting a new semester.”