Thursday, November 09, 2006

Academic Resource Center: the Little Engine that Could

Six weeks into classes, and our Academic Resource Center is just sitting there, so over-resourced and underused it's almost embarrassing. It was a good idea -- to create a space where students can go to get help about any of the services offered by our academic support group, a one-stop shopping resource offering services from the library, IT, media center, writing center, and quantitative skills center. For a great example of this kind of thing, see Allegheny College's Learning Commons. Their director, Rick Holmgren, told me that it took five years for the idea to take shape and become a reality. Which should make me feel better about ours given that it hasn't even been a year since we started talking about it.

You could say, with apologies to Dr. John, that we were in the right place but it must have been the wrong time. Except it's the other way around. Our timing was really good, but we're in a really bad location.

Timing - We've got freshmen now, and they're young and unsure of themselves (although they want you to think they've got their acts together). Many of them are really in need of some help, but they aren't taking advantages of the services we offer.

Location - We've put our new center in a suite housing the advising and administrative offices for lower division. It's not a place where students tend to hang out. It's behind a door down a weird hall from the cafe. It's so quiet you feel like you should whisper when you're there. However, it was the only place available to us, so we happily made it our home.

We're all getting pretty dispirited about our persistent lack of visitors, thinking it must be a failed experiment. I'm trying to hold on to the fact that it is a Good Idea. But we need to be in a place where students already go. This is a non-residential campus. These tend to be the places where students hang out when not in class: the Commons Cafe, various little study alcoves, the vistas (open areas with chairs and tables and great views of the wetlands), and the Library.

We need to be in the Library. A year ago, even six months ago, I would have said this wasn't possible for political, financial, and logistical reasons. Things change, thank goodness. Things haven't changed enough yet for this kind of move to happen, but I can see a possibility. If we can hang on through the rest of the year, we might be able to get to a better place. Which would still be only two years into this this!

In January we need to submit a proposal to fund our Center for the 2007-2008 academic year. We were originally hoping to be able to show use statistics at that point demonstrating the need for this service. Instead, we have a harder job of convincing a committee of students that this really is a good idea, in spite of the lack of use this fall, and that it's worth funding the continuing experiment of making it work. I think we can do this. I think we can. I think we can. I think we can.