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Center Marks 10 Years of Helping Students Find Success at Ole Miss

By Clara Turnage

University Communications

UM Provost Noel Wilkin participates in the Center for Student Success and First-Year Experiences’ 10-year anniversary luncheon on Thursday (Nov. 9). Wilkin said the center does ‘transformative work’ in helping students through their Ole Miss journey. Photo by Srijita Chattopadhyay/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

The University of Mississippi’Center for Student Success and First-Year Experience is celebrating 10 years of helping students navigate the college experience and find success at Ole Miss.

The center, which was created in 2013, has five units and 40 professionals dedicated to helping students find their niche on campus, said Kyle Ellis, the center’s founding director. 

“When we first started, there were three initial units and about 15 staff members,” Ellis said. “Now, with the growth that we’ve had and the increase in enrollment, we have 28 professional staff members and another 12 graduate students.

“We are all pulling that student success rope in the same direction.”

Kyle Ellis, director of the Center for Student Success and First-Year Experience, speaks Thursday (Nov. 9) to a crowd of current and former staff members at the center’s 10-year anniversary celebration. The center was founded in 2013 and provides support services, advising and success coaching for students. Photo by Srijita Chattopadhyay/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

A marker of that success is the continuous growth of student retention rates, which reached a record high of 89.3% in the 2022-23 academic year, Ellis said.

Maintaining and improving retention rates through enrollment growth over the last decade – the university welcomed the state’s largest-ever freshman class this fall – is a feat unto itself, he said.

“A lot of people in this center played a key role in that,” he said. “Our instructors, advisers, academic support staff, success coaches—everybody plays a role in student retention.” 

What began as an idea to put student success under one roof encompasses academic advisingfirst-year experiencestudent persistenceacademic support programming and success coaching. With the growth of the center, the university can continue to reach students at an individual level, Ellis said.

“Occasionally we hear from students or their parents that students are ready to pack up and go home,” Ellis said. “Something didn’t go right; they’re ready to leave. We try to help the students take a breath and realize this is their home. This is the right place.

“We have to help them find their tribe and navigate whatever barrier is in front of them. Having these frontline student success professionals have helped us do that throughout the years.” 

One facet of that student-forward approach is the first-year experience unit, which coordinates all EDHE 105 and 305 classes for incoming freshmen and transfer students, said Rachael Durham, assistant director of first-year experience.

Morris Stocks, former UM provost and the Don Jones Chair of Accountancy, speaks Thursday (Nov. 9) during the Center for Student Success and First-Year Experience 10-year celebration. Stocks was an avid supporter of the center’s creation in 2013. Photo by Srijita Chattopadhyay/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

“It’s a welcome to the university, welcome to college introduction, and all those things that a new student may need to know or want to know,” Durham said. “We get to create and think about new things to make the course better and to make better opportunities for our students.” 

In 2013, the university offered 90 EDHE classes, Ellis said. This fall, students could choose from more than 165 classes, taught by more than 150 instructors.

“The purpose is to get students connected to this place, to each other and to the resources on this campus that are available to them,” Durham said. “There’s definitely curriculum that we follow—it’s a three-hour, letter-graded class—but it’s also a tool to help us get students connected to this place.”

While maintaining their efforts to guide first-year students, the center is also a resource for students of any year, particularly in academic support, said Jeremy Roberts, assistant director of academic support programs.

Academic support programs primarily provide assistance for students who have fallen behind or who may be struggling in their classes but are also a resource for any student looking for help, he said.

“We do a lot of academic consultations – it does not matter if you’re a freshman or a graduate student,” Roberts said. “We’re here for everyone.” 

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