Student Success Network expands three-fold based on good results

students, staff walking on campus in a light snow
The Student Success Network, connecting first-year students with trained faculty partners, has expanded since its successful pilot year in 2018-2019.
Image Credit: Sarah Anderson

Following good results from the pilot year, the Student Success Network has expanded to include all first-year students.

SSN connects first-year students with faculty partners who are trained to provide students with guidance as they transition to campus and navigate college life.

The 2018-2019 pilot year included 1,277 randomly selected residential students, commuters and students that fell into at-risk categories. At the end of the 2019 winter semester, organizers were charged with growing the model to include 4,050 first-year on-campus, off-campus and commuter students.

Suzeanne Benet, associate vice president for student success, said growing the program three-fold was a big task but organizers took comfort in the positive results from the first year.

Quantitative results from the pilot year showed retention rates for SSN commuter students were significantly higher (10 percent) than commuter first-year students who were not in the program. Retention rates were similar for SSN on-campus students compared to peers not in the program.

Benet said the SSN pool included a disproportionate number of students who would be considered likely not to be retained; she called the retention rate for that group "a huge win."

Increasing the SSN student number initially meant finding more faculty partners.

Brian Hatzel, director of faculty initiatives for student success and professor of movement science, said 35 faculty partners were recruited for SSN's initial year. Providing 4,000 first-year students with a faculty partner meant recruiting 40 more faculty members. Each faculty partner has a group of 60 students to send periodic messages and talk about campus resources or strategies for classroom success.

Anna Hammersmith, assistant professor of sociology, is a new SSN faculty partner. She has enjoyed communicating with her student group and said the messages serve two purposes.

"The emails provide the students with crucial information to help their semesters go more smoothly," Hammersmith said. "Second, the messages also keep the lines of communication with me open. I have had students respond to my emails with other pertinent questions about study abroad or financial aid."

All faculty partners attended Transitions in August to begin connecting to their student groups.

Hatzel said a faculty learning community created a SSN curriculum framework that includes proficiencies like financial/higher education literacy and connecting to the Laker community to help measure the program's success. Other additions include adding resident assistant partners and a Blackboard resource for faculty and students.

"We are fortunate that faculty members at Grand Valley are as deeply invested in student success as they are," Hatzel said.

More information about SSN is online at