From the Student Affairs VP: ACCelerators thrive with the help of President’s Leadership Excellence Award winner

The President's Leadership Excellence Award is given to staff who have shown outstanding leadership, service and dedication to Austin Community College that has gone beyond the duties listed in their job description. Among the recipients this year, ACC President/CEO Dr. Richard Rhodes selected Curtiss Stevens, Executive Director of the ACCelerators.

Curtiss Stevens, ACCelerators executive director

When he first heard that he had won the President's Leadership Excellence Award, Stevens was "shocked and surprised," because he says there are so many other people and departments at ACC doing "fantastic" work. While he is grateful for being recognized, he also points out that the ACCelerators are made of many different entities that collaborate and connect to help transform students, connect with them, and get them from one place to another. Stevens says that he has been fortunate to get attention for the work that he does in part because the innovativeness of the Highland, Round Rock, and San Gabriel ACCelerators means that almost every week he is taking part in tours with visitors, including representatives from other community colleges considering replicating the ACCelerator on their campuses. "I just do the work," he says. "I try to give as much as possible."

ACCelerators: A Success story

In its fifth year, the Highland (HLC) ACCelerator has much to celebrate. ACCelerator data show that during the 2017-2018 academic year, there was a 15% increase in unique students using HLC ACCelerator services, with the largest number of students for any semester (N=9,500) accessing services in the fall 2017 semester.

To examine the ACCelerator's impact on persistence, Student Engagement & Analytics compared students who utilized the HLC ACCelerator seven or more times (the average for the fall 2017 semester) and were taking at least one class at HLC (N=2,120) to other ACC students. Findings indicate that there was an overall six percentage point (pp) impact on persistence for the ACCelerator students, with the greatest lift in persistence being 11pp for First Time at ACC (FTACC) students. Future analyses will include exploring the impact on persistence of the new ACCelerators in Round Rock and San Gabriel that opened in June 2018.

ACCelerator Bar Chart

Note: Persistence is defined as enrollment in at least one credit course in spring 2018. p≤.01. FTACC=First Time at ACC. SCH=Student Credits Hours. Black and Lowest Likelihood to persist students are excluded because their numbers are too small for accurate analysis. Asian and All distance education students are excluded because the difference in persistence was not statistically significant. For detailed information, contact: Guillermo Martinez III, Ph.D., Student Engagement & Analytics associate vice president

Stevens became the executive director of the ACCelerators in April 2018 after serving as the director of the HLC ACCelerator since September 2016. He has been instrumental in expanding ACC services into the ACCelerators, such as Registration Stations and Career Assistance, and building new initiatives, including a nursing peer-to-peer support program - a collaboration between the ACCelerator and the Nursing Department - and a Student Success & Appreciation program that publicly recognizes students that consistently use the HLC ACCelerator.

Stevens shared his thoughts about why the HLC ACCelerator is impacting persistence. All of the work that is done at the ACCelerators, he says - from the classes, tutoring, and coaching to the student programming - is driven by "highly engaged, student-centric customer service." His theory is that students should feel welcomed and comfortable from the minute that they walk into the ACCelerator. "When the student recognizes that ACC and the departments think that they matter, they feel comfortable," making them more likely to return to the ACCelerators, he says.

It might be surprising that out of everything that happens at the ACCelerators, Stevens points to making students feel welcome and comfortable as a, and possibly the, key to the ACCelerators' success, but it is well documented in the higher education literature that feeling welcomed on campus and in the classroom has a positive impact on student persistence. To foster this important outcome, he offers a lot of opportunities and strategies for everyone - from the ACCelerator front desk to faculty - to learn about how their actions, behaviors, and attitudes can contribute to whether or not a student will feel welcome in the ACCelerators. It's also important, he added, that ACCelerators staff be diverse because seeing someone that looks like them can mean a lot to students.

What's next for the ACCelerators?

In an effort to better assist more students and meet their needs, Stevens is always thinking about ways to build on previous successes. One idea in the works is increasing student access to the already state-of-the-art technology available in the ACCelerators. With Apple building a new campus just ten miles from the ACC HLC campus, for example, a goal is to equip the HLC ACCelerator with more Macs so that students can learn to use them and increase their employment opportunities. Right now, of the 600+ computer stations at the HLC ACCelerator, just 24 are Macs and half of them are available only to students enrolled in specific classes.

He's also interested in issues of instruction, and student engagement and learning. At its core, the ACCelerator is a classroom, but the one-of-a-kind learning space can challenge new and experienced professors alike. Building on the existing training resources that he developed, he's creating a model of instruction focused on the intersection of space and pedagogy and the relationship between student and instructor. He's already piloted it with one instructor and the results look promising.
Stevens says he finds it deeply gratifying to assist and support students who use the HLC ACCelerator. "I love this place so much."

Find out more

Learn more information on the Highland, Round Rock, and San Gabriel ACCelerators here.

By Dora Elias McAllister, Ph.D., Office of the Vice President for Student Affairs content strategist

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