We're highlighting and celebrating the stories of our higher education professionals whose passion is making a difference in the lives of their students.
We’ve been impressed by our student services professionals and their response to the COVID-19 pandemic and today’s interview is no different.
A couple of weeks ago we spoke to Michael Osadchuk, Director of the University Tutoring Center for California Baptist University, regarding their response to the pandemic and lessons learned. You’ll hear how they're using data insights and innovative ideas to keep their services available and keep communication going with students.
Engineerica has been helping educators as they move to support students virtually with enhancements to the Accudemia platform enabling virtual appointment scheduling and remote sign-in options. We have also extended complimentary accounts through the end of the summer for those who need such a solution.
Episode - Using Data to Make Operational Decisions with Michael Osadchuk, Cal Baptist
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What follows is a transcription of the podcast:
[background music fades in]
JENELLE CONNER (host): Welcome to this episode of Student Success Heroes, a podcast by Engineerica Systems. I’m Jenelle Conner and I will be your host for this episode. This is a podcast where we highlight and celebrate the stories of our higher education professionals whose passion is making a difference in the lives of their students. We’ve been impressed by our student services professionals and their response to the COVID-19 pandemic and today’s interview is no different.
A couple of weeks ago we spoke to Michael Osadchuk, Director of the University Tutoring Center for California Baptist University, regarding their response to the pandemic and any lessons learned. You’ll hear some amazing insights and innovative ideas they implemented to keep their services available for students as well as some of the methods they use to keep communication going with their students. Let’s get to it.
[music fades out]
MICHAEL OSADCHUK: My name is Michael Osadchuk. I am the director of the University Tutoring Center at California Baptist University. Our name is fairly simple, um, we are the University Tutoring Center, so, yeah, the name is sort of explanatory. So it's descriptive of what we do. So, I am directing and overseeing the operations of all of the non-writing tutoring that is happening on campus.
CONNER: Yeah, well that sounds like a pretty big responsibility on your shoulders.
OSADCHUK: It can be; it can be. I have a, I have a great team and a good support system within my office and also we have a lot of support with faculty, so that’s very helpful.
CONNER: Yes, that’s key to success here, I believe. So, tell me a little bit about what your goals or mission is in your center.
OSADCHUK: Sure, so my tutoring center falls under an umbrella office called the Office of Student Success which the Office of Student Success houses four different centers and the University tutoring center is one of those. The real mission of the office of student success is ‘to empower students from the classroom to commencement.’ Our goal has always been to come alongside students as they’re working through coursework and really help get them the tools they need to be successful. And I've always sort of seen, you know, we always are trying to figure out ‘how do we define success,’ right?
OSADCHUK: And I think that for us, for me, in our center, we’ve always tried to define success as ‘something bigger than not failing.’
CONNER: I like that!
OSADCHUK: So, so you know, you know we meet students that are in all these different places in their academic journey; some are just starting out, some are, some are weeks away from graduating. So, you know, the ultimate goal for students in higher education is to get a degree and move into a career field, so we want to see students do that, but as they come in for Support Services, you know our goal isn't just to keep you from failing. We want to push you beyond that and we want to help you achieve the things that you want to achieve in this sort of academic journey. And those goals are fairly individual, you know, not everyone has the same goal.
OSADCHUK: So we want to help students achieve tho.. you know, those personal goals and help them get to graduation so they can, they can move beyond that.
CONNER: So what are some of the ways that you engage students and talk through those goals with them?
OSADCHUK: That’s a good question. One of the ways I do that personally is I mentor students and so I just meet with them one-on-one. We talk about, you know, what their major is, what they're trying to achieve, what they want to do when they're finished with their education, what they want to do with their education, and just sort of let them work through that on their own and work through that with me. And again, you know, that that gets, that gets really individualistic and it gets into really personal a lot of the time. You know they're diving into to what this whole process means to them and what they're trying to do. So a lot of times I do that in sort of a mentor fashion, but we also - what's really great about tutoring is you develop, you see students actually develop the sort of peer relationship where they're doing the same things; where they're talking about their-their passions and their goals and their-their desires, and you know what they feel called to do in the world and how they want to impact the world and use their sort of education and their experience to you know help people.
You know it's one of the, one of the strangest things is every time I talk to students and I ask them, like what do they want to do with their major, so often I hear “I want to help people.” Which I think is just radically encouraging...
CONNER: It is!
OSADCHUK: ...that we have a whole group of you know students anywhere from 18 to 40s and 50-year-olds are engaging in this educational experience to benefit their community and the world. You know, It’s an encouraging thing.
CONNER: It is! It’s truly inspiring and I love the optimism in that and also just thinking back about my career field and how I went into education, I worked at Valencia College for 11 years and one of the reasons why I was there was because I loved helping people. I loved working with students and faculty and helping them to help the students be successful. And I went into my career with Engineerica with the same goals in mind, to help schools and help bring the tools that they need in order to be successful with their students and help the students be successful so I definitely can -can relate to these students and their-their goal to be helping others.
OSADCHUK: Yeah, that’s really great. I went into higher education wanting to be a philosophy professor and you know I finished-I finished my undergrad, I finished my Master's, and I sort of found myself with an opportunity to work in the Tutoring Center and thought this would be an interesting sort of ‘in’ into higher education and I just fell in love with it. I just fell in love with working in a one-on-one environment with students and training them professionally, helping train them academically. You know it's sort of morphed into this-into this much bigger thing than just teaching, where you know I can still teach,...
OSADCHUK: ...you know but like it wasn't this-this sort of like I'm just going to lecture today and let them-I’m going to bestow my wisdom upon you and maybe you’ll move with that and hopefully retain enough for me to grade you. Where, you know, now I’m working in an environment where I'm working with students one-on-one every day in all sorts of capacities. And in one respect I’m working with students who are barely making it and because I'm also responsible for our tutors, I'm working with some of the brightest minds on campus. It's just so rewarding to-to work with students in that environment where on both ends of the spectrum you're helping them flourish. It's -it's -it's just -it's been fantastic!
CONNER: That’s awesome. How long have you been doing this now?
OSADCHUK: About nine and a half years.
CONNER: Wow, so you must love it.
OSADCHUK: Yeah, I started in -I started working in a tutoring center sort of doing front-office stuff in January 2011 and so I’ve just -it’s been a really fantastic experience.
OSADCHUK: And I just -yeah, I love working with our students. They are really great!
CONNER: So let's’ talk about your operations and how they have been impacted by the current pandemic.
OSADCHUK: Yeah, who hasn’t been impacted?
OSADCHUK: .. in so many different capacities. I mean - so, I think like everyone in the country, maybe even in the world, we are finishing our semester remotely. Our schedule sort of I think worked out - ‘in our favor’ is definitely not the right word - but it could have been worse.
OSADCHUK: We have 4 weeks of instruction, really now only 2 and a half weeks left since we came back. We were moved to remote instruction; basically we made the decision the week before we went on Spring Break. The university decided to extend Spring Break by one week and then we would finish out our 4 weeks plus finals week remotely in this month here of April. And so we basically had two weeks to take all the tutoring we were doing in person, all the group sessions we were doing, all the supplemental instruction we were doing, and move them online -and move them, you know to-to sort of like a video conferencing -this sort of modality. So we did that and we’ve done it in many different ways. You know the one-on-one instruction is working a little bit differently because it's remote. Students have traditionally been funneled in to contact our office, whether that be via telephone or to stop in and meet with our front desk workers and -and talk through what they're struggling with and sort of support they need, and then those students would sort of direct them to the support, make an appointment with the right people, the right tutor, what have you.
And so this sort of first big change was the new processes to have students just make all those appointments on their own. I won’t say it’s been a challenge, because it’s happening at a decent rate but it definitely makes me a little uncomfortable ‘cuz I want to -I want to know that they’re just being directed to the right people. You know I'm just hoping that via the instructions we've given that it's clear enough that they can do that. The good news is that the tutors that work for me are really good, so if they’re meeting with someone and you know let’s say it’s a bio class that they're connected to, but then they’re like, “well, you would really work better with this other person. They’re - you know, I’ve taken these bio classes, but they're a bio major.”
They’re really good about connecting students with each other for that support. So that's been sort of the first thing is just that big change in-in having you know, sort of eliminating that front desk operation direction and remotely moving it to students, but it's been working. The first week was a little like, ’oh no, what’s gonna happen?’ there were appointments, you know, coming in and you're, ‘okay, there are doing it,’ which is good.
You know, we contacted students via email, which we have… oh, how many undergrads do we have? I don't want to get the number wrong. I have somewhere between 6 and 7,000 undergraduate students at Cal Baptist. And so you know, you’re like okay, you send out this giant email and you’re like, ‘Did anyone see it? Is anyone going to respond? Is anyone going to get the help they need?’
And then, and then we watched it come in and then we-we sort of compared the sort of percentage of courses we are getting scheduled with what we usually would get. So like ‘do we have a disproportionate number of like Math appointments, why?’ So you know, we compared those numbers and said, ‘Okay, it seems like chemistry students aren't making appointments but chemistry and math and nursing students are so maybe bio faculty doesn’t know that we’re doing this this way. So let’s let them - you know, we’ll contact them and have them then reach out to their students and say, “Hey guys, this support is in place if you need it.”’ So we had to do that.
CONNER: That’s a great way to use your data.
OSADCHUK: Yeah. That -We did that to sort of look and say, ‘whoa, wy aren't the chem students coming in?’ And we just contacted the Chair. I, you know, I emailed the Chair of our chem department, and him and I have had a good relationship; we’ve worked on supplemental instruction together in the past, and done some research with that, so I emailed him and just said, “Can you let your faculty know that we’re available?” And he did that and -and then boom, two days later, in come the chemistry appointments.
OSADCHUK: So that’s been, yeah, that’s been really great.
CONNER: And you’ve been using Accudemia, right to track the appointments and...
OSADCHUK: That’s right. I’m actually - have it open right on my desktop right now. Yeah, students are making appointments in Accudemia and then we use - we actually use our past data from Accudemia to see what we did last semester. We usually compare fall-to-fall and spring-to-spring just because those two semesters - we’re on, you know, we’re on the semester system- and those two semesters function really differently, not just in terms of what courses are offered, but so far in my history here I’ve noticed fall functions differently because of incoming freshmen.
CONNER: Oh, yes.
OSADCHUK: So incoming freshmen, they access services differently in the fall than they do in the spring.
CONNER: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense.
OSADCHUK: Yeah, so, we just kind of compare, ‘okay, what did we do last spring?’ And I mean, there’s also the differences in courses offered in the fall and spring, but that -that doesn’t seem to impact it quite as much as that incoming cohort of students. So yeah, so we-we use our past Accudemia, I think we go back on our Accudemia data to 2014 or 15, at least 2015 is data that we are still currently still using to track through right now. And so we do a semester-semester comparison every single year where at the end of the semester I sort of compare what we did this previous semester to the past. And so I'm just sort of doing that now but just within these small weeks, ‘so what did we do last April? You know, what is -how are things looking right now in terms of, you know, student support?’ And then -and then the real question is, for me, is ‘Are students aware that the support is here, and are they accessing it?’ because I know -I know that they need it...
CONNER: Yes, yes.
OSADCHUK: … just from our past data.
CONNER: Well, I love that you're using the data to help determine, you know, which students are you getting the message to versus ‘which ones do we need to work with the Deans and instructors to get that message out.’ I think that's brilliant!
OSADCHUK: Yeah, it’s -it’s been really helpful -it’s been really helpful to sort of have that and we work closely with the Provost’s Office just sort of reporting, you know, where -where the support is and you know, by just reporting data and sort of interpreting it.
CONNER: Great. Can you think of any other challenges that you’ve had besides just getting the message out and getting people online?
OSADCHUK: Yeah. I mean, the message -the message is by far been the number one challenge. You know, we’ve had, I mean I think everybody will experience this, we've had the sort of Zoom/WebEx challenges. We're -we’re, as a University we’re-we're pretty much using WebEx as exclusively as possible, but you know I'll have tutors who will tell me, “Oh, I couldn't log in, like to WebEx this morning. I don't know what happened. It kept crashing. So we moved to FaceTime. That was just easy.” And they’ve just said, “Okay, we’re going to do this on FaceTime.” And they'll just-they’ll email me, they’ll let me know that -that was sort of a hiccup in their appointment. And I’m usually just really thankful that they’re nimble and, you know, quick-thinking enough to say like, “Okay, let's just move to FaceTime so that you can get the support you need and we'll figure out the rest later. Like, the computer’s not working, no big deal. We’ll figure that part out. Let’s get the student the support they need and we can-we can figure out the rest.”
OSADCHUK: And I am really -yeah I'm really happy that the tutors are-are thinking that way.
CONNER: Well that’s what they’re supposed to be doing - problem-solving for themselves and helping other students problem-solve so sounds like you've got a great team there!
OSADCHUK: Yeah, they-they’re fantastic! You know, I met with them over WebEx in the middle of the first week we came back and I was really not optimistic that -that I was going to hear positive feedback. I was like, ‘okay, how many fires am I going to have to put out today?’ And we got online together and had an absolutely wonderful 60-minute conversation about the things they were doing, about the-their appointments they were having, the students they were meeting with the courses they themselves were working in. And you know, I'm going like, ‘Are their professors helping them along the way? Is that going to be an issue? You know, they’re not going to be able to support our students because they need support now.’
And they were-they were just overwhelmingly positive. They were, you know, just moving along in their class -I won't stay as usual- but they were moving along as I would expect them to in as normal a way as possible given the circumstances. And so the sort of challenges I was expecting from just, from all of this you know “giant pivot” as we're calling it, they weren't really experiencing and that was really reassuring…
OSADCHUK: ...because I was like, ‘okay, they’re there to do their work, they're responding. So those problems haven’t occurred.’ One of the things that we have available is -is functionally walk-in tutoring or drop-in tutoring - getting students to sort of- not have an appointment but just sort of like beam themselves into a to a session that’s already going on, that probably is a bigger challenge that we're working on this week. If students make an appointment they are very likely to show up. You know they signed up for something, they’ll be there.
OSADCHUK: In a face-to-face, on-campus setting where students are just you know, “I'm free at 8 o’clock and I have this paper due tomorrow. I'm going to take it over to a history tutor and make sure I have my timeline straight,” or whatever.
OSADCHUK: They’re sort of in this community and -and there, you know -they know that-that thing is open to them. And when they're at home and every day feels a little bit like Groundhog Day, I think -I think they’re a little less likely to do that…
OSADCHUK: … a little less likely to just know that - it’s not as consistent, you know, where it's like every day at this hour this service is available and now it's sort of like well on certain days at certain hours this service is still available but maybe it's easier to make an appointment.
OSADCHUK: And so we might, you know it’s only been a week and a half of looking at that -at that service. So we might have to -we might have to shift that a bit and-and sort of you know keep it available but make it app- have students sign up still, but you know I don't know exactly how we’ll shift with that, I’ve-I’m going to meet with the tutors again at the end of this week and sort of -and sort of gage how-how that ’s going, but that's -that's probably - I think that’s a getting the word out challenge but I also think it's more about just being in the campus culture and community and knowing certain things are just open for you…
OSADCHUK: … during certain hours. Right? And just -and you’re just sort of there in that space
And now they’re not, so…
CONNER: Yeah and well, don't you think it might be a little intimidating probably for some of these students to have to jump on an online virtual meeting and they're not sure what the process is going to be like, instead of walking over to a physical office to hand something to someone?
OSADCHUK: Yes! Yes! I absolutely think that’s true. And we’re trying -we’ve been talking about how to make that as simple as possible so that it feels like just a welcoming space, you know. And so I think we'll figure that out where, you know probably - today is Wednesday, we’re 10 days into that, so - we'll have to figure out like what that next step is to make that happen or to just sort of maybe just restructure it so that, ‘okay, that didn’t work well enough to grab the students that need the right help.’ So we'll figure out another way to reach them.
And then the other thing that’s been, I wouldn’t say a challenges, but probably a challenge that I -that I didn't address in the past that maybe I should or could have was we have set up a new service in Accudemia where students can email questions to tutors and not have to be in a WebEx or Zoom appointment. So they just sign up for the email question service. They get a-a response email that says, you know, “If you signed up for this service, here are your two steps, and here's, you know, how you'll hear back.” That's been much nicer to have available because students maybe who are intimidated to jump into a meeting online are able to just send an email and get answers to questions about coursework.
CONNER: I really like that idea! That’s-that’s a unique one I haven’t heard many people doing, so I really like that.
OSADCHUK: I stole it from my writing Center Director.
OSADCHUK: I have a-I have a fantastic colleague and he’s doing that with papers where students can email you know a paper in or a section and get feedback and I was like, ‘oh, that could be really useful and an efficient way for students to ask questions without having to schedule an appointment and talk to someone.
CONNER: Yeah. And that helps with your operations and having to try and figure out when to have students available to do things. It helps to have that little, ‘okay, there may be a delay but we're getting this via email.’ Does that make sense?
OSADCHUK: Yeah. Yeah, no, totally. it's -it's really -I mean it's a really big shift. And at the end of the day, we know students need support and we want them to have the support they need and the support they've always had. If anything, we want to expand it, even though it's different at the moment we want to expand that, so that the support is-is maybe bigger than ever, it just looks different.
CONNER: Yeah. And I think that goes back to like your mission and -and everything that everyone's striving to do. I think your team has shown that they were prepared for anything almost because they have that goal of helping the students be successful.
OSADCHUK: Yeah and, you know, that -that, I mean one of the unique things about working at Cal Baptist is that we’ve been an ever-changing institution; we’ve been a fast-growing institution. Any, you know when I started in 2011 there were just around 4,000 students, and our current you know we have just over 11,000…
OSADCHUK: … in fall of 19 FTE. So, yeah, so it’s been a big...
CONNER: Incredible growth.
OSADCHUK: Yeah, it’s been incredible growth and that -with that comes a lot of, you know, every year is different, so you’re sort of used to big change. And that really helps in this environment where -where there's a lot of big change.
OSADCHUK: And so I just think that -that you know we’ve always we’ve always been on our toes and I think that -that really has helped in this in this environment where we haven't been just sitting back saying like, ‘Okay, the tutoring center just works and that’s fine and there are tutors there and they help and you know I run the trainings there and check the timecards.’ It’s never been that simple.
CONNER: Yeah, well that’s excellent. You’re not frozen in time, you’re able to move forward and keep things afloat and moving even though it has been, like you said, ‘a great pivot.’
CONNER: Awesome. We’ll just end with a quick thought and maybe, tell me something that has happened that has been really inspiring to you. It could be related to how you got into education - you talked about it a bit before - but maybe there's an instance where you can remember that rewarding feeling of helping a student.
OSADCHUK: Yeah. We -well a few summers ago, summer of 2014, our office was challenged with putting together a program for students who were facing academic suspension. And if those students - I won't say ‘elected - if those students -’cuz they have to be placed into our program. If those students are placed into our program…
OSADCHUK: ...they’re basically given another chance. It’s basically like a last chance semester. And over the course of, this is either the fifth or sixth year, you know two semesters a year that I've had - I’ve taught this class, I've seen - I mean I don't have the data in front of me, um, I have the data - so many (laughing), we’ve so many students, you know…
CONNER: I trust you.
OSADCHUK: Yeah, we’ve seen so many students who should of been, or could have been rather, kicked out of school for academic reasons and forced to go to a community college and come back or maybe they're just not gonna be here at all. We've seen those students, you know, walk across the stage at graduation.
CONNER: That’s amazing!
OSADCHUK: And that - that is, yeah - that is the most beyo- like, that’s just the most rewarding thing in the world because here is a group of students you worked with each semester who were just really really in a tough place and through really teamwork - the course is set up - the program that we set up we set up so that you know, I as sort of the mentor professor am there to guide the discussion.
OSADCHUK: ...but the real goal is for the students to start holding each other accountable to move each other forward. And so watching like pure accountability and students work together and then go through, you know, another two, three, four semesters and get a college degree and move on into a career has been… that -that's probably the most rewarding thing I’ve done. It's hard to put into words what it feels like to watch students who, you know, a university might have deemed as hopeless graduate.
OSADCHUK: It’s fantastic! And so I really, like, it-it's really encouraging; and I know that -I know that everyone out there who works in student support who have worked with struggling students and-and watch them succeed has had that same feeling and so I think that probably keeps us all coming back because it's just -it's just wonderful to be, you know, to be able to be part of the student story and to know that what you're doing is making a difference.
CONNER: So true. I don’t think I could put it better.
OSADCHUK: And then there was a final -there is a final thought, um…
OSADCHUK: Maybe-maybe I’ll-I’ll say, one of the things -one of the other things that’s been really rewarding and-and at least wouldn’t have happened this way otherwise without this pandemic is: I'm able to work with my tutors a lot more closely now. You know usually, tutor training for us happens in a variety of ways but most prominently a big tutor training session at the beginning of the semester; you know, where we go through the do's and don'ts; we cover plagiarism; we usually pick -I usually pick a particular kind of scenario training and we go through that scenario. My tutors have always been wonderful and just done really great scenario training and just do over the top acting which has been just fantastic. You know, like bullying someone into plagiarizing a paper for you; and they’re so good at it and so that’s always been a real real fun day, but I’m...
CONNER: That does sound fun.
OSADCHUK: But, um, you know, this sort of like day-to-day - I see them; I say hello; they’re working, I don’t bother them other than a quick wave; and then maybe, you know; if I bump into them walking in or out then we'll get to talk for you know, a minute or two. But we've been able to use-use WebEx and meet weekly and really spend time with each other that I didn't realize we could have maybe done all along. And so this sort of shift has really given us the opportunity to meet together which I love because sometimes tutors function like independent contractors…
OSADCHUK: … and they think they work for themselves and they think that they run their own schedule -and they don’t -and that -and that you know, is its own challenge, but it’s also unfortunate when that happens because they don’t see themselves as part of this really, really big team.
OSADCHUK: And so getting everyone together on the WebEx meeting once a week and interacting and talking about what's going well and what's not going well and even little things like, oh, I'm- I have one tutor who’s in Albuquerque, New Mexico and is just like, “oh, I’m over here in Albuquerque.” Most of us are in Southern California, but not all of us. And we have one in Northern California; so you know, getting everyone together has been a really nice benefit of our current situation because it's allowed us to connect in a totally new and probably just closer way.
CONNER: Yes. You make the time more meaningful as well.
OSADCHUK: Yeah, absolutely!
CONNER: Well, that’s incredible. I’m very pleased to help hear how well your team is doing and if you need anything please reach out. Our support team at Engineerica is here to help you and anyone else who needs it. And thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me today, Michael, and I think that this interview hopefully we'll bring some inspiration to others who've been struggling with some of the same challenges and give them some ideas that they can apply in their centers.
OSADCHUK: Yeah, thank you for having me. I hope that it does. You know, Accudemia and the support team over at Engineerica has always been really helpful. We have, you know -we've had many questions over the years, and usually, in the sort of start-up of the school year I email in a list of questions, and, you know, your support team is always very quick and helpful to get back to us. Sometimes we do it you know online together like in a conference call. Sometimes they just tell me what to do, but it's -we’ve always gotten what we’ve needed so that’s always been great.
I am going to actually have our team pilot the new drop-in program this week…
OSADCHUK: … that you have created and that’s on my list, we’re gonna talk about that and so, I’m sure I’ll have questions and I'm sure that I will let you know.
CONNER: Please do, please do. Please let us know how it goes and let us know if there's anything we can do to help you out.
OSADCHUK: Alright I will.
[music fades in]
CONNER: A huge thank you to Michael Osadchuk, Director of the University Tutoring Center. We want to thank him and California Baptist University for allowing us to share and celebrate their successes. And we want to thank you, our listeners, for tuning in for this episode of Student Success Heroes, presented by Engineerica Systems.
Engineerica is an innovative software company that has partnered with colleges and universities for over 25 years to bring them helpful tools and technology to aid them in their mission; offering attendance tracking and student service center management systems, such as Accudemia, and student retention and success applications like AccuCampus. Engineerica also works with associations and event professionals to provide solutions that help to manage professional development or continuing education training and conferencing events.
We love our higher ed heroes and hope that we can all learn from them and their inspiring stories. We also want to hear from you and invite you to leave us a voicemail, sharing your stories and thoughts with us. So this week we invite you to tell us: What inspired you to go into education? Was it another amazing educator? Did you just happen upon a job in the field and fall in love? Whatever your experience, please share it. I’ll leave a link to our voicemail box in the show notes. We look forward to hearing your messages and may play them in upcoming episodes.
Please subscribe, share, and review this podcast to help us keep it going. Thank you for all you do to serve your students. We wish you safety at this time and until next time, take care!
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We love our higher education professionals and all that they are doing to take care of and encourage their students...
The coronavirus pandemic has left higher-education leaders facing difficult decisions on when to reopen campuses and how to go about...
Students have a lot to tell us about how we can help them be successful and listening is essential. They...