The magazine for the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at
Iowa State University

Be bold

Every other wednesday evening, Maria Haas spends a voluntary extra two hours in class.

Surrounded by nearly 40 other students, she listens to featured guest speakers, completes exercises that help her get to know campus better, and connects with other students who also identify as students of color in her LAS 105x BOLD orientation class.

Haas is a first-year student in the Bridging Opportunities in Leadership and Diversity (BOLD) Learning Community. BOLD is a new academic, social and professional success program that supports multicultural students during their first year in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences (LAS).

“Research shows that on predominantly white campuses, it’s not uncommon for students of color to feel isolated,” said Der Vang, LAS’ Multicultural Liaison Officer and director of the BOLD program. “It can make them feel less safe, and it can make them feel like they don’t matter.”

BOLD is a place where multicultural students can create a positive learning experience, which helps to ensure college is one of tbe best experiences of their lives.

Creating leaders

The program is designed to encourage students to stay involved until they graduate.

“BOLD continues to build leadership skills throughout a student’s entire college career,” Vang said. “Many learning communities are organized to provide support throughout a student’s first year on campus, but BOLD encourages students to stay involved in different leadership capacities through their senior year.”

BOLD is a place where multicultural students can create a positive learning experience, which helps to ensure college is one of tbe best experiences of their lives.

After participating in the program for one year, each BOLD student can apply to become a peer mentor for a new first-year student. In their third and fourth years, students can apply to become BOLD Team Leaders or continue in their peer mentor roles.

Leadership experiences aren’t limited to BOLD, however. In fact, starting their second year, most students also take on leadership roles in many other LAS and campus-wide groups ranging from serving as LAS Ambassadors, editing campus magazines, serving as presidents and vice presidents of clubs associated with their majors, participating in Honors Society, tutoring and more.

“A lot of the struggle with being a first-year multicultural student is feeling like you can’t make a difference,” Vang said. “First, students need a place to feel safe. That’s where BOLD comes in. Then, students can find a space to be brave.”

Nurturing student success

Vang said she doesn’t take a “deficit model” approach to fostering student success.

“BOLD isn’t based off an idea that these students ‘need help’ or ‘need resources,’” she said. “Instead, it’s based off the idea that these students have a lot to offer, so let’s help them realize their potential.”

The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences’ goal is to promote student-centered learning across all dimensions. It educates students to become global citizens by providing ample opportunities to acquire the skills, knowledge and ability needed to succeed in the world.

“Student success is the number one priority in everything we do,” Amy Slagell, associate dean for academic programs, said. “Ensuring each student is taken care of and given the support they need to achieve their goals is what makes earning a degree in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences such a rewarding experience.”

Just a couple of weeks into her first semester at ISU, Haas found a support network where she could thrive.

The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences’ goal is to promote student-centered learning across all dimensions. It educates students to become global citizens by providing ample opportunities to acquire the skills, knowledge and ability needed to succeed in the world.

She said navigating a big campus and living away from home for the first time was a lot to handle in her first few weeks. In addition, she wanted to get involved quickly but wasn’t sure where to focus her efforts. She was already interested in joining a learning community, and loved that BOLD didn’t focus on just one topic.

“The whole program is very diverse,” she said. “BOLD has already given me so many opportunities,” she said. “It’s been easy to branch out because I feel like I have a support system. The program has made it easier for me to focus and succeed in my classes.”

“Distance traveled”

Another innovative learning community in LAS is focused on helping students with various cultural or socioeconomic backgrounds succeed.

Corey Welch, who is developing and directing ISU’s budding STEM Scholars program, knows there is always a story behind the standard measures of student success. When he looks at a list of GPAs and test scores, he says the information isn’t good enough.

“We are studying alternative measures that better predict future success in STEM, such as persistence, passion for science, and grit,” he said. “If you’re a low-income student, you’re not going to have the same opportunities to prepare for those tests. So we have to dig deeper into the stories behind the information to create meaningful ways to foster student success.”

His role at Iowa State is to promote the success of students from economic, gender, ethnic and cultural groups who are historically underrepresented in biology and other STEM fields.

Welch says when defining success, it’s important to consider “distance traveled.”

“’Distance traveled’ means a lot,” Welch said. “How far a student culturally or personally grew just to get to a university campus might be a pretty amazing distance.

“For example, a student may be from Ames, Iowa. But if they’re a first generation, low-income student from Ames, Iowa, they’ve traveled pretty far to get to Iowa State,” he said.

His goal is to broaden who succeeds in science to benefit both the STEM disciplines and society. He said the STEM Scholars program will be modeled as a four-year learning community focused on leadership. STEM Scholars will provide students a safe space to let their natural abilities emerge while they learn to succeed in a world that “doesn’t have a program.”

“The expectation is that the students will eventually create the aspects of the program. It’s my job to provide professional guidance and funding, but it’s their creativity that will fuel it,” he said. “After these students graduate, they’ll be prepared to succeed in a world that doesn’t have programs like this.”

STEM Scholars will provide students a safe space to let their natural abilities emerge while they learn to succeed in a world that “doesn’t have a program.”

Far-reaching impact

Programs such as BOLD and STEM Scholars have a reach far beyond the students who make them successful. These programs encourage intercultural skills, cultural awareness and inclusiveness among all Iowa State students, faculty, staff and the Ames community.

“I always remind students that their voice has power,” Vang said. “When you give students a place to belong that’s part of a larger campus community, they get noticed not for the color of their skin, but for the way they make an impact.”

When students learn skills like communication and problem solving, they can apply those skills on campus and in the community to help their peers gain a more global perspective. Unique learning communities like these encourage conversation and collaboration, which helps expand the positive impact that a diverse population offers.

“If these students can go out and feel comfortable in their space here on campus, then they’ll have the confidence to feel comfortable in the rest of the world,” Vang said. “That’s the biggest measure of student success: how a student applies what they’ve learned here to build a rewarding and fulfilling life for themselves after college.”

What is a Learning Community?

  • Learning communities are designed to engage small groups of students and faculty in collaborative interactions to help students achieve success academically and socially
  • Learning communities address a variety of focus areas, such as common areas of study, career interests, or residence
  • Learning communities often feature peer mentors, field trips, study groups, hands-on learning experiences, social activities or community service
  • More than 85 percent of this Fall’s 191 ISU Learning Teams included a link to one or more LAS classes
  • The average one-year retention rate for ISU learning community students is 8 percent higher than students not enrolled
  • The average ISU six-year graduation rate for learning community students is 11 percent higher than the rate for students not enrolled