In Stevenson Hall, students find path to success

Oasis in Stevenson Hall

Zerbrina Valdespino (left) and Gabriela Wandling (center) study in Stevenson Hall’s new oasis, an informal learning space where students can relax and prepare for class. Photo: Roberta Dupuis-Devlin/UIC Photo Services (click on image for larger size)

If you’re looking for a comfortable place to hang out before class or someone to talk to about improving your college experience, Stevenson Hall is the place to go.

Renovations to the building’s first floor have created a new home for the Undergraduate Success Center, updated four classrooms and provided students with a new oasis — an informal space to study or relax with friends.


Helping students succeed

Part of the Student Success Plan, the Undergraduate Success Center officially opened last spring in a temporary space in the Student Services Building but moved into its permanent home in 111 Stevenson Hall this semester.

“It’s a hybrid of an advising and one-stop shop success and referral center,” said Josephine Volpe, interim director of the center.

The center’s new space is welcoming  — there’s always a plentiful bowl of free fruit and candy for students — and its four-person, full-time staff is there to help students navigate the college experience successfully.

Cortney Alexander talks wth Joey Volpe

The Undergraduate Success Center helps students overcome challenges to their learning, says interim director Josephine Volpe, right, shown chatting with student Zerbrina Valdespino. Photo: Roberta Dupuis-Devlin/UIC Photo Services (click on image for larger size)

Students can visit the center, part of the Office of the Vice Provost for Undergraduate Affairs, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 8 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Friday.

“We really meet the students where they are and try to bring them to the next level of what they need for their success,” Volpe said. “We really listen to them, hear what’s going on and use our expertise to leverage campus resources. We work in a nonjudgmental and very supportive way.”

The office can help students overcome any roadblock to their learning, Volpe said. No question is too big or small — the center has helped students with tasks ranging from ordering a prescription to finding a home.

They’ve also helped students who are struggling with a class, outlining what to say to the instructor and finding a consistent tutor for the student.

And once the center’s “success coordinators” have helped a student, they don’t stop there, Volpe said.

“We really build a relationship,” she said. “We support students through the referral process, then work on the next piece and the next piece to get them where they need to be.

“Students never leave our fold.”

Students shouldn’t be ashamed to ask for help, Volpe said.

“We all have challenges — it’s normal,” she said. “To walk away or hide from them isn’t helping anyone.”

The center also sponsors a peer-mentoring program called Sparky’s Allies, pairing first-year students with upperclassmen, and a faculty-student mentoring program that connects students to faculty members whose interests are outside of their academic field.

“It’s a great opportunity for students to think about the fact that faculty members aren’t perfect, either,” Volpe said. “They’re people too and they’ve struggled with things.”


Comfortable spaces for students

Four classrooms in Stevenson Hall were renovated over the summer and four more are scheduled for updates next summer, said Wendy Jeanes, assistant director of the Office of Campus Learning Environments.

Seating was updated and multimedia capabilities were improved and each room now has a projector screen for instruction.

Comfortable couches and chairs were added to a student oasis, created in a color palette of red, black, gray and white.

“It’s a destination now,” Jeanes said.

Four black-and-white works by student artist Nathan Miller contrast the bright red wall of the oasis. Miller created the artwork using photographs of his parents, including an image of his mother’s hair, his father’s boots and a letter his father wrote to his mother.

“I took a single image, duplicated it and rotated it within the frame to mimic the movement of a film reel,” said Miller, a senior in art. “I was interested in what a photographer can do. The pieces are all an exploration of a photographer’s relationship to cinema.”

And the new oasis could become Miller’s next art project.

“Sometimes I stop by and take pictures of people there,” he said.

Students and employees can learn more about the improvements at an open house from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m. Oct. 3 on the first floor of Stevenson Hall.



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