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Reinventing the Student Experience

Moving Into the “Next Normal” and Responding to What Students Need to Succeed

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At the conclusion of the Spring 2020 semester, New York Institute of Technology skipped the traditional end-of-year course evaluations and instead surveyed students about their experiences during the coronavirus pandemic, seizing the opportunity to find out what students value in instruction and help map a strategy for an unchartered future in the fall and beyond.

Nearly 2,000 of the approximately 5,000 undergraduate and graduate students at the university’s New York City and Long Island campuses responded, and some of the results were startling…in a good way, that is…while some feedback also underscored the vulnerabilities of its mainly commuter, first-gen student body. It also came as no surprise that a large number of students reported moderate to significant disruptions to their family lives, finances, and health, with more than 30 percent worried about housing security.

Administrators and faculty who quickly adapted to the campus shutdown in early March were reasonably certain that they were able to successfully complete the remainder of the semester, transitioning more than 1,500 sections into remote teaching. The students seemed to agree, with nearly 80% feeling satisfied with their professors’ pivot to remote learning. The students also helped identify what they sought going forward, with more than 75% indicating that efforts to instill remote learning with classroom discussion, regular communication about progress, time flexibility, and collaboration with other students had been important to their studies. While widely communicated, the option for a pass-fail grade was selected by a mere 6 percent.

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Junius Gonzales, M.D., M.B.A., provost and vice president for Academic Affairs.

A real highlight, which Junius Gonzales, M.D., M.B.A., provost and vice president for Academic Affairs, shared in his June update to faculty, was the insight gleaned about the quick shift to emergency remote teaching and key takeaways as the university moves into the “next normal.”

For example, undergraduates were asked: Thinking about your future coursework, how important is each of the following to you when learning remotely?

  • Virtual Classroom Discussion: 80.2% or 666 students rated as moderately, very, or extremely important
  • Regular Communications about My Performance in the Course: 90.2% or 754 students rated as moderately, very, or extremely important
  • Professors Record and Post Lectures Accessible on the Internet: 91.8% or 769 rated as moderately, very, or extremely important
  • Professors Record and Post Short Videos Accessible on the Internet: 89.6% or 749 students rated as moderately, very, or extremely important
  • Regular Virtual Office Hours: 83.5% or 696 students rated as moderately, very, or extremely important
  • Collaboration with Other Students: 72.9% or 608 students rated as moderately, very, or extremely important

It is worth noting that results for graduate students were very similar to those of undergraduates.


To further understand how ongoing efforts in support of student success at the university had not been adversely impacted, administrators were particularly interested in how the survey results related to the composition of the student body.

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Francine Glazer, Ph.D., associate provost and founding director of the university’s Center for Teaching and Learning.

“Our undergraduate students are high need; with nearly 50% Pell Grant-eligible, they’re on financial aid, they’re first generation,” says Francine Glazer, Ph.D., associate provost and founding director of the university’s Center for Teaching and Learning. “We have a large number of international students. It’s a very diverse student body and the ‘first gen’ is important. A lot of our students don’t come from homes where the parents know how to navigate the college ecosystem.” New York Tech has the most diverse student population in higher education in the U.S., as reported by 24/7 Wall St. in USA Today, with 40 states and 90 countries represented.

Ideally, the post-semester survey will affect how faculty teach with technologies and provide insights on optimizing the learning experience to ensure student success (and ultimately retention and degree completion). The university has seized this period of crisis as an opportune time to allow faculty and support staff to develop new skills, deepen their knowledge about pedagogies, and apply them to enhance students’ learning experiences.

Gonzales and his team will continue their pre-COVID goal of helping faculty to instill a growth mindset in New York Tech students, encouraging them to see difficult tasks as opportunities to stretch and learn new skills. In asking students to try tasks that challenge their current level of skill, students will accept the risk of making mistakes as an opportunity to learn.

More than ever before, active engagement with and participation by students in remote learning environments are critical. Many challenges remain as education continues to face a fall semester of uncertainty, Gonzales notes. As such, he’s encouraged faculty to try things they have not yet used for remote teaching–even simple additions, such as active discussion boards or team projects that require synchronous activity, can make a big difference.

“Students said they really want to see lectures recorded,” says Glazer. “So we are retrofitting every classroom so that any classes that have an on-campus presence can also be streamed and recorded for the students who may not be on campus. It’s a direct response to what the students told us, and it wasn’t something that was on our original roadmap, because you know, whoever imagined we would be teaching this way?”


Another survey highlight was the cascade of glowing responses — 60 printed pages’ worth — to an open-ended question about how instructors had fared in the sudden transition to all-remote learning. They reminded Gonzales of the feedback about the faculty and staff volunteer mentors in New York Tech’s Achieving Collegiate Excellence (ACE) program, piloted in 2019.

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“I created a task force on student success the first year I was here [2018] with 20 representatives from across the university,” Gonzales recalls. “They heard from different units and they got a lot of data, they also heard from me about my past experiences and my read of the literature.”

Gonzales’ leadership and expertise in student success are known nationwide--he currently serves on the Board of Directors of the Association of Chief Academic Officers (ACAO) and is a frequent presenter, speaker and moderator, most recently at The Atlantic’s Future of Work Conference and the Times Higher Education Student Success Forum in 2019. In his previous roles as senior vice president for Academic Affairs at the University of North Carolina System and as provost and vice president of academic affairs at the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP), his initiatives have had significant impact. At UTEP, one of the nation’s most recognized Hispanic-serving Institutions, he championed student success and led the institution to receive several national awards (Institute for Higher Education Policy’s Champion for Access and Success, the Starfish 360 Award, and the New Media Consortium 2015 Center of Excellence Award). He also was the principal investigator for a U.S. Department of Education $2.62 million grant for student retention, while significantly expanding online education.

“The provost has always had meetings with the department chairs, but what Dr. Gonzales has been able to do is reinvigorate the department chairs as a cohesive group,” says Glazer. “He’s really energized them. The department chairs have formed subcommittees looking at specific topics like guidance on what faculty need right now to improve teaching and learning. The first year he was here formed a Student Success Task Force that resulted in some concrete improvements.”

New York Tech is already seeing positive trends: in just its first semester, the ACE program boasted a 92 percent completion rate and contributed to substantial gains in first-year retention — 10 percentage points overall, and 16 at the New York City campus.

U.S. News & World Report rates the university as a top performer in social mobility among Northern regional colleges. The Chronicle of Higher Education ranked it No. 7 for Highest Student Mobility among all four-year U.S. private institutions.


Gonzales and others attribute these measures of student success to a longstanding culture of collaboration among administrators, faculty, and students. The slogan “Do. Make. Innovate. Reinvent the Future.” applies not just to what students can do with an education, but what faculty, staff, and students can do to improve everyone’s experiences and enhance student outcomes. That spirit was challenged like never before by the pandemic that upended one semester and continues to complicate the next.

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“At last year’s convocation for faculty and staff, I presented the ‘three-legged stool’ of mindset, sense of belonging, and values affirmation,” says Gonzales. “What we’re seeing now is that the faculty and staff and others are asking questions or offering to do things around maintaining that sense of belonging when everything is remote. Several faculty members have emailed about helping out in additional ways, and they’ve volunteered to do even more, particularly around the topic of racial injustice.”

“And at the same time, we’ve had astonishing productivity. The number of grant proposals that went out during the shutdown was just astonishing, more than double what you would see in a typical half-year.”

“One thing that just I love about this institution is that everybody pulls together and there’s not a lot of ‘turf’,” Glazer explains. “We’re all on the same team, we’re all moving the students forward. And so when the pandemic hit, several different units teamed up to provide support for the faculty and support for the students.

Our faculty was comfortable enough with technology to provide students the right experiences as they continued to learn, and we imagine faculty imparting their best practices to teach each other going forward.”


That spirit of teamwork and reflection in order to supplement student resources for success extends to those in student engagement positions as well.

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Tiffani Blake, interim assistant provost for Student Engagement and Development.

“Initially, of course, the pandemic was a challenge that we knew would take Herculean efforts to support our students,” recalls Tiffani Blake, interim assistant provost for Student Engagement and Development. “Ultimately, it gave us a chance to be more creative, to really think about what we do and how we do it, like engaging with students at times when previously they were commuting to campus, pre-pandemic.”

The Student Engagement and Development areas equipped staff members with a variety of new tools to do their jobs remotely, as well as webinars, videoconferences, social media, and discussion groups for responding to students’ needs during the crisis. The university recently launched student-focused programs in leadership and civics to provide cocurricular experiences and engage students in new ways, regardless of where they are.

“We made sure that the staff members in charge of clubs and organizations were keeping touch points with students,” Blake explains. “And for other areas, like Career Services, it was making sure that we continued their programs—résumé writing, interviewing skills, all of those things we could transfer to being offered remotely. We performed whatever we had to do to make sure that students still had access to the same events, services, and resources, so that they know we still care about their student experience. Everything looks different because we’re not physically together, but we’re still together.”

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Many new initiatives will likely be permanent, Blake says, including the health, wellness, and food-focused Bear Bytes program, which began as a response to a spike in food insecurity among students on the New York campuses, and optimizing events like new student orientation and new student convocation that are now online vs. in person. These programs can better support students even when campuses can fully reopen again--to benefit graduate students, for example, who often work during the day.

In his June email to faculty, Gonzales concluded with quotes from poet and author Maya Angelou, including: “My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style.”

“New York Tech will facilitate and provide support for you to get to your new possibilities,” Gonzales added. “While we continue to adapt, stay flexible, and be resilient, I ask for your help, in your work, to go beyond what you have done and assist our students to thrive, not just adjust.”

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About New York Institute of Technology

New York Institute of Technology offers 90 undergraduate, graduate, and professional degree programs in more than 50 fields of study, including computer science, data, and cybersecurity; biology and biomedical studies; architecture and design; engineering; health professions and medicine; IT and digital technologies; management; communications and marketing; education and counseling; and energy and sustainability. A nonprofit, independent, private, and nonsectarian institute of higher education, New York Institute of Technology welcomes more than 9,000 students worldwide. The university has campuses in New York City (Manhattan) and Long Island (Old Westbury), New York; Jonesboro, Arkansas; and Vancouver, British Columbia, as well as programs around the world.

New York Institute of Technology embraces its mission to provide career-oriented professional education, give all qualified students access to opportunity, and support research and scholarship that benefit the larger world. More than 107,000 alumni comprise an engaged network of doers, makers, and innovators prepared to change the world, solve 21st-century challenges, and reinvent the future.

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