All chapters of Sigma Pi Fraternity are expected to create and implement an Academic Success Program to promote scholarship among members. Chapters are asked to submit their Academic Success Program to the Executive Office by October 15th.
Just as a Chapter is varied in its membership, an academic plan must be varied in its approach. To merely have "library hours" as an academic plan does not meet the challenge of aiding all members from brothers to associate members.
When developing an academic success program, a multi-prong approach is the best approach.
1. What offices are on-campus that can aid your members?
Chapters often focus on using Brothers who many have done well in a course to tutor associate members or other Brothers. While this is an easy use of resources, it may not be effective. Campuses have many resources to help students be successful; however, many student organizations only know or focus on resources given by the Office of Student Activities. Does your campus have a Mentoring or Tutoring Office? Often programs will offer their own tutoring or mentoring for students. Mentors and Tutors on college campuses are trained to aid the student in developing proper study skills. Many campuses have resources for veterans and all campuses have an Office of Educational Accessibility (or Disability Services). Students reject using such offices as mentoring/tutoring or Educational Accessibility due to an unspoken stigma that is attached to them. The campus resources are important and are powerful on the campus to help our students. The only “stigma” attached to such offices are those within the individual. The student is anonymous due to confidentiality and can gain access to tools that will benefit them if they are registered with such offices. Chapters must work to support such offices and remove the “shame” attached to such offices.
2. Do you know how members study best?
Chapters often fall into the easy solution of mandating library hours. During these hours, Brothers and Associate members may do other things rather than study. Library hours work for some of our students but not all of them. Departments on campus can offer insight into the best way an individual student learns. Such assessments as the VARK help the student understand if they are a Visual, Aural, Rote, or Kinesthetic learner. Use the campus resources to test your associate members. Adapt their educational plans to meet the way they learn.
3. What is the role of your faculty advisor?
While all Chapters should have a Chapter Advisor who is hopefully active, faculty advisors also play an important role. What is the role of your faculty advisor? Do the two advisors communicate? Are they both active? A good educational plan blends both advisors and allows the faculty advisor latitude to hold members accountable for not meeting an individualized educational plan that they have developed and shared with the EC and their advisors.
4. Are students in the correct major?
Often our first-year students are arriving on the campus thinking that they are going to be a certain major due to the influence of their parents or friends. When they start taking the courses, they may struggle as they may lack the cognitive abilities to be successful in that specific major. Campuses have Career Management Centers or Centers for Major Exploration that students can use to determine if they are in the correct major. Using the resources provided by these offices help our students determine if they are in the correct major, which saves their grades. If they are not in the correct major, offices can help guide them to their correct major. Using the offices during the associate member process can help Chapters become stronger as members will be in majors that complement their abilities rather than conflict with their abilities.
5. Does your Chapter have Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) agreements on file with the Chapter?
Many Chapters rely on their Student Activities office to share member grades. In many cases, FERPA agreements are not on-file, which violates federal law. If students have a FERPA agreement on-file, ask them to have the Sigma Pi Faculty Advisor, Chapter Director, and EC added to the list of individuals that can check and discuss their academic record. Doing so allows the Chapter to check mid-semester grades. Does your Chapter have a policy of checking mid-semester grades of all Associate members and members below a certain GPA? Doing mid-semester checks asking if the student has been in class, current grade, are they attentive in the class, and what they can do to be more successful in the class will allow the Faculty advisor and the Chapter to better aid students. At times, members, both Associate and Full Brothers, may not be honest in how often they attend class and their interactions with the class. Seeking feedback from their professors allows the Chapter to hold individuals accountable and helps reinforce that the organization supports the academic mission of the campus.
6. Does your academic plan involve outside organizations and departments?
Campuses have many different honor organizations on them. Brothers should be joining them as they offer additional support (financially through scholarships and academically) for the students but can also be used to aid underperforming Brothers. Departments like an Honors College can also offer grounds for recruitment that are often not examined but also additional support (academically and financially) for students.
When developing your academic success program, please remember to examine the whole student. Library hours will not aid all chapter members. Some brothers may prefer to study in groups, while others prefer to study alone or one-on-one. Adapting your educational plan and making it more personal allows the chapter to fully support all members. If someone is not meeting their requirements, the chapter should use the Standards Board. If they fail to adhere to their individual academic plans, the chapter must hold that individual accountable, which may mean expulsion at some point.
Submission from Brother Brian Kurisky, Ph.D.