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Staff Tips to Start Students Off Strong

The first four weeks of each semester provide an experience that can set students up for success. Even seemingly small gestures can make an important impact on a student. You are a critical part of helping them get off to a great start.

Based on the St. Louis Community College model, named as an Achieving the Dream Best Practice, the research-based ideas below are proven to make a difference in student success during the first four weeks of the semester and beyond.


  1. Select at least one strategy from each category to carry out in your department/office.
  2. Email and ask to be added to the First4Weeks Blackboard Organization.
  3. Be sure to assess the impact of the strategies you have implemented.
  4. Provide tips based on your experience to other staff through the First4Weeks Blackboard Organization.

See Also Faculty Tips | STUDENT TIPS


Build Relationships and Connect

Create a sense of community and belonging for all students.

  • Create a welcoming environment through simple steps, such as posting a picture board with staff photos and names.
  • Make each conversation friendlier:
    • Be sure to address each student by name before asking for their ID number
    • Introduce yourself to the student you’re helping, with your name and title
    • Ask students questions about themselves and how they are doing
    • Decode higher education terminology during conversations by defining terms that may be new to students
    • End conversations with motivating words of encouragement
  • Listen actively. It’s easy to jump to a solution after hearing part of what someone is saying instead of listening to the entire question or situation.
  • Ask the second question. New students may not know enough about Columbus State to understand what they need or who they need to talk to. Help them out by asking a follow-up question to figure out what they need to accomplish.
  • When you refer a student to another office, call ahead to make sure someone is there and understands what the student needs. Walk the student to the other office, if possible.
  • Verify contact information on file and explain the importance of current mailing and phone information. Help students complete updates, either on CougarWeb or by calling (614) 287-5353.
  • Make sure students know how to reach you. Share your business card—writing a quick note on the back is a great way to make a personal connection (something as simple as “Glad you’re here!” or “You’re going to do great!”).
  • Email students who miss appointments, and send email follow-ups after appointments.


Engage and Stay Encouraged

Communicate the “why” to help students connect tasks to the big picture.

  • Listen, and let a student talk through a problem. Help them talk their way through to the solution that is best for them.
  • When you give a student an answer, explain the process involved so that the student knows what to do the next time they encounter a similar situation. If a student asks a question that requires an answer of “No,” don’t stop there. Explain why and help them explore other ways to achieve their goal.
  • When possible, let the student look up information and navigate the website while working with you, to help them build skills and a comfort level with the technology.
  • Ask students to repeat important information back to you in their own words so you’re sure they understand.
  • Remind students that we send messages only to their Columbus State email account, and remind them to check it daily.
  • Acquaint students with the IT Support Center at (614) 287-5050, and open computer labs in Moeller Hall on the Delaware Campus and Center for Technology and Learning (TL) on the Columbus Campus, where they can get in-person technical assistance.
  • Show students where they can find dates and deadlines related to college services.
  • Remind students to sign up for RAVE alerts at



Communicate, Celebrate, and Aspire

Remind students often of that they are valued and have the ability to achieve their goals. Remind them that acclimating to any new experience is a learning process.

  • Help student workers understand their important role and how to better help other students.
  • Encourage participation in campus groups that build leadership skills, like Women’s Connection, MAN Initiative, and discipline-specific mentoring programs.
  • Praise students for things they have accomplished. Each step forward takes them closer to their goal.
  • Incorporate inspiring messages into daily interactions. Add inspiring messages to your office space. End conversations with encouraging words like “You’ve got this” or “You’re going to do well here.”
  • Help students develop skills to have appropriate conversations about difficult topics—role play, or discuss how conversations may go, what kinds of responses to avoid, and how to have a productive discussion.
  • Encourage students to talk to professors in person. Remind them that getting to know professors on a personal level helps the learning process. Our professors are here to help students succeed!


Support and Collaborate

Provide information and referrals. Integrate learning about services to support your students in their academic, career, and financial goals.

  • Build your knowledge of campus resources to support student success. Use the resource sheets, the First4Weeks Blackboard Organization, and the Columbus State website to direct students to programs, workshops, and other resources.
  • When you are able to, walk students to a service you have referred them to so they get there easily and will know where to go in the future.
  • Remember, students have many things going on outside of college, so there may be barriers to their success that we aren’t aware of. Pay attention to “red flag” statements so you can help them identify and solve problems.
  • Students may be very stressed about their situations. Be calm under pressure. Be the rational one and de-escalate a situation that may be stressful for a student.
  • If you can’t assist a student and need to send them “up the chain of command,” take time to help them understand why they need to follow the proper channels and help them understand how our process works.



Achieving the Dream



First 4 Weeks