Fifteen years ago, a small group of WPI faculty members headed into student dormitories to share advice—and pizza—with first-year students as part of the newly formed Insight Program. Since then, the advising program has helped thousands of first-year students successfully transition to college life. At a recent faculty meeting, several of Insight’s most committed members—faculty advisors who have participated for five or more years—were recognized for their long service.
The WPI Committee on Advising and Student Life (CASL) spearheaded the effort to acknowledge the faculty members, who received certificates of appreciation and small gifts (including a plush Gompei). In total, 29 faculty members were recognized, including 22 who have served for 5–9 years and seven who have served for 10 years or more.
“The commitment of these faculty members is significant,” says Kris Wobbe, associate dean of undergraduate studies. “Each fall they are assigned a new group of 25–30 new students and are responsible, along with student residential and community advisors, for guiding them on academics, as well as connecting them with resources on campus and helping them adjust to the college environment.”
Wobbe believes that the program has made a substantial impact on student retention and success. She cites data compiled by Connie Aramento, associate director of Academic Advising and First Year Programs, showing that since Insight launched in 2000, WPI’s first-year student retention rate has increased from 89 to 96 percent, while the percentage of first-year students on academic warning has decreased from 10 to just 4 percent. Wobbe attributes much of this success to the support of faculty advisors.
“One of the biggest hurdles new students face is their fear of faculty—they think we’re weird and scary,” says Wobbe. “Through the Insight Program students realize that faculty members are people just like them who laugh at jokes and eat pizza.”
Jill Rulfs, associate professor of biology and biotechnology, joined Insight in its second year and has participated every year but one since then. Rulfs says she enjoys being able to connect with students in an informal environment.
“Getting to know a faculty member outside of the classroom gives students the opportunity to see faculty as a resource, a support, and an advocate,” says Rulfs. “I have students who, even after Insight has ended, come to my office looking for help with a personal issue, asking to talk about a change in academic direction, or even just checking in because they saw me and wanted to say ‘hi.’”
She adds, “The program has also kept me in touch with current student concerns and issues, as well as hopes and dreams. I love seeing the student who was so homesick in those first weeks blossom into a confident person, walking with pride across the stage at graduation.”
Destin Heilman, associate teaching professor of chemistry and biochemistry, became an Insight advisor shortly after he arrived at WPI about nine years ago because he wanted to advise students on a more comprehensive level. He notes that he quickly saw the benefits of the program for both students and faculty.
“The program brings a support system and a cohesiveness to the students that builds quickly and lasts. I see them struggle with the same issues that are typical of matriculating freshmen, but many more now turn to each other, their Insight team, and other members of the community,” says Heilman. “I also feel confident, as a faculty member, that I better understand the students and how to help them.”
While CASL plans to continue recognizing faculty members for their long service on an annual basis, Wobbe notes that future groups of inductees will be small, as turnover for faculty advisors in the Insight program is low.
“Each year we need about 40 faculty advisors for the program, but we only actively have to recruit a handful since so many continue to serve year after year,” says Wobbe. “These faculty members who show such commitment are making a big impact for students and definitely deserve to be recognized.”
Insight Faculty Advisors Recognized for Long Service:
Chrys Demetry, Director, Morgan Teaching & Learning Center
John Goulet, Teaching Professor, Mathematical Sciences
Mayer Humi, Professor, Mathematical Science
Ingrid Matos-Nin, Associate Teaching Professor, Humanities & Arts
Jill Rulfs, Associate Professor, Biology & Biotechnology
Ken Stafford, Associate Professor, Robotics Engineering
Richard Vaz, Dean, Interdisciplinary and Global Studies Division
Jon Abraham, Professor of Practice, Mathematical Sciences
Holly Ault, Associate Professor, Mechanical Engineering
Kris Billiar, Department Head, Biomedical Engineering
Drew Brodeur, Associate Teaching Professor, Chemistry & Biochemistry
Mike Buckholt, Associate Teaching Professor, Biology & Biotechnology
John Delorey, Instructor of Music, Humanities & Arts
Mustapha Fofana, Associate Professor, Mechanical Engineering
Jeffrey Forgeng, Adjunct Associate Professor, Interactive Media & Game Development
Christine Girouard, Director, Student Activities
Destin Heilman, Associate Teaching Professor, Chemistry & Biochemistry
Rob Krueger, Director, Environmental and Sustainability Studies
Uma Kumar, Associate Teaching Professor, Chemistry & Biochemistry
Jianyu Liang, Associate Professor, Mechanical Engineering
Jim McLaughlin, Assistant Dean, Student Programs
Svetlana Nikitina, Associate Teaching Professor, Humanities & Arts
Emily Perlow, Assistant Dean of Students
Sam Politz, Associate Professor, Biology & Biotechnology
Craig Putnam, Associate Director, Robotics Engineering
Tom Thomsen, Director, International Students Office
Norm Wilkinson, Director of Programs, Robert A. Foisie School of Business
Kris Wobbe, Associate Dean of Undergraduate Studies
– BY JENNIFER WYGLINSKI