Redefining Student Success

Cumberland University is changing the face of student success. Through a bevy of new and expanding student services such as vibrant First-Year Experience initiatives and powerful Career Services and Internships activities, Cumberland is preparing students to flourish in and out of the classroom. Redefining the idea of the successful undergraduate, Cumberland is creating students prepared for achievements to last not merely for four years, but for a lifetime.

Through ever-expanding student services, Cumberland is meeting the challenge of developing the “total student,” according to Executive Vice President and Chief Institutional Effectiveness Officer Eddie Pawlawski.

“We’re really trying to develop the entire student, from the time they apply to come to Cumberland until they enter into the workforce,” said Pawlawski. “Our task is to provide every student with a place where they can grow and develop academically and in self-worth.”

That mission is the hallmark of Cumberland’s student services, which have expanded dramatically as a result of institutional analyses, according to Pawlawski. Examining factors such as classroom attendance and student retention, the University has developed multiple new offices to address student needs, greatly boosting its retention rates and student outcomes.


Eddie Pawlawski – Executive Vice President

“There’s been tremendous forward movement,” said Pawlawski. “In four years, we have greatly improved our freshman-to-sophomore retention rates, and it is helping us to set the stage for developing a total idea of student development.”

Cumberland approaches that development from day one through its Office of First-Year Experience, a program designed to ease the transition from high school to university. Created in 2010 and directed by Assistant Professor Dr. Joshua Hayden, the First-Year Experience initiative provides incoming freshmen with a two-hour credit introductory course in university-level academics.

“Through the Foundations of Scholarship and Learning (FSL) course, we familiarize students with the values of the academic community and teach them time management and prioritization skills,” said Hayden.

Students learn those skills in FSL through classroom instruction and innovative exercises such as “media fasts,” in which freshmen disconnect for 12 hours from communication and entertainment technology to discover the prevalence of technology in modern life. FSL students also learn academic skills firsthand from Peer Mentors assigned to each class. Developing a relationship with freshmen, the Mentors help coordinate social activities, announce academic opportunities, and sometimes run in-class exercises.

Each FSL class also includes a service learning component, a real-life experience which sees students interacting with local charities such as Second Harvest Food Bank in Nashville.

“Service learning takes learning that begins in the classroom and tests it in the real world,” said Hayden. “It exposes students to issues such as diversity and environments that may be outside of their normal context.”

The Office of First-Year Experience is also a “hub of collaboration,” according to Hayden, involving students in co-curricular activities across the University. As early as orientation, the office approaches undergraduates through its Freshman Orientation Discussion Forums, in which students discuss an assigned short story with faculty and staff facilitators. The office is also involved with Vise Library’s iRead reading program and will soon unveil a second-semester ceremony celebrating students’ completion of their first year of college.

Cumberland’s Office of Student Success and Retention also provides students with powerful development and support programs. Created in 2009 and directed by Board Certified Coach Abbi Terveer, the office coordinates Freshman Orientation, Peer Mentor services, and general student success activities.

“Our mission is to provide a smooth transition for freshmen and support at-risk freshmen, as well as providing a total development service for students,” said Terveer.

That service begins each year with Freshman Orientation, a two-day program which introduces students to every aspect of Cumberland University, from academic initiatives to campus resources and faculty members. Newly revamped, the program includes a variety of innovative events such as a formal parents’ dinner, Ultimate Cumberland Challenge campus familiarization event, and College Issues: Straight Up With a Twist information session.

The event differs from those of larger universities in its more condensed, interactive atmosphere, according to Terveer.

“Freshman orientation has changed greatly; we’re a little more cutting-edge now,” said Terveer. “Huge universities do a whole week. We like to make ours more intimate and cut it down to two days, connecting students personally to faculty, staff, and peers.”

Abbi Terveer – Director of Student Success

Terveer’s office is also responsible for Cumberland’s thriving Peer Mentors, a group of twenty students providing advice and friendship to freshmen in FSL classes in coordination with the Office of First-Year Experience. Terveer also provides a vital lifeline to students through personal consultations, providing academic and life advice to students in more than 150 one-on-one meetings with students every semester.

Students at all levels can also seek academic help at the Academic Enrichment Center (AEC), which provides tutoring, writing assistance, and testing services year-round. Directed by Coordinator of Academic Enrichment Sheridan Henson, the AEC is a rapidly expanding program dedicated to seeing students improve on a daily basis.

“The AEC contributes directly to the University’s retention and graduation rates,” said Henson. “Most students come into the university unprepared, and they have to fall back on tutoring. We offer tutoring and writing assistance that gives students an extra boost to excel in their courses.”

Sheridan Henson – Academic Enrichment Coordinator

Perhaps the AEC’s most popular program is its Peer Tutoring initiative, a free service which pairs students with a peer tutor for personal assistance in any number of subjects. The program is the brainchild of Henson, who recently unveiled a new training initiative for Peer Tutors, the Cumberland University Tutor Training Seminars (CUTTS). A series of 1.5 hour seminars, CUTTS is set to revolutionize tutoring services at Cumberland.

“In the past, there was little training for tutors at Cumberland,” said Henson. “Now, CUTTS is increasing the value of our tutoring sessions and providing tutors with a valuable professional development opportunity.”

Peer Tutors who attend 10 hours of CUTTS seminars will be eligible to seek certification from the Association of Tutoring Professionals, and the AEC itself is set to gain International Tutor Training Certification from the College Reading and Learning Association in December once Henson teaches 10 hours of CUTTS courses.

The AEC also offers convenient walk-in writing assistance and testing services. Critiquing some 70-80 papers per semester, the center’s writing assistance program boasts a 100% pass rate for students who brought in at least one paper for review. The AEC also offers students test proctoring and computer-based testing services, as well as the ACTFL language test, which allows students to test in almost any foreign language, a vital service for international students.

The University is also helping students prepare for achievement after graduation through its Office of Career Services and Internships. Established in the 2010-2011 academic year, the office is already proving itself to be a vital service for Cumberland students, providing career planning and assessment services, job postings, resume and cover letter reviews, graduate school preparation activities, and internship opportunities.

According to Director of Career Services and Internships Ronie McPeak, the office’s goal is to help students discover their passion and realize it in a career.

Ronie McPeak – Director of Career Services and Internships

“At Career Services, we want students to find a meaningful career, rather than simply a job,” said McPeak. “Starting with the freshman year, we try to get students involved in beginning to establish career goals and develop lifelong career management skills.”

Students can discover those career possibilities directly through the office’s thriving internship program, which provided approximately 60 students with internship experiences in the past year alone. Open to junior and senior Cumberland students, the program has connected undergraduates with internships with companies both local and regional, ranging from Custom Packaging of Lebanon and Cracker Barrel to the Tennessee Titans and Nashville Predators.

Rapidly expanding, the internship program provides Cumberland students with a vital lifeline to real-life professional experience, according to McPeak.

“Internships are extremely important,” said McPeak. “They help students decide what they to want to pursue, and the experience they gain speaks volumes to employers. Interns not only gain valuable professional experience, but they also gain invaluable networking opportunities.”

To promote that service and others, Career Services is also introducing new Student Career Advisors, a team of three undergraduate students who will promote career events and opportunities and aid their peers in the initial stages of resume writing.

Whether in the FSL classes of First-Year Experience or the internship programs of the Office of Career Services and Internships, Cumberland is redefining the idea of student success, striving to develop students that are successful on every level, before and beyond graduation. At Cumberland University, student achievement doesn’t end with the tossing of a cap. It begins with a college experience that can energize a lifetime.