Academic Associates serve as a bridge between students, administrators

Southern Illinois University



Academic Associates serve as a “bridge” between students, administrators

November 14, 2018


Serving as a bridge for students and the college: Dean Andy Wang, center, is pictured with four of the college’s academic associates. The new program is a resource for new students. With Wang are, from left: Shantell Neal, Elaina Robinson, Robert Fletcher and Umesh Timalsina. (Photo provided)

The college this fall is beginning a new program designed to be a resource for new students by inviting upperclassmen to serve as a bridge between those students and administrators.

A group of students within the college, academic associates, will collect comments and concerns from students and, if possible, provide answers to questions they might have. The academic associates also will work closely with the dean’s office in relaying timely issues that need to be addressed.

The goal is to help students succeed both academically and socially.


An effort to improve retention and graduation rates

Dean Andy Wang sees the initiative as an integral part of the college’s focus on retention and graduation rates.

“It was designed to give new students both a sense of belonging and the confidence of knowing that there is someone to whom they can turn for help during their first year of their college life,” Wang said.

He explained that when new students have problems, they are more likely to discuss those with peers or friends rather than department chairs, directors or office staff. The issues are examined creatively with a goal of being able to address students’ concerns.


Students are juniors and seniors

The academic associates will be trained to recognize when peers might have a problem. Conversations with students will be confidential, Wang said. The trainers will come from the Dean of Students’ Office and Wang is open to inviting any experts in to assist, including the Student Health Center.

The academic associates will be trained in a skill set that includes a number of social skills, including empathy, conflict resolution and asking the right questions.


 ‘Ask CASA’ chatbot testing underway

The academic associates are testing an “Ask CASA” chatbot that will help new students. The virtual agent uses artificial intelligence to understand students and mimic a conversation with them through messaging or voice interface.

Released Dec. 1, the chatbot will be available 24/7 and will be able to answer about 500 commonly asked questions about academics, campus life and student support services.

“From the time students are accepted to the college, they can be welcomed by ‘Ask CASA,’ invited to attend an orientation, and guided through the process of financial aid and course registration,” Wang said.

The current group of academic associates, their majors and schools they are representing are:


  • Courtney Collins, a senior majoring in the Health Care Management program and minoring in Long Term Care and Health Information Management and Informatics Management. She is representing the School of Allied Health.
  • Robert Fletcher, a junior student majoring Architectural Studies. He is representing the School of Architecture.
  • Shantell Neal, a senior in Health Care Management with a minor in Long Term Care Administration. She is working for both School of Allied Health and School of Information Systems and Applied Technologies.
  • Jayne Phoenix, a junior majoring in Radiologic Sciences with a specialization in Radiation Therapy. She is representing the School of Allied Health and School of Information Systems and Applied Technologies.
  • Elaina Robinson, a second-year student in the Physical Therapist Assistant program. She is representing the School of Allied Health.
  • Noah Streelman, a senior majoring in Automotive Technology. He is representing the School of Transportation.
  • Umesh Timalsina, a master’s degree student in Computer Science, providing technical support for the AA Initiative.