A new director for student success

Arney poses for the cameraJo Arney started as UWL’s new director of student success July 1.

Jo Arney returns to UWL, begins new position to coordinate campus-wide efforts

Everyone at UW-La Crosse has a role in student success. But a recently created position on campus is pulling those efforts together to develop a comprehensive student success plan.

“We do a lot of things well at UWL, but not everyone knows what everyone else is doing,” says Arney.

Jo Arney started as UWL’s new director of student success July 1.

“We do a lot of things well at UWL, but not everyone knows what everyone else is doing,” says Arney.

Arney is spending her first few months visiting with campus units to ask:

• How do you define student success?
• Who do you network with on campus for student success?
• Why do you think students leave?
• What are your big events for the year?
• What do you expect of this position and how can I help you?

Arney will oversee high impact practices that are part of UWL’s strategic plan. She will also help the campus determine what is needed to develop a new early alert system for students to notify faculty and staff when they are struggling.

Arney will also oversee the new first-year seminar that will be required of all UWL freshmen starting in fall 2020. She will teach one of the first-year seminar courses to continue to have a close connection to the student experience and the classroom.

Arney developed a love for teaching, starting out at UWL in 2007 as a faculty member in the Political Science and Public Administration Department. After teaching on campus for nearly a decade, Arney took a two-year leave to direct a national project: the Re-Imagining the First Year initiative. She worked with 44 campuses to help them implement student success strategies for first-year students. The national project was an initiative of American Association of State Colleges and Universities, a higher education association of nearly 420 public colleges, universities and systems.

Arney compares her AASCU role to her current one in the sense that she will still be working to answer challenging questions and build networks for student success. However, this time the networks will be across different units of UWL instead of colleges and universities internationally.

One thing that has helped her build these networks so far at UWL, she says, is the communication and transparency of campus community members who have reached out to offer insights on improving student success.

Arney says her work on the national project and in her current role is motivated by students and narrowing achievement gaps for traditionally under-served groups, such as students of color or first-generation students. It is important to acknowledge that some student failures are the fault of the institution, she says.

“If you are going to be student-centered institution, you need to think about how systems across the institution can be designed from a student point of view,” she explains. “We need to be asking: do we design this because it is good for us or good from the student’s perspective?”