Outdoor class with Wade Edwards behind Lancaster

As a freshman at Longwood, Mahelet Mamo ’18 would stay late after class every Friday to conduct research with her biology professor, Dr. Bjoern Ludwar. In her sophomore year, she co-authored a published research article and got to present at an annual conference in Washington, D.C. The summer before her senior year, she interned in the cancer research lab at Eastern Virginia Medical College. And after she graduates in May, Mamo is headed to Johns Hopkins University, where she will spend the next year doing research and preparing for medical school.

For the biology major from Herndon, the research, leadership and experiential learning she has been afforded at Longwood far eclipse those of her friends and peers at other universities and have prepared her well for the next step on her journey to becoming a physician.

The best part about Longwood is the interaction you get with professors, without them, I don’t think any of my accomplishments would have been possible.

Mahelet Mamo ’18 Tweet This

“I told my friends at VCU and Radford that I got a research opportunity as a freshman, and they were jealous because they didn’t even get the opportunity to talk to their professor,” Mamo said. “Even now, they don’t have that interaction, while I can just email my professor about any question I have.”

Mamo’s experience highlights one of the strengths of the student experience at Longwood, where undergraduates have many more quality interactions with faculty than their peers and seek out more leadership roles, according to the latest results of the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE).

The NSSE is used every three years to measure the extent to which first-year and senior students engage in effective educational practices that promote learning and personal development. The results help to paint a broader picture of student satisfaction and illuminate how students perceive and benefit from their college experience.

Throughout her four years at Longwood, Mamo, a member of the Cormier Honors College for Citizen Scholars, has worked on research projects with several faculty members in the biology department—two even helped her prepare for a graduate school interview. But her university life hasn’t only been lived in the classroom—she helped found the Wildlife Club, served as a resident assistant and studied abroad in England last semester.

Last year, Mamo nominated Ludwar for a Faculty Excellence in Mentoring Award, because of his dedication and willingness to help students succeed.

“The best part about Longwood is the interaction you get with professors,” she said. “Without them, I don’t think any of my accomplishments would have been possible.”

We’re pleased to note students’ increased ease and skill when having discussions around differences.

Onie McKenzie, assistant vice president for student affairs Tweet This

Unlike students at larger research universities, where most undergraduates are placed in huge lecture classes taught by graduate students, students like Mamo get immediate access to full-time faculty members in small class settings and rate the quality of their interactions with their professors substantially higher.  

“If we get students purposefully engaged, not only will they persist and graduate, but they will do so with the desired learning and developmental outcomes,” said Onie McKenzie, assistant vice president for student affairs at Longwood. “Seeing students consistently report more frequent quality interactions with faculty, academic advisers, staff and each other is a hallmark of the Longwood experience.”

The 2017 NSSE results also highlight the fact that Longwood students are writing more and engaging in collaborative learning more than their peers at other universities—which McKenzie said is another point of pride.

While the NSSE collects data from hundreds of public college and universities, McKenzie uses the NSSE results to compare Longwood students to their peers at other publicly-funded institutions in the Southeast region, many of which are in the same Carnegie Classification as Longwood. Nine other Virginia colleges and universities participated in the 2017 NSSE and were included in the Southeast public group, including Virginia Tech, James Madison University, University of Mary Washington, Christopher Newport University and Radford University.

Longwood seniors were much more likely to have participated in an internship, field experience, student teaching or clinical placement and to have completed a culminating senior experience than respondents from other Southeast public universities who participated in the survey. In fact, 87 percent of Longwood seniors who responded said they had participated in experiential learning compared with a mean of 49 percent of senior respondents from public universities in the Southeast.

Experiential learning is one of the practices that have a “high-impact” on student learning and retention. High-impact practices include service learning, learning community, research with faculty and study abroad.

The NSSE results showed 99 percent of Longwood seniors participated in at least one high-impact practice (the comparison group average was only 85 percent), and 88 percent participated in the recommended two or more high-impact practices (the comparison group average was only 61 percent). Seventy-two percent of Longwood seniors had completed a culminating senior experience—a capstone, senior project or thesis, comprehensive exam or portfolio—compared with an average of 44 percent of their peers in the comparison group of Southeast public institutions.

Longwood seniors were also much more likely than seniors from Southeast public universities to hold a formal leadership role in a student organization or group: a mean of 64 percent compared to 36 percent.

Meanwhile, a large majority of first-year and senior students at Longwood reported that in the current academic year they had frequent discussions with diverse others, including people with a different race or ethnicity, economic background, religious beliefs and political views from their own.

“Given Longwood’s mission to develop citizen leaders, helping our students become more comfortable in intercultural communication has been a strategic priority for us,” said McKenzie. “We’re pleased to note students’ increased ease and skill when having discussions around differences.” 

The areas where Longwood’s first-year students performed highest relative to their peers at Southeast public institutions included having discussions with people of different political views, taking courses that incorporate service learning and preparing for exams by discussing material or working with other students. The first-year Longwood students surveyed also reported feeling as if their institution provided them with better support to succeed academically and more opportunities to get involved socially than did their peers at Southeast public universities.

Other highlights from the 2017 NSSE results include

  • 90 percent of seniors and 79 percent of first-year students said their experience at Longwood contributed “quite a bit” or “very much” to their development in thinking critically and analytically.
  • 86 percent of seniors and 74 percent of first-year students said their experience at Longwood contributed “quite a bit” or “very much” to their development in working effectively with others.
  • 67 percent of seniors as well as first-year students said their experience at Longwood contributed “quite a bit” or “very much” to being an informed and active citizen.
  • 73 percent of seniors and 65 percent of first-year students said their experience at Longwood contributed “quite a bit” or “very much” to developing or clarifying a personal code of values and ethics.
  • 83 percent of seniors and 87 percent of first-year students reported they would “definitely” or “probably” attend Longwood again if they could start over.
  • 60 percent of seniors and 42 percent of first year students said they had “often” or “very often” discussed their career plans with a faculty member.

Longwood has participated in the NSSE since 2002. Institutions use the NSSE data to identify aspects of the undergraduate experience that can be boosted through changes in policy and practice. McKenzie noted that the 2014 NSSE results were very helpful in the recent review of Longwood’s general education program and subsequent development of the new Civitae Core Curriculum. 

“Continued use of the NSSE over time has given us the opportunity not only to compare our results with benchmark institutions, but to discern internal patterns and trends,” McKenzie said. “This kind of assessment helps inform our decisions so we can allocate resources and design our curriculum in ways that will most benefit our students. It helps us determine priorities moving forward to enhance student engagement and learning.”

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