Student success takes many forms, and its namesake division at UCF is taking just as many approaches to putting students on the right path.

Senior Lais Guimaraes personally benefitted from the recently launched Academic Advocates program, which provides targeted outreach to students at risk of falling behind academically. A native of Brazil, Guimaraes picked a double major in international and global studies and creative writing to realize a career in international aid.

Lais Guimaraes
International and global studies, and creative writing student Lais Guimaraes

Guimaraes’ online classes went smoothly up until her final semester, which required an intermediate French course to complete her degree that was only offered in person. That would postpone her graduation past the four years covered by her scholarships. Driving two hours from St. Augustine, Florida, to Orlando was impossible.

“I felt helpless,” Guimaraes says.

A direct call from Academic Advocate Emily Asaro changed everything. Asaro worked for months with Guimaraes to find a solution and eventually found an alternative source for the class. The constant contact from Asaro reassured Guimaraes.

“She was so attentive and helpful,” Guimaraes says.

Guimaraes is back on track to pursue that international aid career after graduating in August. Asaro says that’s the greatest reward.

“These students have such big goals and dreams; I can see their potential,” she says. “Any part I or any of the advocates can play in smoothing their path to achieve those goals is worth it.”

Individual success stories are a great source of motivation, and the data back up the anecdotes.

UCF continues to set new records for student retention, including a new 98.3% return rate for first-year undergraduate students from Summer/Fall 2023 to Spring 2024.  More than 7,000 students continued their first year at UCF, a promising signal for their future four-year graduation rates and eventual job placement.

“This new record demonstrates that the university’s commitment to student success and well-being —our top priority in our strategic plan — is showing results,” says Paul Dosal, senior vice president for student success. “This high fall-to-spring-retention-rate is a credit to the faculty and staff who work tirelessly to ensure students thrive academically and socially at UCF.”

Students are also finding benefit in Knightbot, a chat bot that can answer questions about over 1,200 topics, including financial aid, admissions, registration, housing, finding contacts, and policy information. Currently the chat bot answers 3,100 incoming questions a week across dozens of UCF websites, offering students 24/7 access to information.

An additional text feature provides targeted reminders to students about financial aid updates and deadlines, enrollment announcements and other key opportunities.

More recently, UCF is redefining student support by coupling traditional advising with success coaching, allowing for more proactive, ongoing relationships with students. Under UCF’s new Academic Success Coaching model, each student will have an assigned academic success coach. They will work together on academic, professional, and personal goals, with the coach helping the student to strengthen the skills need to reach those goals.

“To improve our final outcomes, and to help students reach their established goals, we’re focusing on the starting line,” says Jenny Sumner, assistant vice president of academic success coaching, and executive director of the UCF Higher Education Coaching Academy.

Academic Advocates like Asaro use data to provide targeted outreach to students falling behind. Conversations with the students reveal the obstacles holding them back — such as financial aid, housing or  academic challenges — and advocates directly connect them with available resources. This extension of the relational approach to advising shrinks an institution the size of UCF and grows a sense of community, says Lucas Noboa, senior director for academic advocacy.

“UCF’s size gives us an advantage because we can offer students multiple tools to push past any hindrances,” Noboa says. “What we’re focusing on now is increasing personal, relational assistance that offers a plan uniquely tailored to the students’ needs.”