Educator wins high honor for work with new students

SUNY Oswego’s Michelle Bandla, coordinator of First-Year Programs, recently received a national award as an Outstanding First-Year Student Advocate.

The National Resource Center for the First-Year Experience and Students in Transition at the University of South Carolina, along with co-sponsor Cengage Learning, annually name 10 winners around the nation. There were 128 nominees this year.

Michelle Bandla working with a student.“It’s a huge honor,” said Bandla, a 1993 alumna of SUNY Oswego who started working in what is now the Compass student success center in 2001. “I honestly didn’t expect it. There were so many nominees, who were so highly accomplished.”

Among her many achievements, Bandla is most pleased with the evolution of the college’s First Choice program, which gives entering freshmen a small class—19 maximum—and focuses on the transition to college, helping students make connections with peers and advisers and, in some academic departments, providing a gateway course in their major.

“We started with sending out postcards where students had to check off a course. That was an optional program, and there were only a handful of courses,” Bandla said. “Now, every student gets online and chooses a First Choice—there are about 80 courses campuswide—and the whole process is automated.”

Third recipient

Bandla’s selection marks the third time in a decade a SUNY Oswego educator has received the honor. Rhonda Mandel, now dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, and Kathleen Evans, now assistant vice president for student affairs, received the distinction in 2002 and 2004, respectively.

The two earlier winners have been her mentors, said Bandla, who earned a master’s in social work at Springfield College.

“As an undergraduate psychology major here at Oswego, I had a professor who mentored me,” she said. “As the advisement coordinator for psychology, this professor gave me many opportunities to work with her as a research assistant and a peer adviser.  … This professor is Rhonda Mandel.

“She introduced me to Kathy Evans, then associate dean of students. Kathy took me under her wing and helped me get connected to the offices and staff in student affairs. These two women helped me get where I am today. I am honored to follow in their footsteps.”

In nominating Bandla, Evans wrote that her protege has put her own stamp on programs such as first-year student advisement that Evans and Mandel worked to create.

“Michelle worked tirelessly in support of programs that help first-year students,” Evans said, “using her extraordinary interpersonal and technology skills to develop and maintain programs, and has become an expert in the area of academic advisement.”

Student success

Evans said the trend of SUNY Oswego educators winning the award “is a reflection of the institution’s commitment to the success of our new students,” including transfers, she said. “Our offerings have evolved over many years, and we have a menu of programs that help first-year students transition effectively to college.”

Bandla helped raise Oswego’s freshman retention rate—measured by those who start one fall and return to SUNY Oswego the next fall—to 82 percent in 2010, well above the 70 percent or so that is typical for public master’s level institutions like Oswego.

First-Year Programs—which include summer advisement during orientation for freshmen and transfers, intensive work with first-year advisers once the semester starts, the First Choice program and Johnson Hall’s First-Year Residential Experience—all work to provide new students the support they need, from academics to social contacts to dealing with the bureaucracy of a college.

“We really want students to feel connected to the campus,” Bandla said. “Peer advisers can get information to them so that they feel comfortable and know where the resources are and to navigate the red tape more quickly.”

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PHOTO CAPTION: National honor—Michelle Bandla, left, SUNY Oswego coordinator of First-Year Programs, meets with freshman Keith Stroppel, an undeclared major, in her office at the Compass student success center in the Campus Center. Bandla has received a national award as an Outstanding First-Year Student Advocate from the National Resource Center for the First-Year Experience and Students in Transition, along with co-sponsor Cengage Learning.

(Posted: Feb 03, 2011)