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Appalachian Joins UNC Schools Supporting Students With Learning Differences, Collaborates With College STAR

March 28, 2013. Appalachian State University has become the third campus in the University of North Carolina system to offer student support and faculty development programs for students who learn differently. College STAR (Supporting Transition, Access and Retention) provides support for students who, in the past, have slipped through the cracks of the education system even though they are capable of college success.

College STAR LogoEast Carolina University and UNC Greensboro are the other campus collaborators in the College STAR initiative. They began implementing their programs during fall 2011.

Each participating UNC campus has designed a model that weaves together direct student-support targeted to specific populations as well as instructional support for faculty members interested in teaching methods that can facilitate student success.  While each campus model is unique, common elements of the programs exist throughout the participating campuses to maximize opportunities for collaboration and shared learning.   

At Appalachian, the student-support program being developed is called As-U-R, and has a specific focus on students with executive functioning challenges (EFC). EFC can occur for various reasons but is associated with cognitive abilities that relate to planning, flexibility, organization, self-monitoring and sustained attention.  Because of this, students with EFC are at risk of academic problems and failure in college.

Students participating in As-U-R will have access to seminars to bolster school-related skills and knowledge, supervised study times, mentors, training in skills that directly address EFC, technologies designed to enhance learning outcomes and other appropriate student support services.  Eligible students may have been evaluated for specific learning disorders or Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) in the past but do not have current diagnoses for either of those conditions.

“We recognize that, ultimately, the extent that our university and society thrives depends on all individuals being able to perform and learn to their highest potential,” said Dr. Will Canu, Appalachian’s College STAR project director.

“Research has shown that, despite having the right ‘smarts’ to succeed in college, students with learning differences experience unique challenges that often prevent them from thriving and even completing their education in that setting,” he said. “We are pleased to be one of the few public universities that provides coordinated and comprehensive services to meet the needs of such students, and particularly excited to be working with those with EFC, a condition that is largely unaddressed in higher education.”

The instructional support model at Appalachian combines services and resources for faculty members, staff and students that are designed to infuse the principles of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) throughout a variety of educational environments. These include plans for enhancing the university’s current tutoring resources and making some assistive technologies more widely available.

Appalachian will also provide a range of professional development opportunities for faculty and staff, and support learning communities charged with implementation and evaluation of instructional approaches that align with UDL. Early instructional-support programs at the university serve faculty of all levels but have a special focus on encouraging early-career faculty to incorporate best-practice principles in the classroom and to use new technology to better reach a broader audience of learners

Applications for students entering Appalachian in the fall who wish to be involved in As-U-R are available at http://collegestar.appstate.edu/u-r.  In addition to Canu, who is an associate professor in the Department of Psychology, the College STAR team is led by Dr. Monica Lambert, a professor in the Department of Reading Education and Special Education, who also is the director of the As-U-R student support program, and Dr. Kate Brinko, director of faculty and academic development of Appalachian’s Hubbard Programs for Faculty Excellence, who directs instructional support activities related to UDL.

College STAR currently is funded by the Oak Foundation of Geneva, Switzerland, and the N.C. GlaxoSmithKline Foundation.  The UNC Greensboro program receives additional support from the Joseph M. Bryan Foundation, the Cemala Foundation, the Weaver Foundation, the Tannenbaum-Sternberger Foundation and the Michel Family Foundation.