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Transforming academic probation into academic success

When a student steps into their first day of post-secondary classes, failure isn't the first thing to cross their mind. They imagine what kinds of things they will learn, where their careers will take them and about the friends they will meet. And then the unexpected happens.

Two years ago, Alicia Short found herself hitting rock bottom - her first year at the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT) had brought with it a constant feeling of being overwhelmed, which manifested into severe anxiety and stress.

Then, with only a 1.90 semester grade point average (SGPA), she was notified she was on academic probation.

"When I was at SAIT my first year, I was very doubtful and not very self-confident," says Short. "It was stressful and I had a lot of anxiety - it wasn't a very good situation."

Short says she found herself unable to keep up in the classroom. She struggled to organize her time and wasn't tracking her grades properly.

"My mind was pretty overloaded and wasn't very organized. I would have three-day planners and would have my time organized in different calendars instead of one. I wouldn't plan ahead and I would just operate in the present, so I wasn't getting the material - I was always behind."

Accepting a second chance

But Short wasn't going to go down without a fight. She decided to take advantage of the resources offered to her - Back on Track and academic coaching - and turned her academic story around.

In fact, she raised her SGPA to 3.76 in her last semester before walking across the convocation stage in spring 2016.

Shan Robertson, Manager, Learner Success at SAIT says many students who find themselves on academic probation don't realize their marks are below 2.0, the minimum grade required to meet good academic standing until they get a notification of academic probation at the end of a semester.

"Some students are used to high school, where they can repeat," Robertson says. "A lot of the time when students come in to see an academic coach, they say, ‘I had no idea I was doing so badly.' So it's a shock when they find out."

She says there are many reasons a student might be struggling in their program, such as poor time management skills, the wrong program fit, a loss of a job, a family member falling ill.

Steps to success

If you're on academic probation, there are services that can help you improve your marks. The first step is to attend the free, two-hour Back on Track workshop, one of many Learning Skills Services available to students.

"An academic coach will help each student discover why they ended up on academic probation in the first place," Robertson explains. "Students will then come up with an action plan and meet with an academic coach to follow up on that action plan throughout the winter semester."

Working hard pays off

According to a July 2014 Academic Probation Analysis on two-year programs, students who had attended Back on Track and worked with an academic coach were half as likely to be withdrawn than students who did not access these services.

As for Short, the greatest personal reward was a boost in her self-confidence.

"Before then, I didn't really have much [confidence]. Now, I am not second-guessing myself as much. I learned that having a learning disability doesn't mean you can't do anything. It does mean it is going to be extra difficult and you're going to have to spend extra time on it, but you can still do whatever you want to do."

Robertson says that's exactly what it's all about.

"A failure can be very damaging, whereas moving through adversity and overcoming a challenge — moving past academic probation and achieving some success - it builds resilience, builds their self-confidence and teaches them persistence makes a difference. Those are all hugely valuable lessons."

Tips for student success

  1. Take PREP 100 – All students have access to a PREP 100 course before you attend SAIT. You will learn time management, learning strategies, how to improve your memory and effective note-taking. Prepare for success.
  2. Reach out to Lamb Learner Services now – Post-secondary isn’t easy, and it’s OK to ask for help. You don’t have to wait until you’re on academic probation to reach out. Call 403.284.8082, email academic.coaching@sait.ca or visit the Lamb Learner Success Centre in Room MC221, Stan Grad Centre to connect with an academic coach or another support service throughout the semester.

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