INTRODUCTION: As college-wide coordinator of our student success program at Brevard Community College in east central Florida, I am responsible for, among other duties, leading the on-going development of our 3-credit course, SLS 1101, Success Strategies for College and Life.  Soon after accepting the coordinator’s position in August, 1999, I became acutely aware of an emerging quiet rebellion within our ranks—faculty members were becoming disenchanted with the program.  After all, we had been operating under similar guidelines for over 15 years, even using the same textbook.  

The Success Team, composed of four campus coordinators and myself, decided that a possible solution was to select a new textbook.  “Perhaps from that move,” we conjectured, “we will breathe new life into the course.”  We worried that if faculty were bored, there would most certainly be a trickle down to students which could undermine our program!  I was commissioned by the team to investigate new student success texts, and I did that for the following several months.  I attended several publishers’ conferences and a “think-tank” with an author but the end result was less than stellar. We even had a disastrous experience with custom publishing a text! Just when I thought all was lost, I registered for and attended an On Course I Workshop, a 4-day professional development retreat for educators. The workshop offered exactly what I thought we were looking for…a new and different approach to our student success course! But, how could I get the team to take ownership of the On Course philosophy of empowering students and not just stuff the idea down their throats?

The success we had in transforming our student success program provides a model for what others can do as well. If you are thinking of transforming the approach of your existing student success program or beginning a new program, especially if you’re beginning to realize that study skills alone are insufficient to help struggling students, you’ll find herein a step-by-step process of change that has worked extraordinarily well for us.


To provide a model for transforming a traditional student success program focused primarily on study skills into one that empowers students to become active, responsible learners.


STEP 1. Attend an On Course I Workshop and, afterwards, enthusiastically share your experience with colleagues on your campus.

After attending the On Course I Workshop, I shared at our next success course team meeting as much of the On Course experience as was possible in an hour.  I also presented a one-hour overview as a break-out session at a college-wide in-service. Enthusiasm is contagious, and yet it can diminish in a vacuum. At that time I was the only one with the new vision, so it was vital that as many others as possible join me to perpetuate my enthusiasm as well as to develop their own. It worked, because immediately after my in-service presentation one of the campus coordinators who tends to be skeptical about what he perceives as the “warm fuzzy” aspects of student success courses became very excited about one of the On Course activities we had done.  “This is great,” he exclaimed. “What a neat approach for motivating students!”  I had been most worried about “selling” him, and now with this tiny bit of effort, he was actually excited!  I was convinced that we were on the right track.   

STEP 2.  Encourage at least two additional team members (other success course instructors) to attend the On Course I Workshop.

This second step is vital because the enthusiasm for a new approach must be nurtured and must grow or it will stagnate and die. One of the campus coordinators was new to the job and feeling somewhat insecure, so I suggested that he attend the next available On Course I Workshop.  When my resident skeptic became aware that his colleague was attending the workshop, he said, “Hey, what about me?  I want to go, too!”  When both returned from the workshop, there were three of us with a new vision for our course, and suddenly the whole team was receptive to adopting “On Course,” with its student empowerment approach, as our text!  Stack the deck…there is power in numbers!

STEP 3. Design a multi-week professional development training that helps others learn to implement the student empowerment strategies that students will be learning in their On Course class.

If possible, attend the On Course II Workshop, which is a train-the-trainer event and will prepare you well to design and deliver trainings for your student success instructors. My attendance at an On Course II Workshop was sponsored by the staff and program development office, in collaboration with a Title III project aimed at building retention. Once again, I left the workshop revitalized and skilled. Along with my two colleagues who had attended the On Course I Workshop, I was ready to design and present a 15-hour workshop to train the

troops—current student success faculty, prospective faculty, and interested staff (student advisors, TRIO personnel, and administrators). Our design was titled, “On Course:  Steering Students Toward Success.” Our models were the On Course I and II Workshops—experiential, informative, inspirational, and fun—and we planned our sessions with those characteristics in mind. I provided the scaffolding for the sessions from my training at the On Course II Workshop, and, during our weekly planning sessions, we all contributed activities from our experiences at the On Course workshops and in our classrooms. Our agenda for the 5-session, 15-hour training is attached below.

STEP 4.  Deliver each training session with excitement and enthusiasm.

My colleagues and I were thrilled to learn that pre-enrollment in our workshop was the largest number EVER recorded by the Staff and Program Development office!  We had reached full-time and part-time teaching faculty, advisors, and administrators, which is exactly what we hoped for. Obviously, this new empowerment approach to student success had struck a cord with many of our colleagues. Our “students” participated in the activities with enthusiasm and intensity even after a long morning at work. (We met from 1:30 until 4:30 once a week for 5 weeks.)  Some of the comments we received on the workshop evaluations included, “I really enjoyed the workshop and picked up some good ideas. Thanks to you all,” “Thank you all for a great workshop,”  “I really enjoyed the workshop.  It provided me with lots of new material and insights that I will be able to use in the classroom (and in life!!),” and “Never mind the classroom, this workshop was good for ME!”

STEP 5.  Keep the momentum going with periodic interaction.

Everyone remembers a mountaintop experience and how, without nurturing, the enthusiasm for it waned and perhaps even died.  In order to combat this loss of enthusiasm, the four campus coordinators and I meet monthly to discuss, plan, and troubleshoot.  Additionally, each campus coordinator meets with his/her faculty several times each semester to share ideas and discuss concerns. Each participant in our five-week workshops plus additional key personnel such as deans and advisors receive the “On Course Newsletter.”  We are also coordinating with the publisher of On Course (Houghton Mifflin) to provide an on-campus workshop once each year. (We had one such workshop in November 2001 prior to our adoption of the text and are planning another for late Spring, 2004.)  Maggi Miller is an excellent resource at Houghton Mifflin because, as a former college instructor, she has taught “On Course” as well as led workshops. We encourage the flow of new ideas for our course through campus e-mail.  Anyone who has an “Aha!” is encouraged to immediately share it with us all.


Since transforming our student success course from one that primarily provided instruction in study skills to one that uses the On Course text and strategies to empower students to become active, responsible learners, the outcomes have been many, varied, and victorious: The student success faculty is energized, our enrollment numbers in student success courses are growing each semester, and student feedback and success data are overwhelmingly positive. We have truly breathed new life into our course. 

Faculty members who were earlier feeling restless about the course are observed by their campus coordinators as revitalized and enthusiastic. Several new faculty members became involved with the course after attending the campus workshops. Recently, an “old timer” who teaches in the chemistry department, confided that he is “a better teacher after having taught Success Strategies.”  He says, “I am having more fun teaching than I have in my entire career.” Another who is teaching the class for the first time this semester confides that her personal benefit is “my own well-being. In facilitating others, I am enriching my own life.”

In this semester (our second using the “On Course” text), we increased our course offerings by four sections college-wide, and they ran with healthy enrollments!  Recent student comments include, “This class is a big part of my life.  In other words, I actually take what I learn and use it in my daily life.  I believe this class is designed to help people like me become successful,”  “This course is really starting to help me figure out who I am and how to change the things I don’t like about myself,” and “This class is the only class I have that, when I walk in each morning, students address and talk to me and among themselves…I actually look forward to coming to this class because I can share what is going on with me and people genuinely care.”

We are gathering data with the idea that our student success course could become required of all entering freshmen and/or developmental students.  For example, we have data collected by Title III during our first semester using “On Course.” These data compare two groups of students who required preparatory classes: those who took the success strategies course (SLS 1101) along with or prior to their preparatory classes compared with those who did not. Those with SLS 1101 passed their preparatory classes with significantly higher numbers than those without SLS, especially in English and Reading .

The Data: Percentages of Passing Scores in Preparatory Classes

ENCV 0010(English prep) with SLS (On Course class): 83.9%

ENCV 0010(English prep) without SLS: 65.1%

Improvement: 18.8%


REAV 0002( Reading prep) with SLS (On Course class): 85.4%

REAV 0002( Reading prep) without SLS: 67.4%

Improvement: 18.0%


MATV 0020(Math prep) with SLS (On Course class): 69.4%

MATV 0020(Math prep) without SLS: 60.1%

Improvement: 9.3%


MATV 0024(Algebra prep) with SLS (On Course class): 77.4%

MATV 0024(Algebra prep) without SLS: 68.5%

Improvement: 8.9%

A Developmental Education Taskforce at our college has recommended that SLS 1101 be required of all students needing multiple preparatory classes and highly recommended to all students needing at least one preparatory class. 


I relearned that there is no substitute for experiential learning and for enthusiasm.  I learned that if you dream it and build it carefully and patiently, there is a way to do what seems impossible.  I learned that with a vision, wise choices, and definitive goals tempered with skill, knowledge, and structure, exciting and dramatic changes can be made in a program that will empower students and those who work with them.



Brevard Community College

Staff and Program Development

On Course: “Steering Students Toward Success”


This five-session seminar introduces the eight principles for student success developed by Dr. Skip Downing and presented in his book, “On Course: Strategies for Creating Success in College and Life”: Accept Personal Responsibility, Discover Self-Motivation, Master Self-Management, Employ Interdependence, Gain Self-Awareness, Adopt Life-Long Learning, Develop Emotional Intelligence, and Believe In Yourself. Learner-centered activities have been developed to guide students toward those principles which are evident in the lives of successful people.  Those activities emerge from the seven domains of influence for collateral learning: Homework Assignments, Feedback and Evaluation, College and Classroom Activities, Modeling, College and Classroom Environment, Programs and Curricula, and College and Classroom Rules.    


March 4 and 11, 2003 (Tuesdays); 1:30-4:30 p.m. Melbourne Campus

March 18, 25, (Tuesdays), April 9 (Wednesday) 1:30-4:30 p.m. Cocoa Campus


Sue Palmer, M.Ed., Associate Professor of Communication, Cocoa Campus

Jay Sherman, Ph.D., Professor of Mathematics, Cocoa Campus

Skip Downing, Ph.D., Guest Facilitator

TARGET AUDIENCE: Faculty in all discipline areas


 1) identify the eight On Course principles for success,

2)  understand activities related to each principle,

3)  utilize On Course activities in their classes/discipline

4)  identify the seven domains of influence for developing well-designed learning experiences,

5)  design original learner-centered experiences related to the eight principles and emerging from the seven domains.

EXPECTED PRODUCT OUTCOMES: Participants will be required to:

1)  identify a learner-centered activity from On Course materials which can be used in their class/discipline area,

2) incorporate that activity into a current lesson plan,

3) prepare a written report of the results which occurred when the activity was used in a class including a description of the class environment, directions for the activity, outcomes/experiences, qualitative and quantitative results, and personal lessons learned by the presenter.

For University of Central Florida credit, a participant would complete 1-3 above and,

1)      design an original activity to use with a class based on one of the 8 On Course principles and emerging from one of the 7 domains of influence, and

2)      prepare of written report of the results after implementing the activity as described in item 3 above.



INSERVICE UNITS: ½ Unit (optional one semester of graduate credit is available from the University of Central Florida )

 * * * * *


Session 1: Tuesday, March 4 ( Melbourne Campus)

            “Getting On Course”

            On Course Principles

            8 Choices of Successful Students

            7 Domains of Influence

Session 2: Tuesday, March 11 ( Melbourne Campus)

            “Building Community”

            “Designing Learner-Centered Activities”

Session 3: Tuesday, March 18 (Cocoa Campus)

            “Facilitating Deep and Lasting Learning”

            “Giving and Receiving Empowering Feedback”

            “Sharing Classroom Experiences”

Session 5: Wednesday, April 9 (Cocoa Campus)

            “Sharing with Skip” (Skip Downing facilitated our last afternoon workshop.)

–Sue Palmer, College-Wide Coordinator, Student Success & Department Chair, English, Brevard Community College (FL)