While introductory chemistry had the most withdrawals (54) for at least the second straight year, more than half of the uptick — from 290 in 2010-11 to 330 a year ago — occurred in the psychology department.
The spike prompted the department to hire an anti-withdrawal specialist, according to interim Psychology Chair Heather Hoffman.
Psychology Chair Tim Kasser, who is currently away on sabbatical, conducted research to help identify and mitigate the factors that cause students to withdraw.
He decided to hire one of his own: Mandy Bingham ’12, a former red room psychology tutor and teaching assistant. She is now a senior teaching assistant.
Bingham will sit in on classes and teach a half-credit course geared toward students struggling in 100-level psychology.
“Tim spoke with me a few weeks after graduation and invited me to stay on board,” Bigham said. “And I figured, if we catch just one student that doesn’t withdraw and doesn’t drop out, it’s worth it.”
She will serve as senior teaching assistant in a staff position.
“We’re really going to focus on taking notes, test-taking and adjusting your attitude in class to teachers’ expectations,” Bingham said.
She estimated most sections have nearly 50 people, which makes it easier for struggling students to go unnoticed.
Bingham met several times this summer with Kasser and other psychology professors to discuss why students withdraw. For now, Bingham’s position is temporary.
The department wants to assess the course and decide whether it is a resource upon which students capitalize. Bingham said it will undergo review after this fall, then again after the year’s end, and she will make adjustments accordingly.
In the next week and a half, professors will begin to identify potential candidates for the supplementary course. They will base their recommendation on test scores and also students who have voiced concerns, Bingham said.
“We debated about letting them know up front. It was kind of a toss-up, to be honest,” she said.
Bingham will place a particular focus on international students.
“It’s important to learn where people are coming from and how it might conflict with our culture,” she said.
Assistant Professor of Psychology Daniel Peterson, in his second year teaching, has researched successful study habits. He agrees pinpointing struggling students from the start is imperative.
“We think we’ve identified some things that put students particularly at risk [of withdrawing from a course],” he said.
Those risk factors include being in one’s first term at Knox and not grasping the rigors of the field.
The first week of classes tends to be a “wake-up call” for many students, according to Peterson.
“It’s a survey course, so we’re giving students a smattering of topics within psychology. But at its core, it’s a science class,” he said. “For whatever reason, students come in thinking it’s going to be a lot different.”