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Center Promotes Student Self-sufficiency

November 21, 2012

Students who visit the UC Merced Students First Center (SFC) in the lobby of the Leo and Dottie Kolligian Library will see it’s different from other student services offices. For one thing, the computers can turn around to face students, letting them learn to accomplish unfamiliar tasks by doing them — not just watching someone do it for them.

“We hope to be the place students remember for teaching them how to be self-sufficient,” SFC director Lisa Perry said.  

The center focuses on teaching students to use tools like the MyUCMerced portal and their UC Merced email address to stay up on important deadlines and opportunities. Eventually, students learn to find their own answers and solve or even avoid problems related to their college education. In the meantime, the SFC can help.

“Our staffers are cross-trained in admissions, financial aid, registrar-related issues and billing,” Perry said. “Customers can come to us for assistance in any of these areas.”

That makes the SFC a “one-stop shop,” a relatively new concept in student services. Perry said the UC Merced SFC is the oldest one-stop shop in the UC System, having started when the campus opened in 2005. UC Riverside has since started a similar operation, and UC Berkeley is now building its own one-stop shop.

The center’s reputation for excellent service has built trust and opened communication with students, positioning the SFC to help with a wide range of the university’s goals. One goal is what’s called an anti-melt campaign.

“Some students submit Statements of Intent to Register (SIRs) in May, then ‘melt’ away, or never show up at the start of the fall term,” Perry said.

To counteract the “melt,” the center conducts a broad-ranging summer campaign for students who’ve said they want to attend. The plan includes condensed and coordinated emails as well as a packet of information, postcards and personal phone calls to help students prepare for their new life at UC Merced.  

The SFC’s student employees help leverage the important communication avenues available in social media. Facebook remains their most vital channel, but other applications are growing in their importance — Twitter, Tumblr and Pinterest.

“Each student staffer runs an office-approved Tumblr account,” Perry said. “These students are pushing dates, deadlines, events and more from their own perspective. It’s great experience for them professionally and a good way to reach other students in a relatable way.”  

Perry said the SFC plans to get students involved and excited with its own YouTube channel in the coming months.

Visitors to the third floor of the west wing of the Kolligian Library may have noticed that the campus’s main reception desk is now manned by SFC staff eager to help direct students, staff, faculty and campus guests.