TEACHING AT PITT: A focus on student success


It is hard to find a corner of the higher education landscape that doesn’t have some conversation happening around student success. What it means to faculty, staff, administrators, colleges or universities can vary, sometimes drastically.

In higher education, common metrics to define student success are student retention and graduation rates. Perhaps a better measure of success is to try to understand how valuable the student experience is to all students and how to support the transition from college to career.

We all have a role to play in whether a student is successful at Pitt. It is important to remember that we do not have to support a student’s success on our own. It is a campus-wide effort, with many resources, referrals, and people to support every student during their journey and to create sense of belonging and student well-being.

What does student success mean at Pitt? We can begin to define our campus perception of student success as an Ecological Validation Model (Kitchen et al., 2021).

It is a holistic and collaborative approach that connects staff, advisors, faculty and resources to support the success of all students. The core of this model is to validate each student’s experience and show interest and care in a student’s success — to support a student’s academic success and personal well-being.

George Kuh, founding director of the National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment and the National Survey of Student Engagement, states that student success is the product of thousands of small gestures extended on a daily basis by caring, supportive educators (Powell et al., 2012). We all play a role in student success, but we may feel isolated rather than feeling like part of a team working collaboratively to support student success.

How can faculty who are new to Pitt or less familiar with Pitt’s resources support student’s experiencing challenges, both in and out of the classroom? The sections below detail two methods for supporting student success: Adopting or expanding inclusive teaching practices and utilizing student support referrals.

Inclusive teaching

In the classroom, effective teaching supports student success. Teaching effectively requires using inclusive teaching practices so that all students have the support and resources necessary to succeed. Some strategies for creating an inclusive classroom include acknowledging students’ individual, lived experiences and advocating for an atmosphere of mutual respect to nurture a sense of belonging. Share you lived experiences and authentic self with your students and build connections with your students.

There is a lot to be said for simply communicating with students on a regular basis. Engaging students in class and checking on students outside of class can support their sense of belonging and build rapport. The resources linked below can provide you with strategies to increase student participation and build rapport to improve the student experience.


Outside of the Classroom

Student success also is affected by students’ outside-the-classroom experiences. When a student needs nonacademic support, they can find it in a variety of different spaces on campus. Referring a student to a person or place on campus when an issue is identified is a very important way to address an individual student’s needs.

Faculty can utilize Pathways Early Progress Reports (ERP) and referrals, which are intended to streamline the process of alerting advisors when a student is struggling. Academic advisors can then support faculty by working with a student and finding resources that may help.

Outside of ERP, you can use the same Pathways system to refer students at any time in the semester. There also are a variety of resources to consider through the Office of Student Affairs, including support for students living on campus, students looking for community or campus engagement, or information on health and wellness.

We all have a role to play in student success. The most important thing to remember is that we are not, in fact, solely responsible for student success. For help supporting students inside the classroom, contact the Center for Teaching and Learning for a consultation by emailing teaching@pitt.edu. For help supporting students outside the classroom, consider referring students to their advisors, using the ERP reporting system, or connecting students with Student Affairs. Together, we can help our students find success, not only through retention to graduation, but from graduation to career.

Jennifer Cooper is an instructional designer for academic success initiatives in the Center for Teaching and Learning.


Bartlett, J. C., PhD. (2023, January 13). Inclusive Teaching Begins with Authenticity. Faculty Focus | Higher Ed Teaching & Learning.

Kitchen, J., Perez, R., Hallett, R., Kezar, A., Reason, R. (2021). Ecological validation model of student success: A new student support model for promoting college success among low-income, first-generation, and racially minoritized students. Journal of College Student Development, 62. 627-642. 

Michelman, R. (Jan. 6, 2022). Ecological Validation: Taking the Initiative to Create a Sense of Belonging. Pullias Center for Higher Education.

Powell, C., Demetriou, C., & Fisher, A. (2012). Micro-affirmations in Academic Advising: Small Acts, Big Impact. The Mentor: Innovative Scholarship on Academic Advising, 15.

Supiano, B. (Jan. 12, 2023). Teaching: How Cans STEM Instructors Show Students They Belong? Chronicle of Higher Education.