Libraries and Academic Innovation: Focused on Student Academic Success

Jason Vergne, a student, sits at a desk in Gelman Library's first floor, using a Mac computer.

(photo: William Atkins/the George Washington University)

“The library computers were a lifesaver!” says Jason Vergne, B.A. ‘19. After all of the hard work it took to get into GW, there was still one big thing standing between Jason and his dream of a bachelor’s degree — his laptop. When he got to campus, he found that his existing laptop couldn’t run academic software required for his classes. He couldn’t afford a new computer, but soon learned about Gelman Library’s George W.G. Stoner Commons — full of PC and Mac computers and open 24 hours during the academic year — and spent two years using them almost daily.

“Often we make assumptions about the technical savvy and computing resources our students bring to campus,” says Jared Johnson, associate dean of academic technologies. “Technology is an integral part of the student experience, so GWLAI provides the resources to make sure technology isn’t a barrier for any of our students.”

 

255

Total student computers
provided by GWLAI

2018-2019 academic year

71,966

Total logins to student computers

2018-2019 academic year

2.3

Average hours of computer usage per login

2018-2019 academic year

 

“It’s the simple stuff that really makes [GWLAI] an amazing resource.”

 

Two women dressed in winter coats, one wearing a hijab, examining an old book in the Global Resource Center.

(photo: William Atkins/ the George Washington University)

“The first thing the library helped me with was a computer,” says Jason, “but then I realized the [book] stacks are an amazing resource.” Coming to the library every morning to do his homework, Jason discovered a vast scope of services offered by GW Libraries and Academic Innovation (GWLAI) to help students succeed. When asked, he launches into the long list of ways GWLAI has improved his experience as a student and enhanced his learning.
 
As a non-traditional student living in a residence hall, Jason faced some unique challenges. He had lived in Army barracks during his three tours in Iraq and four years in Afghanistan, so he thought it would be no problem, but communal living with students several years younger was a hard adjustment. “The library was my retreat,” he says, “a safe, quiet space.”

 

“The staff are a powerful component of
making this a great place for students.”

 

A library staff member explaining a concept to a student at the 2019 Python Camp.

(photo: Harrison Jones, B.F.A. ‘19/ the George Washington University)

In addition to a place for study, Jason also found personal connection with the librarians and library staff. “The librarians were often more engaged with me as a person than faculty,” he says, explaining how meaningful those consistently positive experiences were to him during a semester of mostly large introductory classes. He especially valued his interactions with Keturah Solomon, an overnight supervisor at Gelman Library, known by every late-night/early-morning student on campus for her cheerful greetings and genuine interest in their well-being.

“We forget how hard it is to be a student, juggling classes and work, and at a large urban school some students can start to feel lost,” says Keturah. “I check in with our students leaving late at night to make sure they’re being safe and just so they know that I care about them. Those short conversations about how their day went or the project they are working on is the best part of my job.”

 

"I check in with our students leaving late at night to make sure they’re being safe and just so they know that I care about them."

 

As Jason progressed in his anthropology degree, he explored how GWLAI could help him succeed in the classroom. For him, access to academic resources was key. He recounts being amazed to find out that the libraries could provide a copy of almost any book in the world, from anywhere in the world, through interlibrary loan (ILL). He’s used so many ILL books in his time in the Columbian College’s combined B.A./M.A. anthropology program that he has a binder full of the one-page printouts that come with each ILL book. It was his way of creating a bibliography. Until, that is, he heard about RefWorks.
 
“No one ever told me about RefWorks!” he exclaims. This online reference management software, provided by the GW libraries, saves citations from databases and websites, stores related PDFs or attachments, and quickly builds a bibliography for papers and publications. Jason was astonished that he learned about this time saver from a GWLAI website, but as a teaching assistant, he made sure to teach it to his class as an easy way for students to save time and stay organized.

 

15,457

Total interlibrary
loan requests

2018-2019 academic year

3,209

Unique users
of interlibrary loans

2018-2019 academic year

 

Although he originally came to GW as an international affairs major, Jason’s interests led him to study anthropology and how deeply the interpretation of events is impacted by one’s culture — something he first observed while teaching counterterrorism to Afghan military and police in Afghanistan. His curiosity about the history of the Middle East and the Arabic language has been fed by using the specialized collections at GWLAI. He talks of visiting the Global Resources Center to check how a word appeared in an Arabic version of the Koran and using maps from the Special Collections Research Center. “I used the library computers to teach myself to type in Arabic,” he explains. 
 
When it came time for Jason to take Biological Anthropology, a required course, he knew that the more than $150 in required course materials would be a strain, but fortunately the GWLAI Top Textbooks program provided the textbook he needed. The Top Textbooks program acquires multiple copies of required textbooks for a select group of undergraduate courses with high enrollment rates that require traditionally expensive textbooks, and places them on course reserve for use by all students. It has saved students over $295,000 in textbooks since its pilot program in fall 2017.

 

6,801

Top Textbooks checked out

2018-2019 academic year

$302,812

In textbook savings to students

2018-2019 academic year

 

“You folks do amazing stuff”

 

A woman laughing and talking to another woman while writing on a whiteboard.

(photo: Logan Werlinger/ the George Washington University)

As Jason made the transition from undergraduate to graduate classes in his combined B.A./M.A. program, he turned to a research librarian to navigate the different expectations for scholarly research. He also attended a free workshop to learn more about R, a programming language that is popular for data exploration, visualization and statistical analysis. The workshop gave him a foundation to delve deeper into data analysis and usage. For an introduction to SPSS Statistics, a platform for advanced statistical analysis commonly used in graduate-level courses and considered a must-have on Gelman and Eckles library computers, Jason took advantage of the tutorials on Lynda.com (now LinkedIn Learning). He first learned about the availability of Lynda.com in a chance meeting with Kean McDermott, GWLAI instructional technologist for geographic information systems (GIS) and data visualization, at a library event.

288

Workshop sessions
offered

2018-2019 academic year

1,584

Total research
consultations

2018-2019 academic year

419

Math review
sessions

2018-2019 academic year

 

Preparing to apply to doctoral programs, Jason joined the inaugural cohort of Let’s GRE Together. This self-directed group of GW students and alumni are studying for the Graduate Records Exam (GRE), an exam required for entrance to thousands of graduate and business schools. “When I was studying for the GRE, I didn’t have $600 for a Kaplan course, but I wanted the kind of accountability that comes with a weekly class,” says Ty Miranda, program associate for Academic Commons and cohort facilitator. “Participants really appreciate the way Let’s GRE Together brings them into a community of learners to share their struggles and victories.”

 

59

Unique attendees
in the initial
 Let’s GRE Together cohort

2018-2019 academic year

744

Peer tutoring
appointments

2018-2019 academic year

 

Over 16,000 unique students come through the doors of Gelman, Eckles and the Virginia Science and Technology Campus Library every semester. Each individual student has different needs — one might need a computer and a place for quiet study, while another wants a whiteboard and a place to work with a group. GWLAI is committed to providing all students with the tools they need for academic success, both inside and outside of the classroom. Regardless of degree or school affiliation, every student is a part of the learning community at GWLAI. As with Jason, we’re rooting for their success and committed to providing the support they need to achieve their dreams.

 

937,716

Total student entries
to Gelman Library

2018-2019 academic year

6,574

Requests for assistance
through Academic Commons

2018-2019 academic year