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As-U-R helps challenged students succeed

BOONE—A new program at Appalachian State University called As-U-R is helping college students with special challenges adjust to a new learning environment.

As-U-R is a support program for students with executive function challenges (EFC), which are chronic difficulties in starting projects, planning, organization and decision-making. These types of learning challenges can have long-term implications for academic and personal success.

A collaboration between the Department of Psychology and the Department of Reading Education and Special Education, As-U-R is the university’s component of College STAR (Supporting Transition, Access and Retention).

College STAR is a project of the University of North Carolina system designed to support students with learning differences and to disseminate best-practice teaching methods to faculty members for promoting the success of students of varied learning styles and backgrounds.

East Carolina University and Fayetteville State University are the other campus collaborators in the College STAR initiative. College STAR currently is funded by the Oak Foundation of Geneva, Switzerland and the N.C. GlaxoSmithKline Foundation.

“Students with executive function challenges may or may not have been diagnosed with a learning disability in the past,” said Dr. Rose Matuszny, associate professor of special education and project director of As-U-R. “They typically have significant trouble with structuring study time, designing and following a plan for reaching goals, and organizing a workable college life or other schedule.

“For example,” Matuszny continued, “when given a writing assignment where students can select their own topic, the student with EFC may spend the class period thinking of a topic to write about instead of actually writing. The student may not have efficient or effective strategies for completing academic tasks and, thus, often has difficulty focusing on and starting an assignment. The student may not have knowledge of how to approach a very large reading assignment without being severely overwhelmed or may have difficulty maintaining a plan to finish an assignment within a given time frame.”

There are currently 15 students enrolled in the As-U-R program, which accepts participants throughout the year. These students have access to variety of services, including strategic tutoring and academic support, dedicated study time, assistive technology, strategy training in writing and planning, as well as specific training about dealing with executive functioning challenges.

Dr. Daniel Byrd, director of student support for the As-U-R program, explained that these services are provided in tiers so a student can take advantage of as much or as little as they need.

“At the Tier I level,” he said, “students can access online learning support modules and participate in mini workshops and open study hours. Tier III is much more structured and involves screening, a seminar course, required study hours with staff and access to assistive technology such as text-to-speech software and digital recording devices.”

Students in the program can be high school seniors who have been accepted to Appalachian, transfer students or students who have become aware of their EFC since enrolling. “The whole idea is to give students the study skills, time management and organization help they need to succeed,” he said. He encourages students who are struggling with their academics to check out the program and see if it can give them a boost.

In addition to academic support, students in As-U-R may also receive training in mindfulness, a practice that emphasizes observant and non-judgmental awareness of thoughts, emotions and physical states. Mindfulness has been shown to encourage increased attention and better brain functioning in many of the areas where students with EFCs struggle.

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