Spotlight on Innovation: Making the Library Central to Adult Learner Support at The College of New Rochelle

First Generation Students: Image of a woman reading at an academic library


The US Department of Education has awarded multi-million dollar “First in the World” grants to 24 colleges and universities that are innovating to solve critical challenges with access, recruitment, retention, and student success. At AI, we have interviewed each of the recipients to learn more about the projects these institutions are pursuing, how their approaches are unique, and what other colleges and universities can learn from these new efforts.

Faculty at the The College of New Rochelle already know that mentoring and research-rich courses are key for the success of the adult learners in their School of New Resources. Yet when Ana Fontoura, The College of New Rochelle’s Dean of Libraries, was tapped to help improve student success through innovative, collaborative learning strategies, she immediately noticed that the existing research only mentioned academic libraries in a supporting role, if at all. At many institutions, this may present a missed opportunity. After all, the academic library is uniquely positioned to bring together information and research services and provide spaces for learning, mentoring, and collaboration.

That moving of the library from the support role to the center of a student success initiative with a focus on undergraduate research is what I find exciting about how The College of New Rochelle plans to use their First in the World grant funds. Fontoura sees the opportunity for the library to give adult learners, especially, an extra push to reach their goals, and she is proposing larger roles for the library and its staff in a new model that New Rochelle is calling “MURAL.”

MURAL: Mentoring, Undergraduate Research, and Augmented Libraries

At The College of New Rochelle, the $3.9 million FITW grant will fund MURAL (Mentoring, Undergraduate Research, and Augmented Libraries), which is focused on moving full-time adult learners in the College’s School of New Resources through college in four years or less with a Bachelor of Arts degree in the Liberal Arts. The initiative will create a network of support through an enhanced research-rich core course each semester, enhanced mentoring, and the creation of a library learning commons.

Included in this multifaceted approach are these key elements:

  • A librarian will be embedded in each research core course to assist students in and outside class in completing their “Life Arts Projects” (focused on real-world research experiences) each semester.
  • The College of New Rochelle is establishing a peer-reviewed journal, Serviam, in which students can publish their research, along with an institutional repository for completed projects and faculty research.
  • Students who publish their research will receive an additional college credit at no cost to them, and students who publish six of their eight Life Arts Projects could graduate a semester early.

MURAL also features a Library Learning Commons, where librarians, writing specialists, tutors and other staff provide support for digital literacy, information literacy, writing, math, and other essential skill sets (such as working with spreadsheets or word processing) that some adult learners may need. The services provided in the Library Learning Commons will be supported and complemented by student services staff, who will be tasked with making sure that students have appropriate support for time management, study skills, mental health issues, mapping out a career path and other non-academic issues. Enhanced mentoring, including alerts and more regular mentor/student communication, will also be used to address academic and other needs as they arise through the semester.

Keys to Success

“We’re changing a culture here at CNR, and that’s generally very difficult,” notes Fontoura. For The College of New Rochelle’s MURAL project to succeed, it will be critical to provide professional development as early as possible, especially to assist faculty members in moving from a silo method to a more hands-on and collaborative approach to teaching, learning and mentoring students throughout all four years.
It will be important to engage faculty in this effort while acknowledging that systematic changes can be very difficult. It is easy to get ingrained in doing things a certain way. To have been awarded two major federal grants in one year totaling $14 million has required CNR to dig deep into what works and what doesn’t. “We’re not where we should be and we have not been afraid to say that,” Fontoura explains. However, there is a steadfast commitment to Mission that drives success and innovation.  She further emphasizes that faculty and staff members at CNR are excited about the proposed initiatives, are ready to build on proven methods that have been successful, and are set to adopt innovative practices that are sure to help our students succeed.  That is what will help foster momentum for change.

Why You Should Watch this Project

The College of New Rochelle is working to establish a library-driven approach to helping adult learners succeed, which will include real-world research experiences that can better equip students for their intended careers. It appears to be provide a very integrated model for meeting the academic and professional needs of adult learners. We look forward to seeing the early results.