Starting May 1st of this year, Seattle Community Colleges, including Seattle Vocational Institute, welcomed a new advising tool into their arsenal: Starfish. The software opens many new doors for student-instructor-advisor interaction, and is meant to be a strong backbone for extended student support in the community. At Seattle Central, parts of the new system have already been implemented, and the Starfish team are optimistic for its future, though a few key elements have yet to be launched.
“Starfish is basically an online case management tool,” says Kao LéZheo, Dean of Student Success at Seattle Central, and one of the many faculty members in charge of the new program. “I like to say it’s a two-way communication software. It allows our advisors to work in a way where it’s about creating more opportunities for students and advisors to connect, as well as support networks for students.” As of right now, students at Seattle Central can log in to Starfish and schedule an appointment with an advisor, but that is the extent of its functionality.. As Dean LéZheo remarks: “Knowing which resources [are] right for them requires a few clicks.” Decisions are still being made as to which programs will be advertised, as well as who is responsible for following up on student requests.“I think we’re just in the gestation phase;[…] the process of figuring out which resources should be on it, who’s name from that resource should be on it, and so on.”
The selection process for the software program and the host company that would provide the entirety of the Seattle Colleges District with a new advising system was rigorous. Three companies were considered in total, with serious vetting and multiple proposals and test runs. And ultimately, the program is still in the works. “We want student input, we want students to feel welcome and supported as the end goal,” says Dean LéZheo. “If you step foot through our door, you’re going to be successful, and we are going to do everything we can to support you.”
However, it seems the student body has yet to be properly informed about Starfish and its new capabilities, and to some extent, the advising department itself. “I have no idea what Starfish is,” says Logan LeBeau, a Running Start student hailing from Garfield. “I think [the advising department] is fairly effective, at least from what I’ve experienced. The office seems to work very efficiently, but I haven’t interacted with it enough to know.” Rachel Bliven, a college student from out of town, was similarly puzzled, asking: “are you talking about the sea creature? None of my teachers or advisors have told me anything about Starfish,” she said. Bliven did remark on the pre-existing advising system at Central, saying “it definitely feels like we have to work to find a good advisor.” Neither student was aware that students can log into Starfish as of now, or what it was used for. Advertising and awareness for the program are still in the baby step stages, it seems.
A feature of the new system that has required more discussion, and caused more controversy than any other is an intervention tool called Early Alerts. If an instructor or another student is concerned about a classmate, they have the option to send an “early alert” to the student’s advisor, which can lead to meetings with anyone from advising to counseling to the Behavioural Intervention Team. With this feature comes important conversations. “There are things we still have to consider, as far as who has access, so there is this Family Education Rights and Privacy Act side of it as well,” Dean LéZheo clarifies. “One of the things we’re trying to work through now is how much communication do we want within that […] support network. We’re not there yet as far as a care team. We’re trying to make it a little bit more intuitive, […] because it can be a bit much.” The Starfish team states that the Early Alerts system is still very much a work in progress, as they try to balance functionality and safety with respecting student confidentiality. More updates on the Early Alerts system to come at a later date.
The team has high hopes for the future of the program, and believes ultimately it will be a huge asset in furthering their goal of continuing to build a strong and grounded community. “Starfish puts all the information into one place. It also allows us to track our work and optimize [our] time. It lets us be more efficient,” Dean LéZheo concludes. “The bottom line is we just want to find a way for students to see their advisors. [We] know how important that is.”
Starfish can be found on the Current Students page on the SCC website.