The success continues for Syracuse University student-athletes in the classroom. For the third year, Syracuse University Athletics ranks in the top five among Power 5 schools’ Graduation Success Rate (GSR) scores. Syracuse’s 94% GSR is tied for the fifth highest…
Emerging Professional in Student Engagement and Success: Luckman Is the ‘One to Watch’
For Jimmy Luckman, college opened his eyes to a world he never knew existed. With fewer than 50 graduates in his high school class in Lyndonville, New York, the opportunity to attend SUNY Brockport gave him access to new and exciting ideas and experiences. “I majored in sociology, and I didn’t even know what that was in high school!” says Luckman. “But I had amazing mentors who saw potential in me and my love of learning.”
Luckman’s sister was not so fortunate. She had such a negative experience during a college orientation that she decided not to attend college at all. His sister has cerebral palsy and felt so unsupported at that college during orientation that she declared it just wasn’t for her. “I witnessed the pain she experienced because she did not feel a sense of belonging and support,” says Luckman.
Those personal experiences shaped Luckman’s decision to enter the field of Orientation, Transition, and Retention (OTR), a specialized area in academia that applies rigorous research to the understanding of why some students excel and others don’t, why some are fully engaged in the college experience and others feel marginalized. Luckman’s research and passion serve him well in his position with the Office of Academic Affairs as associate director of the First Year Seminar (FYS).
Luckman’s work with students, faculty and staff has already earned him national awards and accolades. This past year, he was awarded the Norman K. Russell Scholarship by the Association for Orientation, Transition, Retention in Higher Education (NODA), given to graduate/doctoral students who are contributing to the enhancement of the field. Luckman also received the 2023 Annuit Coeptis Emerging Professional award from the American College Personnel Association. In nominating him for the latter, Associate Dean of Student Services Chandice Haste-Jackson wrote: “Jimmy is one to watch; he will undoubtedly be among the change leaders of our time.”
Haste-Jackson detailed how Luckman developed curriculum for the first-year course and training modules using high-impact practices grounded in research, consulted with and trained peer instructors and faculty, delivering the modules to more than 600 individuals in just one year. He “exhibited consummate leadership and the capacity to mentor and support individuals that were tenured and seasoned well beyond Jimmy’s experience. Yet, what he had to offer was not anything they could learn without his guidance and support.”
Luckman brings his personal experiences and insights together with his professional interest in data-driven research. He came out as queer in graduate school; he received his master’s in counseling and student affairs from Northern Arizona University and is currently a doctoral student at St. John Fisher University, studying LGBTQ+ students’ sense of belonging and the phenomena of queerbaiting on college campuses.
“My personal experiences, continuing self-reflection, learning and research demonstrate the importance of exploring identity. I see how much I still have to grow,” says Luckman. “The big picture of a campus climate—that sense of belonging, feeling comfortable in navigating campus life—weighs on me every day. College is not a sprint. It’s a marathon. And the first-year experience is just one lap around the track. What students learn in their first year guides them in the next lap around and then the next. For example, they learn to have difficult conversations in FYS, to talk about differences—a skill that will help them throughout college and throughout life.”
Luckman was integral in transitioning the first-year course from being a 5-week, 0-credit, seminar-style course based on a shared reading to a 1-credit, 15-week, semester-style course including experiential learning, which is a graduation requirement for all incoming first-year and transfer students.
In recommending Luckman for the emerging professional award, Associate Professor Kira Reed noted Luckman’s passion for data collection and analysis by monitoring the attendance of all 4,300 incoming students to assess patterns of engagement. “Jimmy presents almost weekly with campus partners data on what we learn about each year’s respective first-year class regarding the number of withdrawals, drops, fails and concern flags raised to brainstorm remedies in real-time that will support student success and retention. The result has been decreased drops and a low percentage of failures.”
Luckman explains how he worked with one college that offered lectures on diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility issues as part of the first-year experience but had disappointing student engagement. Luckman called upon campus partners in student experience to help the college implement programs that offered more opportunities for social interaction and dialogue, along with lectures, to engage more students. The associate dean was appreciative and the data demonstrated success.
According to Associate Provost for Strategic Initiatives Marcelle Haddix, “Jimmy provided leadership to explore what was done in the past as well as ways to enhance practices in the future to ensure that FYS effectively reflects its mission of helping students transition into the Syracuse University community and engage in conversations focusing on diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility.” Haddix says Luckman’s work is making education “more engaging, relevant and equitable.”
Luckman believes that Syracuse University is the perfect place for him to put theory into practice to advance research in student success. “We are really innovative at Syracuse,” says Luckman. “In comparison to other first-year experience programs, we have tremendous engagement by a large population of student peer leaders and greater intentionality to integrate DEIA into weekly programming. We are setting new expectations in the field. And we are keeping up with what students are asking for.”