Monday Welcome Keynote Address

Bernie Savarese
The Ohio State University, Director of University Orientation and First Year Experience
Keynote Title: "Not Leaving Success Up to Chance: Moving from Best Practice to High Impact"

Keynote description: Much has been written about the first year experience movement over the past three decades. Research has identified best practices that demonstrate increased engagement and lead to a more successful college transition. But if achieving these outcomes were that simple, why are so many schools still searching for the next big idea to improve the student experience and deliver on key performance metrics like retention, persistence and graduation? Success can be even more elusive for those student populations who should benefit most from our efforts, namely first-generation, low-income and under-represented students. Over the last decade, campuses have turned to initiatives that have been deemed high impact practices, yet to ensure their success, universities must also focus on the nature and the quality of those efforts. Given shrinking state support and limited resources, it is necessary to ensure that our assets are being brought to bear on those students who need us most. It is no longer enough to roll out large, one-size-fits-all initiatives, simply hoping that the “right students” show up or choose to engage. We’ll discuss what happens when campuses embrace data-informed approaches to student achievement, coupled with strategies and tactics that ensure we’re not leaving success up to chance. And while our approaches should be data informed, this does not require that they be impersonal. To the contrary, a high-touch, personalized approach to the first year experience is what is needed to ensure that institutions are delivering on the promises made on the recruitment trail.


Bernie Savarese is the Director of University Orientation and First Year Experience at The Ohio State University. He provides leadership for the unit’s communication, implementation, and evaluation to maximize the success and retention of new students at the university. In this role, Bernie also oversees efforts for first-generation college student and the outreach and support of new students from at-risk populations. Bernie offers campus leadership on issues related to new student transition and success, including the university’s Standing Committee on Student Success and Retention and the university’s Undergraduate Co-Curricular Competencies initiative.

Before his time in First Year Experience, Bernie spent many years in Residence Life, first at Bowling Green State University and then at Ohio State, serving in the roles of Residence Hall Director, Assistant Director of Residence Life and Director of Residential Learning Communities. Following his time in Residence Life, Bernie transitioned to Ohio State’s Ohio Union and Student Activities office where he served on the leadership team in the Keith B. Key Center for Student Leadership and Service where he oversaw campus and community-based partnerships focused on sustained student volunteerism and civic engagement.

Bernie received his Bachelor of Arts in Political Science, with Honors in the Liberal Arts, from Ohio State University, his Masters in College Student Personnel from Bowling Green State University, and his Masters of Business Administration, with an emphasis in marketing and organizational strategy, from Ohio State University's Max M. Fisher College of Business. He has been recognized with honors such as the President’s Award for Distinguished Service and, most recently, was inducted into the 2016 Class of "Forty under 40" by Columbus Business First.


Return to Conference Information