Penn State strives to meet student needs with innovative programs

November 21, 2008

University Park, Pa. — Penn State is dedicated to using the most innovative tools and programs to address students’ emotional and academic needs. In an informational report to the University’s Board of Trustees Friday, Nov. 21, Damon Sims, vice president for Student Affairs, led a panel discussion on new initiatives in the areas of emotional wellness and academic expectations. 

The panel discussion focused on "Worrisome Student Behaviors: Minimizing Risk," a video series addressing concerns about potentially violent or disturbing behaviors. Panelists also tackled the topic of Penn State’s long-standing student advising and registration program, the First-Year Testing, Counseling and Advising Program (FTCAP). Panelists included Dennis Heitzmann, director of the Center for Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS), and Linda Higginson, assistant dean for advising, in the Division of Undergraduate Studies.

Heitzmann discussed the latest Penn State efforts to ensure students are getting the attention they need. “The Worrisome Student Behaviors” videos provide a practical application for faculty and staff to use when working with students whose behavior raises some concerns. The series can be found on the CAPS web site at The videos are the most recent tool being used by CAPS to assist faculty and staff who are in a unique position to identify and help students who may be in distress.

Several University departments collaborated in the creation of the online series, which offers information about intervention and University resources. More information about the program can be found at as well as

“CAPS has been active in going to academic departments and administrative units to provide information about the role of faculty and staff in identifying, engaging and referring students of concern," Heitzmann said.

He also recognized Mary Anne Knapp, a social worker at CAPS and outreach coordinator, who was primarily responsible for scripting the video vignettes and consulting on the project, and Joe Myers from Penn State Public Broadcasting, the Web site project director.

As part of the panel discussion, Higginson spoke about FTCAP and how it has evolved over the past 50 years to meet the changing needs of students, technology and Penn State. New students transitioning to Penn State need to understand academic expectations and how to navigate the University. FTCAP, conducted by Penn State's Division of Undergraduate Studies (DUS), assists new first-year students in evaluating their educational plans by providing them, before initial registration, with a comprehensive program of testing, individualized educational planning and academic advising.

Reviewing the history of FTCAP programming and participation, Higginson described it as an academic orientation to higher education at Penn State and said that data collected after FTCAP was introduced in 1956 showed Penn State's retention rates were well above average for public institutions.

FTCAP gives students an understanding of their scholastic preparation, academic abilities, and educational and professional interests, while introducing them to the academic structure and  degree programs of the University. The program has been acknowledged nationally for its student-focused and extensive approach.

Higginson reported on student feedback received following this summer's FTCAP. Some students commented on how it taught them the importance of a college education, the difference between their high school and college professors' expectations, and how and where they could seek help for academic and personal issues.

"Students arrive at college with a very different set of expectations than those we have of them," Higginson said. "Orienting students to these new academic expectations makes the transition less shocking in many ways and helps them better deal with the academic and personal challenges they will face in the first semester."

More information on FTCAP can be found at

  • Students discuss course selection at First-Year Testing, Counseling and Advising Program (FTCAP).

    IMAGE: Greg Grieco

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated September 23, 2020