Category Archives: Student Affairs

Effectively supporting first-generation students

Like many, I was a first-generation college student whose family lacked the economic means to send me to college. With a state tuition scholarship from high school, loans, campus jobs, and help from my friends, I was able to attend and graduate from Eastern Illinois University (EIU).

First-generation students were probably the majority of students at state colleges and universities in the Midwest when I first attended college, but unlike today, most of the first-generation students then were not minority, low-income, or students who were new in the United States.

Today, students whose parents have had no postsecondary education or experiences are given the opportunity to participate in pre-college programs while in high school, and the equity-minded colleges these students attend often provide special programs to ease the transition from high school into college. Committed to their success, colleges who identify students as first-generation generally provide special support programs that include advising, tutoring, and opportunities for engagement with the broader academic and local community.

All first-generation students are not the same. As I recall my experience as a first-generation college student, it was another identity that distinguished some of my peers and me and caused us to experience college differently than other first-generation students. Being a Black college student on a White college campus less than a decade after the Brown v. Board of Education decision compounded the obstacles already inherent to my success as a first-generation student.

I was not aware of any special programs to help level the playing field. Upon reflection, however, I realize that for me, more important than a special program would have been a concerted effort by the college to create an inclusive and welcoming environment. I believe the president wanted Black and other first-generation students to feel welcome, but it takes every individual in the academic community to create such an environment.

I can’t speak for other Black students who were my peers, but I dreaded going to the faculty advisor I was assigned. I needed support as a first-generation student, and what I received was indifference. I felt as if the advisor hated this part of the faculty role. When I attempted to share my goals, he did not listen. My advisor made no effort to get to know me, and I felt that he hated me because I was Black and looked down on me because I was poor. The selection of advisors for first-generation students is critical not only for making the climate supportive, but for the ultimate success of students.

My being in class was awkward for everyone. No one looked at me and I didn’t draw attention to myself. I kept my eyes on my textbook, my notebook, the chalk board, and the professor. When I would feel someone staring at me, I would resist the urge to look directly at the person, but would just begin to turn my head in their direction. That always broke the stare.

One professor, who was my favorite, stands out for me because he was the one faculty member who looked directly at me when his eyes surveyed the classroom. All the other professors had this uncanny ability to look around the classroom and never see me. I should have stood out since I was the only Black student in any given class.

With the diversity of students in classes today, faculty who do not know how to help all students feel included should request professional development. At minimum, faculty can incorporate basic strategies to develop an inclusive classroom environment by making eye contact with all students, pronouncing their names correctly, finding creative ways to encourage all students to participate in class discussions, and providing opportunities for group projects in which students are randomly assigned.

As I was nearing the end of my first quarter at EIU, I began to worry about what grades I would receive at the end of the term. An uncaring advisor and awkward classrooms did not help my grades and neither did the fact that I had been having a good time with my Black peers and our new-found freedom. I decided to call my mother to alert her to what might happen if my grades were as bad as I expected them to be.

I remember using a pay phone in the Student Union. My mother was surprised to hear from me because I didn’t have the kind of money to make long distance telephone calls unless there was something important to convey. To begin this difficult conversation, I asked about every single person in the family. I could sense that my mother wanted me to get to the reason why I called.

Finally, I said, “My classes are really hard, and I don’t think I’m going to make it.”

“What do you mean when you say you don’t think you’re going to make it?” she responded.

“My grades may not be good enough for me to stay in college, so I might have to come home.” I waited for her response.

After a short time she said, “That’s too bad. You can’t come here because your sister has your room now. I don’t know what you’re going to do.”

I just hung on the line for a beat or so because I was afraid to let go. In just a few words, my mother made it clear that she was not going to rescue me. Shocked and afraid, I realized that what happened to me from this point on was entirely up to me.

I believe that support programs, caring advisors, inclusive classrooms. and an overall inclusive campus climate make a difference for first-generation and all students. I also believe that every student will have unique motivators that are separate and distinct from anything the college or university can provide. Being self-motivated is a powerful impetus to succeed. What first-generation students may need most is someone to help them identify what motivates them most.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Understanding how students learn in order to be more effective educators

All I want to say is thank goodness for Jane Fried!

Of Education Fishbowls and Rabbit Holes book cover with fishbowl

I just read her book titled Of Education, Fishbowls, and Rabbit Holes-Rethinking Teaching and Liberal Education for an Interconnected World. Don’t let the long title deter you from this compact gem at just 100 pages. I am thankful for Jane Fried because she has discovered what my personal experience and the science of learning indicate is the truth about how real and deep learning occurs and, most importantly, she is determined to help the rest of us understand it.

Though the book would be a resource for all in higher education, she spoke directly to student affairs professionals in 1995 when she and associates edited the ground-breaking book Shifting Paradigms in Student Affairs, Culture, Context, Teaching, and Learning. Prominent among purposes of the book was to emphasize that student development was part of the mission of colleges and universities, and student affairs practitioners were educators.

Fried located the concepts of the educative role of student development and student affairs in the different and interrelated cultures encountered in higher education in the United States and, indeed, the world. These different cultures were being aggregated under the term diversity in U.S. higher education and the best approach to seeing diversity as a resource rather than a problem was to see with new lenses or shift paradigms about learning. This paradigm shift is relevant today as students are creating their own laboratories for learning through their activism.

In Shifting Paradigms, Fried suggests that educators understand and accept the fact that sometimes the “student is the expert and the student affairs professional learns a great deal.” (112) She also points out that the role of the student affairs professional becomes one of understanding that students are learning from their experiences and the role of the professional is to help students reflect on that experience. (213) Those who desire to truly educate will need to help students reflect from the perspective that “cultural experience, historical experience and personal experience” all matter. (230)

As an original thought leader and contributing author of Learning Reconsidered-A Campus-wide Focus on the Student Experience, published by NASPA and ACPA in 2004, Fried championed the idea of the interconnectedness of learning where all of the processes and relationships a student encounters must be recognized as learning sites that students could use to make meaning of their lives. Therefore, each site must see itself as part of the learning community. In other words, learning occurs both inside and outside of the classroom.

I keep her 2012 book titled Transformative Learning through Engagement-Student Affairs Practice as Experiential Pedagogy close at hand for quotes for my various essays and speeches. It is rich with information about the psychology and biology of learning, and it reinforces what I think is the major take-away from Learning Reconsidered, mentioned above, and Learning Reconsidered 2, published in 2006: The most important factor is that transformative learning always occurs in the active context of students’ lives.

The most recent book speaks to faculty directly about their assumptions based on how they were taught and learned and how their world view influences how they see students and how they teach. By another name, Jane Fried is still working to help educators understand that there has to be a paradigm shift. She makes concrete recommendations about how faculty who teach undergraduates can do so more effectively. True to how we learn, throughout the book, she asks the reader to stop reading to do some exercises and reflections in order to move beyond learning “about” teaching effectively and to begin to understand how learning occurs through their own experience and reflection.

I will continue to read whatever Fried writes because it takes a while to unlearn what and how we have been taught and to shift our perspective in how we see the world.

Thank you, Jane, for continuing to move classroom faculty and student affairs professionals toward understanding how students learn in order to be more effective educators.

References

Fried, J., & Associates. (1995). Shifting paradigms in student affairs: Culture, context, teaching and learning. Alexandria, VA: American College Personnel Association; Lanham, MD: University Press of America.

Fried, J. (2012). Transformative learning through engagement: Student Affairs practice as experiential pedagogy. Sterling, VA: Stylus.

Fried, J. (2016). Of Education, Fishbowls, and Rabbit Holes-Rethinking Teaching and Liberal Education for an Interconnected World. Sterling, VA: Stylus.

Keeling, R. (Ed.) (2004). Learning Reconsidered-A campus-wide focus on the student experience. Washington, DC: American College Personnel Association and National Association of Student Personnel Administrators.

What the Sage Learned

It’s the morning after a few days as “Sage in Residence” at California State University Channel Islands (CSUCI). I went to the University to follow the advice of Yoda, the wise one in Star Wars, and “pass on what I have learned.” What I want to pass on now are a few things I learned from the visit. I met a kaleidoscope of talented people during my visit and the University surrounded by mountains and verdant fields, despite the drought, is a gold mine for students of student affairs.

I learned that if you are the founding president, Dr. Richard Rush, and the founding vice president, Dr. Wm. Gregory Sawyer, you have an opportunity to create a culture of learning and love by the careful selection of faculty, staff, and administrators for positions throughout the University. You also have the obligation to create an ethos of intellectual curiosity and motivation to acquire more learning. I think these leaders took advantage of their opportunity and satisfied their obligation.

We’ve heard the advice of “managing while walking around.” At CSUCI, I learned that Dr. Sawyer, also the vice president for student affairs, manages by telling stories. He is the consummate story-teller and his staff affectionately number his stories as they represent particular lessons learned, expectations, and aspirations.

During my time in this academic community, I felt the respect and love throughout the University. Everyone knows one another and everyone has a story that brings a smile or laugh. Dr. Sawyer has a difficult time traversing the campus because he has connections on a personal level with everyone he meets and students and staff refer to him as a “rock star.” What he wants is for his student affairs staff to be and to realize that they are rock stars. He encourages their aspirations, supports their professional development and further education, and celebrates all of their successes.

Students chose the University for the same feeling that I experienced while on campus. They said that their faculty and staff were responsive from their first contact with the University and faculty and staff were not only supportive, they were invested in students’ success. Surely, CSUCI is building an alumni base that will give back to the University that gave so much to them.

Three take-aways that I recommend to other student affairs communities are these:

  1. As vice president, be visible and forge strong connections with students especially during this time of student activism. This will position you to work with students to meet needs and demands continuously rather than reacting to ultimatums in a manner that won’t satisfy regardless of what you do.
  2. Take assessment of the impact of the contributions student affairs makes to the mission of the University seriously and make it a priority.
  3. Reveal what is in the secret box of student affairs by creating external committees composed of representatives from every area of the college or university to review the results of your plans and learning outcomes and solicit their feedback.

If one is on the campus or in communications with students, faculty, or staff from CSUCI, you will understand why the division of student affairs has received recognition as one of the Most Promising Places to Work.

Demonstrating “The Confidence Effect” for Students

I just read The Confidence Effect-Every Woman’s Guide to the Attitude That Attracts Success by Grace Killelea. The book is an easy and quick read written in a conversational tone with anecdotes from the author’s own experiences as well as examples from other successful women. This book reinforces what other authors of leadership books have written about getting ahead. However, Killelea’s presentation style makes it easy to remember her advice with techniques such as the “4 Rs of Success” and the “IPO of Networking. ”

Though the target audience for the book is women, I recommend it for faculty, Student Affairs professionals, and all staff at colleges and universities. Why? Because while students say that their parents are their heroes, you are their role models. If you exhibit the twin goals for success that Killelea recommends—confidence and competence, students will be watching and some will be inspired to find their own paths to confidence and competence.

In addition to acquiring helpful tips on building confidence, there are some other gems that I think might resonate. For example, newer professionals in higher education or other careers often agonize over how long to remain in a position that might not be all that they would like it to be. As a role model for students and for your own success, you might want to heed Killelea’s advice:

The lane you’re traveling in right now might not be ideal; it may be full of challenges, potholes, conflicts, and politics, but the way out of it is through it. Don’t suddenly jump lanes and abandon the track before it’s appropriate to do so.

The author suggests questions to ask to help know when to switch lanes. These are the kinds of questions you will want to have handy when students seek your advice and counsel regarding their career goals. In building your own confidence through a track record of success, you can tell and show students how to move forward with confidence.

Students you don’t even know are watching you. You will want to show them The Confidence Effect.

Finding the right time…

It was a decision that had to be made.  In my comment following this excellent presentation, do I only reference the parts of what I heard about the vision for IT at our College or do I also attempt to help everyone who is not in student affairs understand that IT can also play an important role in improving the educational experience of students by supporting the work of counselors and advisers who want to use technology to be more efficient and effective in their work with students?

Why did I have this dilemma?

The CIO made a most impressive presentation introducing concepts of the hype cycle, the trough of disillusionment, the slope of enlightenment and the plateau of productivity. He talked about the history of technology, where the College has been in its use of technology, where we are going, and various faculty and student initiatives in regard to instruction.

The bottom line is I loved the presentation! Yet, something really bothered me.

During the presentation, the CIO was quite specific in outlining how what he was proposing would work with the “academic areas.” Following the presentation when the administrators were making comments, the academic vice president framed his remarks with the words “on the academic side.”

I was surprised to hear this clear delineation of what was academic and, by inference, what was not, especially at a critical time when the entire College has been restructured to insure that advising is done by everyone to some degree.

To insure consistency, accuracy, continuity and a developmental model for advising, counseling faculty in student services are encouraging the use of a system where advisers are encouraged to place notes about their work with students so if a student changes a major or decides on a major after being advised as an undecided students, the next adviser has some prior information about the student.

The system also allows students to select the same adviser by scheduling their own appointments. The system will insure that students are on a pathway towards a degree or certificate, and data can be collected from the system to gauge the impact of interventions to help students succeed in their courses.

A wealth of information can be collected and shared among students, faculty, and administrators with a system that is technology dependent. Why the CIO and the vice president for academic affairs found it necessary to carve out the “academic side” in talking about the future of technology at the College was a puzzlement to me.

I chose not to attempt to enlighten my colleagues at this presentation because there is a time and place for everything, and my attempt at enlightenment following an outstanding presentation would have been seen as negatively disruptive, and no one can hear our message if there is the noise of negative disruption.

I will find other times and occasions to talk about holistic learning, the value of advising, and the fact that all of our work with students is “academic.”