By Tricia Seifert
The second act of Passion! presented on the #CACUSS2013 stage focused on student affairs/faculty conversations and collaborations. This thread ran deep across each day of the conference with a panel conversation kicking off Tuesday’s sessions, a presentation by the Supporting Student Success (@CdnStdntSuccess) research team, Kyla McLeod’s session on including faculty in the delivery of student services, and a session on the Faculty in Residence program at University of Toronto Mississauga (@rezTWEET).
Reflecting on what I took from the variety of conversations, it strikes me that the best advice for working with faculty is the advice we often give for working with students: meet them where they’re at. This simple (but powerful) phrase engenders many ideas of the word “meeting” – where do we “meet” faculty in terms of physical space, intellectual space and cultural space.
When was the last time you attended a faculty senate meeting? How about a lower stakes question: when was the last time you sat on a committee with one or more faculty members? What did you learn about these faculty members as people, as scholars, as members of your community from these interactions?
It’s hard to have a conversation with someone, let alone collaborate with them, if you haven’t developed a relationship. But it’s even harder to develop a relationship with someone if you do not inhabit the same physical spaces. This can be a real dilemma when classrooms and faculty office space are in one set of buildings and administrative and student service functions are in another. What to do when you might not come across one another in the Tim Horton’s line?
Attending faculty senate meetings and seeking out opportunities to serve as a staff member on faculty committees gives insight into the conversations being had outside of your unit. What are the opportunities and challenges that faculty members are voicing in these gatherings? Learning of these will help you to be more thoughtful in thinking through how your unit can approach partnering with faculty in the future.
Meeting faculty where they’re at physically requires student affairs and services staff to do a bit more “learning by walking around.” In fiscally constrained times, it may not be practical for everyone to leave their post for a multitude of meetings or coffee dates. But what would happen if people across your unit were to take on the goal of being physically present in places where faculty members come together so that they could listen, learn and build relationships?
Everyone loves to share what they are passionate about. For many faculty members, one of their main passions is their research. People are often honoured and touched when their work is identified as being of interest to another group or could be used to solve a problem. Tim Rahilly (@TimRahilly), Associate Vice-President Students at Simon Fraser University, told the story of calling one of his faculty colleague’s research expertise to assist with a residence and housing issue. In the Supporting Student Success study, community service-learning was often a place where student affairs and services staff and faculty collaborated to great success. Faculty members’ research and teaching passions were tapped as students reflected on their community-based placements developed and coordinated by student affairs and services staff.
It’s natural for people to want to share what they know. When was the last time you sought out a faculty member because you thought their expertise would enrich a program or event? Lower stakes question: when was the last time you looked up a faculty member’s homepage to see what she’s interested in for possible connections to your programs and events?
One of the things that we have learned as a research team is that some of the missed opportunities between student affairs and faculty may have to do with the cultural values with which the two groups approach their work. We heard during from Supporting Student Success study participants that “faculty think; student affairs and services staff do.” While there may be some truth to that, we suggest that there are ways to consider supporting student success that harnesses the values of both groups for the betterment of the student experience.
Carney Strange, recently retired faculty member from Bowling Green State University and long-time CACUSS member, suggested David Kolb’s model of experiential learning may be an interesting way to re-consider the different values held by student affairs and services staff.
The lower right side of the circle captures the observing and conceptualizing activities that are inherent and valued in academic work. The top left side of the circle captures the planning and doing activities that are so common to the everyday work of student affairs and services staff members. Although the figure shows a solid line through the halves, data from our research study suggest that this is a much more permeable boundary and depends largely on the person and situation. The Supporting Student Success team have met faculty members who are incredibly interested in developing and planning experiential learning activities as well as SAS staff who observe and conceptualize in their use of assessment/evaluation data to improve programs and services.
Recognizing the diversity of situations and people, what I think we can learn from this model is that the two halves only make a circle when they are placed together. A fulsome learning experience for students can only be realized when each half of the circle faces the other and unites as one. Many higher education researchers and advocates have referred to this as “sharing responsibility” for student learning and success. How do you feel about using Kolb’s model to think about values guiding your work?
I’ve asked a lot of questions in this post. Given that many folks’ PD budgets are slim and shrinking, I invite you to “leave a comment” in the space below so that we may learn from each other.
As for Act 3 of #CACUSS2013: Re-living the Passion!, stay tuned for the final post late next week. We have asked a number of first time CACUSS conference attendees to share their reflections and one big take-away idea that has stuck with them.
Until then, happy Canada Day to our Canadian readers and happy 4th of July to our American readers.