Students who “Dare Greatly”


It’s been a month since I attended the packed closing keynote at #ACPA14. I must confess; I had never heard of @Brene Brown much to the shock of the graduate research assistants on the Supporting Student Success team. All I can say is that I was not disappointed. Much to the contrary, I left amazed, refreshed and inspired. 30 days since the closing of ACPA and Brene Brown’s message of “Daring Greatly” has stuck with me. I’m still reflecting on what it means personally as well as what it means for me and others who support student success.

I was struck by her statement that it is easier and safer to be a cynic, critic or checked-out than a contributor. She showed how students communicate this in their remarks “I don’t care” or “whatever.” She then challenged the audience to change the norms on our campus. If cynic, critic or being checked-out is the norm, then choosing to contribute to the campus dialogue is a subversive and dangerous activity. How do we, as higher education administrators, value and acknowledge students who dare greatly by engaging in such subversive activity?

Immediately, I thought about the students from the Supporting Student Success research study. Time and time again, students shared the radical path that they or a peer took to challenge the campus norm of being a critic, a cynic or completely checked-out. These students talked about the power of being a contributor. In the Supporting Student Success study, we’ve heard great stories about students who contribute to their peers’ success, formally and informally in four ways; by being coaches/confidantes, connectors, co-constructors and copycats.

Coaches/confidantes are peers who provide a listening ear and help other students envision success, plan for that success, and then realize it. Students in the study repeatedly talked about how important it was to have peers who coached them through the tough times. It was not uncommon to hear a comment like that from the student below.

“I was fortunate enough to have Candace (pseudonym) in all of my classes…there have been countless times where I am like ‘I cannot do this anymore!’ and I want to quit, and Candace has been like ‘No, I have been there.’ 

Connectors are peers who connect other students to programs, services and opportunities that will enhance their educational experience and support their success. A student who was a Residence Don in the study commented,

“Hopefully, I have also been informational to my floor, letting them know what services there are.”



Co-constructors are often student leaders who “model the way” by developing programs and services to respond to the ever-changing needs of a diverse student body. Student co-constructors also “lead the way” through collaborations with staff and faculty to deliver and assess programs and services designed to support student success. These are the students who are, on behalf of their institution, leading programs in which other students participate and learn.

Copycats (we are reclaiming this term with more positive connotations). Students frequently talked about their peers who they looked up to and who they saw as a role model. The wanted to “copy” the good work their peer had done for them by paying it forward to others. One student commented,

“I see myself as a partner, and when someone taps you on the shoulder, you need to be sure to go with it and be ready to do the same later on.”


These are roles in which students can contribute positively to their peers’ success. I invite you to share how your institution encourages, promotes and recognizes the subversive and dangerous activity of students who challenge the norm of indifference to take the radical path of being a contributor. Please leave a comment and contribute to the conversation. Together we can learn, share and improve our practice.

posted by Tricia Seifert


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