I went back to school this year. Not literally but figuratively. On July 1, I began a new job as Head of the Department of Education at Montana State University (#montanastate). Ten days later I was in front of a classroom of new first-year students during summer orientation, doing what department heads do. I welcomed the students to MSU. I congratulated them on the brilliant choice to become a bobcat (the MSU mascot). I shared that becoming a teacher provides them a chance to leave a positive impression on the future students whose lives they will touch. I also confessed that I felt just like they looked.
Underneath my confident persona, I was scared. I don’t know what it means to be a department head. I’m not sure of my role. There are new acronyms every day; buildings that I’ve never stepped foot in; meetings that I’ve never been invited to. I’m facing situations never encountered and supervising a staff who two months ago helped me operate the copier. I’m a first-year student all over again.
So I shared my fear and trepidation with this group at orientation. I let them know that we will learn together. We will struggle together. We will make mistakes together. I’m part of the Class of 2016. (It seems much more logical to state the year one matriculates then graduates.)
And I also shared what I had learned in my brief time on the job.
Stated simply, there are amazing people on this campus (and yours too) who will drop everything to aid in their success.
Let me provide a couple of examples.
- When I didn’t know how to access the university’s secure computer network, I asked the department’s administrative associate. She painstakingly walked me through the multitude of pull down menus. This was helpful but I also searched “access secure network” from the university website and bookmarked the step-by-step instructions for connecting from my Mac.
When students don’t know how to access the institution’s Learning Management System or other technology platform, who do they go to? Is there an IT Help Desk somewhere centrally located? Are there step-by-step guides on the university website? Are these guides searchable using several different terms? Because let’s be honest, it’s possible (no, more like probable) that not all new students will know that D2L has been re-named Brightspace LE.
It’s helpful to have a person be a resource but it’s just important to develop our resourcefulness.
One more example . . . .
- In my first month, I hired several full-time staff members and navigated university policy and procedure for crafting letters of appointment for countless sessional instructors and Graduate Teaching Assistants. The College’s personnel officer has been patient and kind despite me asking the same question 100 times. I am grateful beyond words.
As I observed the personnel officer’s fortitude in answering my repeated questions, I was reminded of the patience and kindness that academic advisors, financial aid administrators, and folks in the Registrar’s Office show to students every year. With each new class, they answer the same question 1000 times. It’s probably why offices have developed Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) webpages. But beyond the technology, it’s the care and consideration shown to students through conversation that make the difference.
There is comfort in knowing that someone is there to help guide through the post-secondary process.
And at the end of the day, knowing that I don’t have to do it alone is what has mattered the most to me. As a new member of the “Department Head’s Roundtable,” I have met others from across campus who confront similar questions and face related challenges.
There’s a reason why protagonists in novels rarely go it alone. Rather, they are part of a “merry band of brothers” or the “sisterhood of the traveling pants.” There is strength in numbers and comfort in community.
As we begin this new academic year, I invite you to share how you found the community from which you gain strength and what you are doing to assist students in finding theirs. Please leave a reply so that we can learn how people are creating community on campus.
If you want to be part of the ongoing conversation, “follow” us @CdnStdntSuccess and “like” the Supporting Student Success Facebook page. We look forward to hearing from you.