Transition to College

Jacques Steinberg shared gems of wisdom for soon-to-be first-year college students in The Choice column with Advice on the Transition From Applicant to College Student. It included a recommendation from my friend, W. Houston Dougharty, who advises students to live in the moment and less in their social media updates.


As frequently happens in columns such as this, the best words of counsel came from experienced students who remind first-years to treat college like a full time job and learn to do their own laundry.


Tornado Watch: Assessments for Student Retention

As a resident of tornado alley, there is a summer tradition of dusting off the Twister DVD while scanning the afternoon skies for possible wall clouds. The film takes place in Oklahoma, but was filmed near my current home in central Iowa. The story follows a team of meteorological students and scientists as they attempt to place weather sensors in the path of a tornado to measure readings inside of the storm. After many failed attempts, injuries, and even fatalities, our protagonists successfully launch the sensors and save humanity. Err, save their research. As the flick can also be caught at least three times a week on cable during the summer, I catch up on all of my favorite lines.

Jo: [cow flies by in the storm) Cow.
[cow flies by in the storm]
Jo: ‘Nother cow.
Bill: Actually, I think it was the same one.
Watching the segment as the sensors rise into the F-5 tornado and begin generating data, I am reminded of our students, particularly those in the first-year. If we could read their minds and extrapolate the whirlwind of thoughts and emotions, surely we could develop better methods for student success and retention. Fortunately, there are a variety of assessments to assist in this process.

The College Student Inventory™ (CSI) from Noel-Levitz allows students to answer questions regarding their strengths and challenges before they even arrive on campus. I ask my incoming students to complete this assessment after summer orientation and use the information to frame our beginning of the year 1:1 appointments. The student and advisor reports are handy for discussion and the group summary reports provide great information for planning our first-year seminar course and programming topics.

MAP-Works® offers a similar tool to discover student transition issues early in the semester. Students develop a personal profile based on their initial campus experience that is measured for potential barriers to success. A web-based report is generated immediately for students and faculty or staff advisors that compares with all first-year students on our campus. Campus resource services are suggested where needed.

The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® (MBTI®) helps demonstrate theory that there are distinct patterns to individual psychological types even though persons exhibit these patterns in different ways. Helping students to understand their type preferences and how they affect personal learning styles provides a common ground for understanding differences and the transition to college. I provide an MBTI learning styles assessment for each student in our first-year seminar each fall. Students do not always grasp the type concept, but do find meaning from discussion of the transition to university style learning.

It is common knowledge among student affairs practitioners that students enter the college or university with varying degrees of emotional intelligence. Additionally, those familiar with retention issues will cite non-academic challenges as the frequent impetus for student attrition. Assessing emotional intelligence using the EQ-i® allows students to see potential areas for growth that may enhance adaptation and coping skills leading to academic achievement. I find the EQ-i particularly helpful for students seeking direction in their academic or life plan.

While no assessment tool can foresee every difficulty faced by our students on the path to graduation, I have found these tools to be helpful for communication, planning, and advising. Not a certified MBTI or EQ-i user? Check with your human resources office for recommendations.

Have you tried these assessments? Other tools you suggest?

Enjoyed Twister and need a good summer read? Check out The Stormchasers.

Tortoise and the…Tortoise

Unlike the hare of Aesop’s Fable lore that mocked and ridiculed the slow tortoise before losing a race to him, the tortoise featured in this video knows what it means to help someone when they are feeling down. Or upside down.

Our work in student affairs, particularly in the first-year, is about up righting students when they need it and giving them a nudge in a new direction. Some days it is not about the race, but instead it is about the journey and who we can help along the way.

Be a tortoise today.

First-Year Experience Prep: The Quiz

Our dean of students office contributes to sessions throughout the university’s fifteen summer orientation programs including a welcome, faculty panel, family program and resource fair. Prior to the faculty panel that I facilitate most mornings, our orientation staff shares a list of discussion questions, a quiz of sorts, for parents and families to share with their student on the ride home from orientation. This quiz is a handy tool for any prospective first-year student and for the families they leave behind.

What is something you learned at orientation that surprised you?

What are your academic and social expectations for the first semester of college?

How will you handle things if your expectations aren’t met?

How often do you think we’ll talk and communicate during your first semester? What
will be the best times for us to connect?

How do you feel about your class schedule? Are you excited about your major?

What will you do if you get yourself into a jam?

How we should approach discussing money while you’re at school?

What information will we share through third-party access at the university?

What kind of meal plan do you think will be best for you?

How will we prepare for move-in day?

What will it be like to say goodbye?

When you think about beginning your first day at the university, what are you most excited about? What are you most nervous about?


What other topics should first-year students and their families discuss before the fall semester?

Digital Storytelling: Adventures in the First-Year Experience

Like many institutions, my university participates in the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) to measure programs and activities that enhance student learning and personal development. The purpose of NSSE is to help identify areas to improve the undergraduate experience in and out of the classroom.

The scholarship program that I coordinate hosts a first-year seminar course each fall for the 100 recipients of the award. The course is loosely based on the University 101 model framed by John Gardner when he was at the University of South Carolina. It follows an orientation and transition format and includes community-building activities for our program. We have a large group lecture for one hour each week and students meet in recitation groups of a dozen students for a second hour weekly.

In the NSSE spirit of enhancing the course experience and engaging our students, we try to integrate fun and a bit of technology for student projects. Our latest adventure was digital storytelling. Staff and peer mentors selected random movie genres, and a student from each recitation section drew from the genre options. We shared examples of digital storytelling and creating storyboards. We suggested task assignments such as videographer, actor, writer, and film editing to help the project go more smoothly. We made certain to review campus computer labs for the appropriate editing software in advance and provided this information to students. Finally, we stocked up on sale priced Flip Camcorders and gave this assignment to students:

  • Create a media project that embodies the transition to college and your first semester experience.
  • Final Project: No longer than 5 minutes and must include a flash mob.

The final productions were screened during our class “Film Festival” complete with popcorn and soda. Students were encouraged to vote for “Best Picture” and create award categories to fit the projects. Winning productions were featured on our student-run cable news channel.


There were a few bumpy roads throughout the ten-week project, but overall the response and student evaluations of the project assured us that students were engaged and most importantly, community was achieved. On an unexpected side note, our first semester grade point average rose to the highest level in five years, with no change in entering student academic profile. Of course we already look forward to repeating the project with our next student cohort.


Check out the final productions and let me know what you think.

Mystery/Thriller

Blair Witch

Western

Romantic Comedy

Action/Adventure

Musical

Crime/Gangster Part I and Part II

Zombie

A Year of Reflections on the First-Year Experience

Thanks for joining me this past year at Eighteen and Life for reflections on the first-year college experience and building a career on the wisdom of 18-year olds. Today, this blog is one year old. Although my work in student affairs is certainly not exclusive to first-year students, they are the students with whom I spend the majority of my time. The transition to any college or university can be a challenge. Each day, I get to help ease that transition in my little corner of the higher education world. We’ve come a long way.

The word freshman first appeared in the English language in 1550, when it was used to describe a newcomer or a novice in any field of endeavor. Only in the 1590’s did the word come to have specific reference to first-year students in an English university. The term was carried over to America in the next century. The first American freshmen, of course, were at Harvard. Harvard also inaugurated the first system of freshman counselors to ease the young man’s transition from home to college. ~John Orr Dwyer in The Freshman Year Experience

Catch and Release

The story of an Italian family who so smothered the social growth of their 12-year old boy that they are now being charged with child abuse was featured in Time Magazine this week. The boy had the motor skills of a toddler and had been so overprotected that that he could not mentally or physically keep up with children his own age. The article also cited a recent psychological study finding that 37% of Italian men from the ages of 30 to 34 still live with their mothers. Which makes me think that perhaps the hovering helicopter parents that we encounter in U.S. higher education are not all that bad.

In my student affairs work with first-generation college students and their families, I am frequently reminded of the Chinese Proverb,

Give a person a fish, and you feed them a day. Teach a person to fish, and you feed them for a lifetime.

Parents will call or email with questions regarding a program, service or special campus event. They are not seeking information for themselves; they are questions for their student. Although the intent is well meaning, I will generally invite parents to have their student contact me. My reasoning is that it is critically important for students to build their own networks of resources, on campus and in life. The “teach a person to fish” proverb is essential in all matters related to a college education. There is a lot to think about for an 18-year old in the transition to college. Parents and families need to set the teaching example, not just do the job for students.

Have the time of your life!

Congratulations to the 2009 Hixson Scholars who begin the first day of their college career today. You should be very proud of the accomplishments that brought you to this point. There are a lot of people at home and here on campus who are really pulling for you, so make this opportunity count. There are fifteen peer mentors in our program who are as eager to meet you as I am. They are some of smartest student leaders with whom I have ever worked, so I know they will be great resources for you.


Don’t worry about dropping your tray in the dining center, getting on the wrong CyRide Bus, or getting lost on the way to class. Those things happen to everyone and we all survive. Focus on the big picture, the adventure on which you have embarked. See you in class tonight!


It’s something unpredictable
but in the end it’s right.
I hope you have the time of your life.
~Green Day

College Students & Money: No new car, caviar, four star daydream

It’s handy having a international expert on financial literacy around when counseling first-year college students about managing their resources. Iowa State professor Tahira Hira is recognized for her work on consumer spending including debt and bankruptcy. As our graduates leave campus with some of the highest student loan debt in the nation, I feel an obligation to discuss personal finance during our first-year seminar.


Dr. Hira’s three main principles for college student financial well being:
  • Live within your means.
  • Spend less that you make.
  • Be mindful of borrowing, including consumer credit or students loans.
Spending plans are key to managing finances and Hira shares these tips for students:
  • Give yourself an allowance that fits your budget.
  • Balance your checkbook regularly.
  • Leave your credit cards at home to avoid impulse buying.
  • When going out for an evening, take only as much cash as you can afford with you.
  • Eliminate casual shopping.
  • Reduce stress with exercise, hobbies, or community service; versus shopping.
Our financial aid office partners with a great online tool called CashCourse that offers financial planning tools and economic tips. I utilize CashCourse for a personal finance assignment in our seminar course.

Quarters


Twenty-five cent coins met their demise in our Residence Halls several years ago when laundry room washers and dryers moved to digital payment via student ID cards. Students no longer hoarded rolls of quarters before moving to campus or worried about jammed coin dispensers. Now students are able to monitor machine availability and check if the wash cycle is finished, all via the internet.


Quarters used to equal the gold exchange rate in the residence hall. How will students shed the dreaded first-year fifteen if not running up and down stairs to check the nuclear baking cycle of the dryer? Will student engagement suffer when no one is negotiating over the next available washer? Sadly, it appears quarter status has been relegated to drinking game only.