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.

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

Divine 2009…Zen 2010?

Reflecting on 2009, there is much to celebrate, but many more reasons to be excited for the year ahead.

Adventures in student success and the first-year seminar: I may have mentioned a time or two that I work with the best students in the world. They challenge and inspire me every day of the year. I love my job.
Road trip with 120 students
Digital Storytelling Project
Blogging
Tom Krieglstein
Vernon Wall
Marshmallow Wars

Adventures in Student Affairs: With tight budgets and reduced funding, most of my professional development in 2009 did not cost a cent. I interact daily with wonderful student affairs professionals and treasure their connections.
Class with John Schuh

Adventures in Type: I made inspiring connections through MBTI and the Association for Psychological Type International (APTi) in 2009 and volunteered for some new professional duties.
APTi Conference
Vice President for Professional Development, APTi eChapter
Director of Communications, APTi
Collaboration with Dan Robinson

Year’s end is neither an end nor a beginning but a going on, with all the wisdom that experience can instill in us. ~Hal Borland

Twitter me this…tools for campus


Found a great list of tools for utilizing Twitter in the classroom this week. Many of these applications would be fun for first-year seminar activities, but I think I may do some investigating for adding a dimension to our peer leadership course.


What is your experience with Twitter in the classroom? Any favorites on this list?

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.

For many of the great, great successes of the world…

For many of the great, great successes of the world, the background they came from was their great challenge. I’m trying to find those people. Those who may not have the highest grade point or a perfect family background, but who can be successful. These are the ones who will lend the helping hands in the future. ~ Christina Hixson

The Hixson Opportunity Awards began at our university in 1995. Since that time, I have read thousands of scholarship applications, hoping to identify the student who is most deserving and most needs our support. The student who will become that helping hand of the future.

I have instructed our students as they muddled through the first college year. We have spent endless hours counseling students struggling with a class, roommate, finances or the multitude of challenges faced by first-generation college students in the quest for a degree. Most importantly, we have helped to develop leaders and scholars through connections, resources, and occasional 3 a.m. phone calls. Our program focus of community, challenge and support has become a model for retention and graduation success duplicated at other universities.

To celebrate the 10th anniversary of the first Hixson Scholars graduating from Iowa State, my good friend Steve Sullivan revisited many of the students he featured in stories over the years. Our students, and now our alumni, are the backbone of the Hixson Program. Take a peek at his Visions magazine feature.


Come for fun, stay for love…

The fun thing about being enrolled again as a student at my institution is that you receive all of the specialty student email blasts and announcements from student organizations. Like this one.

SUMMER Speed Date Event
Find your summer love at our next Speed Dating Event! Instant Dating will again be hosting a 3-Minute Dating Event. You will go on up to 50 dates in one night!

Who: All Iowa State students

What: 3-Minute Dating hosted by Instant-Dating

When: Wednesday, July 1st, 2009

Time: Starts at 7pm (you may come late or leave early as needed)

Where: 136 UDCC; First Floor Conference Room in the UDCC (below the dining services, down the hallway from the UDA hall desk)

Admission: $7

How it works: Everyone is assigned a “number-nametag” after signing in. You will then rotate every 3 minutes as you go on ‘mini’blind-dates (It’s like you’re on your very own reality Bachelor or Bachelorette show!). At the end of the event, you can choose the “numbers” of people you would be interested in seeing again on a second date. Then within 48 hours of the event, an email will be sent to you containing all of your mutual matches with their name and email address. Good Luck! (NO pre-registration is required)

Take a break from studying! Come for fun, stay for love…
Sounds like a new theme for our first-year seminar and university retention efforts.
Come for fun, stay for love…

Facebook for Orientation Webinar Recap

This post originally appeared at The Student Affairs Blog.

I had the pleasure of joining a “Facebook for Orientation” Webinar with Jennifer Sherry of Virginia Commonwealth and Beth Oakley with University of Windsor. While my colleagues shared how Facebook can be utilized at the university and department level to communicate and engage students, I shared the use of Facebook in a first-year seminar for community building and networking within a specific program.  

Much of my campus time is spent coordinating a
 scholarship program that enrolls 100 new students each year (I should be reading applications right now). These students have long been Facebook users, as I shared here. Inspired by ideas from Tania Dudina over at the Student Leader Blog, I took advantage of that Facebook comfort and created a social networking assignment for the course last fall.


To introduce the topic, I shared my own social networks and links for our program Facebook accounts, a
 group and a profile. This video explanation of social networks was helpful and moved the emphasis beyond Facebook privacy settings to the actual functions of a social network. 


Social Networking Assignment

1. Identify and join a new social network. Try Facebook, if not already a member (98% were Facebook users).

  • A list of networks is available here.
  • Upon creating your new social network profile, identify 5 new friends or links. Make a screenshot of your new network homepage, save as a jpg, attach, and submit via email.

2. Now that you are on Facebook, locate an alumni/ae of the program with whom to link.

  • Interview your new alumni link regarding their advice for first-year students, favorite memories, motivational quotes or career choices.
  • Create a PowerPoint slide of your alumni interview highlights. Submit it as an email attachment.

Response to this assignment was favorable and students researched a variety of creative networks. Many of our alumni are new Facebook users and enjoyed the opportunity to link back with the program. Next fall we will include the alumni assignment and may introduce blogging and wikis. We’ll see where it takes us.

Many thanks to the folks at Swift Kick for coordinating the webinar!

Facebook for Orientation webinar

I am joining a panel of student affairs folks for a webinar titled Facebook for Orientation today. Each of us will share a little about how we utilize the Facebook network for linking with our new students at enrollment and beyond. The webinar is sponsored by the very cool people at SwiftKick, creators of RedRover and founders of the Student Affairs Blog. It will be at 12 noon CST. Join us to share in the discussion!

Register here.