A funny thing happened at the awards ceremony

We recently hosted a celebration for the learning community peer mentors on our campus. Our campus offers many learning communities linking courses and residence halls and this ceremony is an annual event to honor the student leaders in the academic units and courses. The mentors are nominated for the awards by their professors, course coordinators, and also their students.

As with many ceremonies, some students are able to attend, some have schedule conflicts. This year, we had an opportunity to honor a student who was a mentor last fall and then graduated at semester. At first he was not able to attend, but when he checked in and picked up his nametag, our committee made certain that his award was added to the program for presentation.

The student’s name was announced and he made his way to the podium while glowing praise was read from his award recommendation letters. He was one of the students who dressed up for the event, even donning a tie. The student accepted his certificate and paused for photos with the other student award recipients.

But it was the wrong guy.

You see, when the nominated peer mentor graduated last December, his university email account was closed. When notification was sent to award recipients, the email bounced to a student with the same name. This student with the same name believes he was nominated for and won an award, because we told him that he did. He then dressed up, attended the awards ceremony, and accepted an award to much fanfare and applause. If the learning community coordinator had not been there to discretely mention that he wasn’t the correct student, we would never have known.

Lessons to learn? Double-checking email addresses is pretty obvious. But what do we learn from a student who accepts an award that he has not earned? Is there a message here about the need to be noticed among a sea of faces on the university campus? I’ll take it as a special reminder that all of our students deserve recognition and appreciation. And perhaps they need it more than once a year at awards ceremonies.

Getting to know you? Create a cover story!

Here is a great idea for getting to know a new class of students at the beginning of the semester: ask students to create a magazine cover! It comes from Barbara Nixon, an assistant professor at Georgia Southern. I follow Barbara’s blog and on Twitter because she is always sharing great gems such as this assignment for her Public Relations course. I may utilize the concept to introduce our peer leaders to new first-year students, still letting the idea percolate. 

Of course, I am partial to magazine covers. The image above is the birth announcement for my son (created without the handy-dandy website!)

Peer Leader Prep Talk

It was energizing to be back in the office today and begin preparations for the semester. We teach a leadership development course each spring for the students selected as peer mentors in our program for the upcoming year. The course introduces concepts of peer leadership enhanced with student development theory and personal discovery through MBTI and EQ-i assessment. 

We selected a new text for the course after five years, so winter break has been spent defining the chapters and assignments for the syllabus. The new book offers interesting case studies with each chapter to utilize for group discussion assignments. 

In addition to work on the syllabus, I have been rereading Delaney Kirk’s Taking Back the Classroom. It has great ideas for preparing peer mentors for the reality of the classroom. Coincidentally, Dr. Kirk posted 6 Tips For The First Day of Class on her blog today. Here’s a list, but be sure to check out the details.

1. Develop Your Philosophy of Teaching

2. Establish Your Credibility
3. Determine Your Class Culture
4. Be Clear about Your Expectations
5. Use the First Day of Class Wisely
6. Handle Discipline Problems Right Away
How do you develop peer leaders on your campus?

End-of-the-year Bonus

At the final semester banquet for our student leaders, lots of fun stories and jokes from throughout the past year were shared. These students were part of a year-long program of leadership and development training that includes first-year seminar course facilitation in the fall semester. 

As we were enjoying dessert, one of our seniors, Adam, mentioned that in his last class he shared with his students that I was the reason he was still in college. His co-leader, Kelsey, chimed in that Adam had indeed given a presentation on how he had made it through college with my help. Curious as to the reasoning, I asked Adam how I was of influence. 

“You kicked my butt. And you didn’t stop kicking my butt until I straightened out.”

You see, Adam had a little difficulty with academic focus early on in his college career. We spent many an afternoon chatting about goals, grades, and graduation and why his current choices were not getting him closer to any of them. Eventually, Adam got it figured out. This year he is president of the academic club in his major in addition to serving as a peer mentor in our program. He will graduate in May.

And that is why I do what I do. The financial rewards in higher education will never rival CEO pay. Our hours are crazy, we don’t travel in private jets, and the temperature control in our buildings never seems to coincide with the season. But every once in a while, we get these little gems of appreciation from students that remind us that we touch lives. And kick butt. Which makes for a pretty nice end-of-the-year bonus in my book.

Constructive Criticism: Wisdom from The Last Lecture

For their midterm assessment, our peer mentors in the first-year seminar were asked to provide a class presentation on the topic of their choice. The presentations were reviewed by our staff and also their peers in the leadership course. We completed half of the presentations last week and collected evaluations. Most were ambiguous praise such as “Great job!” and “Nice Powerpoint!”. As a preface to the presentations this week, my graduate assistant offered this gem of wisdom from Randy Pausch’s The Last Lecture.

When you are doing something badly and no one’s bothering to tell you anymore, that’s a very bad place to be. Your critics are the ones still telling you they love you and care.

It was evident from their demeanor and the significant increase in writing on the review forms that our peer leaders took these words to heart and began to show the love. Much of the feedback continued to be positive, but comments were more direct and offered suggestions for improvement.

Pausch asked the question of what wisdom would we impart if we knew it were our last chance. I continue to find wonderful lessons in his writings and explore their opportunity for my first-year seminar and other student programming. Pausch wrote his book to share a bit of himself with his children, but I think he would be pleased that his message has application in student development, particularly leadership, as discussed over at The Student Leader Blog.

What is your favorite lesson or idea from The Last Lecture?
How are you incorporating The Last Lecture into your curriculum?