The Value of Co-Curriculars and Professional Development

On Friday, September 5th, Elon hosted its annual Fall Organization Fair with over 200 campus organizations represented. As expected, hoards of first-year students (along with quite a few upperclassmen) ventured through a maze of tables, gathering flyers, brochures, and various other handouts while also enjoying assorted candies and baked goods (courtesy of eager organizations looking to attract new members)!

In my Elon 101, I made attendance at the Fall Organization Fair mandatory. But why? Why would I encourage my students to get involved in organizations, clubs, sports, Greek Life, and a cappella groups when studying should be their #1 priority? Well, it’s because college is about so much more than the classes you take. It’s about networking, becoming a leader, building tolerance, engaging new ideas, discovering hidden talents, and the list goes on. And though classes certainly touch on each of the aforesaid things, students spend the majority of their time in college *not* in a classroom. However, strategic involvement on campus that cultivates leadership and tolerance and skill development is the perfect antidote to “too much free time.”

Moreover, employers and graduate schools are looking for students who were active members of their collegiate community because involvement begets involvement. Those students who actively engaged with their campuses are likely to engage with their workplaces as well, and no one wants to hire an employee who couldn’t care less about their environment or the people who inhabit it.

Similarly, I’ve been engaging in a few co-curricular activities myself. You see, back in April I attended my first NACADA Conference, co-presenting with Jason on the value of Elon 101 and how it makes advising a part of every first-year students’ classroom experience. Also valuable, though, is the professional development of advisors. Because if we aren’t proactively assessing our work, researching avenues for improvement, and contributing to the advising community at large, we’re sacrificing the opportunity to grow in our profession and impact our campuses in meaningful and lasting ways.

For that reason, I applied to be a reviewer for NACADA’s upcoming publication Beyond Foundations, and I must say the experience was a very taxing but undoubtedly rewarding one. I was able to put my transferable skills to good use, making both my degrees in English very proud. But at the same time, I was able to actively engage in the very advice I share with first-year students on a daily basis: get involved, use your skills, take a chance, and make a difference.

And truth be told, it’s amazing how such simple advice can have such a huge impact.

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Drop/Add Survival Guide for First-Years at Elon

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  • At least attend the first-day of class (getting your hands on that syllabus is crucial)
  • Many “Intro” courses are misleading; for example, “Intro to Marketing” requires completion of ECO 111, BUS 202, and sophomore standing 
  • First-Year Foundations do not have to be finished in the first semester; if you’re not in a math course, it’s okay… you’ll take one in the spring
  • ENG 110 and COR 110 aren’t taken in the same semester; that’s why you’re in one or the other
  • In language courses, 121 is only ever offered in the fall; 122 is only ever offered in the spring
  • If you place into a language course number 200 or above, you’re proficient by Elon standards; however, taking that 200+ course is the only way to a). obtain 4sh of credit and b). satisfy half of your Civilization requirement
  • You’re in charge of your education; don’t change classes based on aggrieved rants on ratemyprofessors.com
  • Keep your schedule balanced (2 classes on MWF and 2 classes on T/TH is best if possible); 3 classes on MWF and 1 class on T/TH might sound great until you have 1 paper, 1 exam, and 1 group project all due on the same day 
  • Not all classes are created equal (some are 1sh/2sh or only half a semester); some art classes and music lessons come w/ additional fees
  • Generally speaking, do not take anything at the 300/400 level; professors don’t want first-year students in those classes and trust me, you don’t want to be in those classes either (we’re talking Junior/Senior level work)
  • You must take the World Languages & Cultures placement exam by October 1st; NO exceptions! (Visit Carlton to take the exam) 
  • You’re free to move up or down ONE level in any language without having to speak with a language coordinator 
  • It will be most difficult to change your COR 110 or ENG 110 classes; these courses are residentially linked for most of you, so I’d make changing them a last resort
  • 8am and Friday classes are not the enemy; you can use these 4 years to make your transition into the real world a smooth one, or you can use them to make that transition one of the most painful experiences of your young adult life 
  • Do not drop a class until you’re certain a replacement is a). open and b). works with the rest of your schedule
  • If you want an override into a closed class, email the Department Chair of that discipline (but do not drop your current class until you get approval from that Department Chair)
  • The Core Curriculum is not a peripheral, obligatory checklist; it’s a strategic way to explore your interests, determine what you value, build human capital, and develop transferable skills
  • A standard load is between 16sh and 18sh; if the 19th semester hour on your schedule is Elon 101, you’re totally fine!
  • You must meet with your academic advisor to make changes to your schedule (email doesn’t count).
  • Drop/Add lasts an ENTIRE week
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Advice for Elon 101 TAs

New Student Convocation is right around the corner (as in, tomorrow morning at 9am)! To help you prepare for the student/parent meetings that follow, consider some of the tips below: 

Tip #1: Students and Parents want to hear about YOUR experience; don’t be afraid to speak up 

Tip #2: They also want to hear about your SUCCESS; dust off those “I’m awesome” stories and get them excited about taking advantage of Elon’s opportunities

Tip #3: EMPATHIZE; you’ve been where they are – let them know it gets easier

Tip #4: Talk about the ACADEMIC stuff, too! That’s the main reason they’re here – share anecdotes about your major, the exploration process, research projects, internships, global experiences, etc. 

Tip #5: Highlight your campus INVOLVEMENT; show them the benefits of attending this fall’s organization fair 

Tip #6: Share awesome anecdotes from your ELON 101 experience 

Tip #7: Explain your role as a TA

Tip #8: LEAD tomorrow’s icebreaker; let them know you’re an ACTIVE participant in this class, not just someone who sits in the corner and takes attendance 

Tip #9: Feel free to share your digits and/or email with your students; they’ll probably need you more this first week than any other time on campus 

Tip #10: Be AUTHENTIC 

Thanks for being awesome! 

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Why Deep Learning is Better than Shallow Achievement

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Not many people associate failure with success, and there’s a good reason for that. Failure often means inadequacy or a lack of preparedness. However, failure also means something else. It means you’re trying, learning, and growing. It means you’re stumbling your way to expertise. And really, there is no route to expertise that doesn’t involve a few pitfalls. As a toddler, I didn’t just wake up one day knowing how to speak perfect English. I would butcher subject-verb agreements, I would misuse tenses, and I would mispronounce several words. In fact, before grasping the phrase “Will you hold me?” I simply looked at people and said, “Hold you me.” But since then, I’ve developed a firm grasp of the English language, so much so that I went on to study English in college. But here’s the funny thing about college: it takes what you think you know and turns it on itself. All of a sudden, my firm grasp of the English language wasn’t so firm. Sure, I could speak and write and read it, but I couldn’t interpret or manipulate the language like an expert. I still needed to try and learn and grow. I still needed to stumble.

And I’ll admit – stumbling through something is not easy. Actually, that’s a lie. The stumbling part is very easy. It’s the picking yourself back up and telling yourself you’re not a failure that’s not so easy. But why is that? Why are we so quick to label ourselves failures after one mistake? One bad grade? One less than perfect experience?

For me, it was because my identity was tied to my grades. If I didn’t get A’s, I was an incomplete and imperfect person. If I didn’t get A’s, I wasn’t good enough to mingle with those who did. If I didn’t get A’s, I wasn’t an expert. But since my time in college, I’ve noticed a few flaws in my logic, the first being this: you don’t go to college as an expert. The classes you take are meant to teach you things, to introduce you to new concepts, to challenge your belief systems. If you’re getting A’s in those classes from the very start, there’s a good chance you’ve already learned those things, been introduced to those concepts, and survived an assault on your beliefs. And if that’s the case, why are you in those classes? Why are you using college to reinforce what you already know when you could be using it to learn something new? Why are you strategically choosing A’s when college is about a deeper kind of learning? The kind that requires real sacrifice. The kind that tests your limits. The kind that leaves you spent but still hungry for more.

And college is the perfect place to be hungry. Sure, you have plenty of dining halls to keep you in pizza and frozen yogurt, but you also have this awesome buffet of courses and experts and opportunities just waiting for you to take advantage. So please – for yourself and for everyone else not quite so lucky – take advantage of your education. Take classes that interest you, even if they’re “harder” than most. Go after that internship even if you’re told you have a snowball’s chance in Hades. Ask questions even when you think you have all the answers. 

But most importantly, don’t be afraid to fail. Because if you’re not failing, you’re not learning. And if you’re not learning, you’re not growing. And if you’re not growing, you’re not doing college right. 

Fail. Learn. Grow. Don’t squander deep learning in favor of shallow achievement. That “A” on your transcript means nothing if you can’t articulate and apply the knowledge obtained on your journey to scholastic perfection. So obtain the real knowledge, ask the hard questions, do the even harder work, and stumble your way to success. 

“It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default.” – J.K. Rowling

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“Hi, I’d Like to Change My Schedule…”

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Here in Academic Support and Advising, we’ve heard this phrase rather frequently over the last few weeks. In fact, it’s become the typical greeting of first-year students, usually followed by some version of “Well, I’m going to be a Marketing major, so I don’t really understand why I’m in a history class.”

And I get it. It makes sense for students to want to jump right into their prospective degree programs – after all, taking those introductory courses is often the key to figuring out if you’re on the right path. But what I like to help students realize is that these “other” courses – the ones assumed to have no connection to the schools of Business, Communication, or Education – are anything but peripheral.

So at this juncture in the conversation, I usually start talking about Elon’s Core Curriculum and the benefit of a liberal arts education – a phrase so negatively associated with unemployment that it’s almost always greeted with skepticism. But here’s the thing: I have TWO liberal arts degrees, and while I haven’t been in a steady career for the last 25 years, I did land a job right out of graduate school at the ripe ‘ole age of 25. And I have my degrees – and their wonderfully transferable skills – to thank. But before reaching for the archaic adage of “If I can do it, you can do it, too,” I try to meet first-years where they are, articulating what I believe are the most important values of a liberal arts education.

A Strong Foundation

I encourage new students to complete their first-year foundations in a timely manner since these courses teach the invaluable skills of careful reading, persuasive and effective writing, quantitative analysis, and cultural sensitivity. And as many students have attested on Elon’s Are You Ready? website, these skills are critical to future success, both in and outside the classroom. For more information and some great student testimonials, check out this link: http://blogs.elon.edu/areyouready/core-curriculum/

Strategic Curiosity

I try to explain the Core Curriculum in a way that makes it seem less like an obligatory checklist and more like a streamlined way to explore additional interests while supplementing primary ones. Because in all honesty, there’s nothing a student will study in Elon’s Core Curriculum that can’t be applied to a major outside the Arts and Sciences. And believe me when I say I’m not just parroting some script in the advising center. I really do see the value in these courses, and lucky for me, so do Elon students. In fact, here’s what one Elon 101 TA had to say when asked to assess the applicability of Elon’s Core Curriculum to various degree programs:

1. THE 125 “Acting for Non-Majors” would help a Strategic Communications major by helping the student learn to interact with other people as an actor interacts with other cast members and learn to put oneself into another mindset, as they would a character they are acting out, to better communicate with different types of people.

2. HST 221 “The World in the 20th Century” would help an Education major because the student could integrate relevant topics from that century into their teaching and lesson plans when they go on to teach or it could help the student decide what interests him or her and what they want to specifically teach as they pursue a career in education.

3. PSY 111 “Introduction to Psychology” would help a Finance major because it could teach the student how the mind works and what motivates people to do things, which that student could apply to the use of money. Furthermore, it could also help him or her because it would teach them how to work with people based on the way they think.

4. BIO 106 “The Science of Life” would help a Philosophy major because it could help them think deeper into things that can be explained by science and to apply that when thinking philosophically about things that occur in the world; in other words, it could give the student a different way to look at the topics they examine through a philosophical lens.

Transferable Skills

I remember back in undergrad – after deciding to major in English – hearing a never-ending conga line of “So, what are you gonna do with that? Teach?” For a while, I prided myself on responding to said question with a big, resounding “NO!” Because let’s face it: what 18 year-old wants to seem cliché? But all it took was one semester as a TA for one of Stetson’s most beloved English professors, and I was hooked. Not only did I go on to get my B.A., but I added on a Master’s degree for good measure, and this fall, I’ll be trying my luck at Ph.D. applications. But what I love most about my degrees is that instead of opening one door, they opened several. They provided me with so many skills – from interpersonal communication to cultural sensitivity to research to editing to marketing (you get the picture). They gave me a chance to explore. To ask “why.” To cultivate my own answers to universal questions. To consider different and often challenging perspectives. To grow.

So instead of confining themselves to a checklist of peripheral obligations, I charge Elon’s class of 2018 to make the most of our Core Curriculum, using these courses to their inquisitive advantage. College is a temporary investment, but its return lasts a lifetime. Don’t squander the limited time you have to explore, because as J.R.R. Tolkien famously writes, “Not all those who wander are lost.”

- Maggie

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Summers, Schedules, and Smitty’s

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Two summers ago, I found myself in the midst of something unexpected. After designing a new system for first-year registration, my boss at the time stepped down from his position, leaving the new system’s implementation in some very nervous hands, mine included. At the time, Stetson was eager to build student agency, capitalizing on the university’s commitment to personal and social responsibility. Naturally, it seemed fitting to begin this process with students before they even arrived on campus, and so it was decided that first-years – in becoming responsible agents over their own lives – would play a significant role in building their first-semester schedules. In other words, advisors would register students for two of their four classes (usually a First-Year Seminar and a course in their major), and students would register themselves for the remaining two courses (usually a Math or English course and a general-education requirement). A 2+2 system, if you will.

Though taxing and sometimes unpredictable, the new system was ultimately a success, and come October, it was very nice to work with a first-year class who already knew the ins-and-outs of registration.

This summer, though still consumed with schedules, will be a bit different. Starting today, I’ll be assisting many others in my office as we build schedules for Elon’s incoming class of over 1500 students. Graciously, my fellow advisors have eased me into the process with bribery, allowing me to work with intended Arts & Sciences majors, particularly those with interests in English, History, and the Social Sciences. They know me so well…

Additionally, our advising guru – aka, the person everyone goes to when they have a question – has put together a fantastic cheat sheet for building schedules. Trouble is, I’ve never been through this process apart from standardized drop/add and preregistration procedures. So while building schedules is nothing new, the thought of building schedules for 1500+ students based on rules and regulations that can’t be memorized (due to their sheer number) has me feeling like a very small fish in a very large pond.

Regardless, here’s hoping the process is relatively painless. And whether it is or isn’t, I know one thing to be true. Once schedules are released, I will be rewarding myself with one of the best things Elon has to offer: Smitty’s ice cream.

Until then!

- Maggie

 

 

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TA Training: Turning Vision into Reality

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T.S. Eliot once said, “April is the cruellest month,” and while in graduate school – consumed with deadlines and unforgiving fatigue –  I had no choice but to agree with him. But now, having ventured to the other side of higher education, I’m happy to report April is much more than four weeks of non-stop paper writing. In fact, it’s probably the most exciting month I’ve spent at Elon.

You see, after months of programmatic assessment and research, Elon 101 TAs were given the option to attend one of five trainings in the spring of 2014. Each training lasted a total of three hours and covered the following material:

  • TA Responsibilities/Expectations/Professional Development
  • The Honor Code
  • Elon’s Core Curriculum
  • Student Success/Campus Resources
  • Personal, Collective, and Transformative Leadership

Additionally, the learning outcomes of these trainings were designed in accordance with the learning outcomes of Elon 101 to assure the preparedness of TAs to help first-years navigate the expectations of a liberally founded, academically rigorous, and culturally diverse education. Moreover, to ensure deep learning and relevancy, TAs worked in pairs and larger groups to think about the following:

  • Name one class from Expression, Civilization, Society, and Science. How does each of these classes supplement a degree in Business, Communication, Education, and the Arts/Sciences?
  • Why are the four pillars of Elon’s Honor Code important? How do they relate to an Elon education? How do they prepare students for life after Elon?
  • Define personal, collective, and transformative leadership. How does each relate to your role as an Elon 101 TA? How will you inspire leadership in first-year students?

At the conclusion of each training, TAs completed evaluations based on learning outcomes, skill implementation, and suggestions for future trainings. While most TAs agreed the training should be shorter, the feedback was overwhelmingly positive, and a breakdown of collective responses was recorded.

Between now and August 1st, TAs will supplement their formal training with the completion of five online summer modules through the TA Moodle site. Each module will include a corresponding quiz for assessment purposes, and that data will be made available in a fall 2014 report. In keeping with the overall learning outcomes of TA training, these modules will cover the following material:

  • Leadership
  • Skill Development/My Plan
  • Elon’s Core Curriculum/Preregistration
  • Diversity
  • The Common Read (The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind)

Over the summer, I will be available to answer questions and troubleshoot issues that may arise as TAs complete the online modules. Additionally, I will continue to assess the qualitative data from this spring’s trainings, taking note of emerging themes/trends. Already identified (and under consideration for the make-up training(s) in late August/early September) are the following:

  • Make the training shorter (2 hours)
  • Keep trainings relatively small (no more than 12 people)
  • Reserve classrooms that lend themselves to discussion, not lecture
  • Make the training even more interactive
  • Let former TAs have more time to share experiences

Data

At a glance:

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Instructors’ presentation styles, TA development, and learning outcomes:

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TA growth and/or learning in the following areas:

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Professional development opportunities:

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TAs and the Residential Campus Initiative:

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Next Steps

  • Continue working with Chris Leupold regarding leadership development for Elon 101 TAs
  • Select 2014-2015 Major Ambassadors and TA Task Force members
  • Pilot the Major Ambassador Program (MAP) this fall
  • Hold 2 TA meetings during the 2014-2015 academic year (one in the fall, one in the spring)
  • Distribute and collect TA evaluations in December 2014 (design is underway)
  • Work with the TA Task Force toward a Task Force facilitated training next spring

 

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