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Campus Collaboration for Student Success

Campus Collaboration for Student Success


By Shonna Dent, Director of Academic Affairs, College of Health Care Professions

There are various components that make up a solid foundation for student success. Enhancing and building upon current life skills will lead an individual to be successful in their career. How is this accomplished? It starts with the experience a student has during their educational journey. The process isn’t easy, nor is it done overnight, but when a campus collaborates to build and maintain a solid foundation for student success, the results are in the outcomes. Campus collaboration brings about student success by encouraging that the foundation is solid and all interested parties have buy-in to this process and have contributed in an effort to assist students in reaching their goal of passing their certifications or obtaining licensure, graduating college and starting their new career.

As educators and leaders working in this amazing and rewarding sector, we have student success at the forefront of our minds and our hearts.

We are constantly evaluating and considering innovative ways to make an impact on the educational journey of a student. What if we consider making that impact before the student starts their first college course or even during their first college course? What if we think differently and put ourselves aside for a minute and consider more than just “me or I” working to make that impact? What if an entire campus was working together like a well-oiled machine to build a strong foundation that could hold up an entire group of students as they work tirelessly going to college while attending to their stressful lives? “Light bulb” moment, right?

When a campus begins to evaluate the life cycle of a student, there are various and sporadic time frames in that life cycle that a student may become distant, lose sight of their original goal, become scared, or stop coming to school entirely. With the metrics that many schools have in place, evaluations like this occur all the time. Attrition is monitored along with student satisfaction, but at what point do we consider that we need to evaluate ourselves as a campus? That we need to evaluate our own life cycle and determine how we fit in to the successful progression of a student’s educational journey? Campus collaboration for student success begins with that key step; evaluating ourselves and how the entire team puts forth consorted effort to ensure all students have the necessary foundation and resources needed to be successful throughout their college experience and leading into their new career.

In order to make a positive and profound impact on setting up the foundation for student success, the campus leadership team has to start from the beginning. We need to evaluate how students are oriented into their new, exciting and often scary learning and training environment. How are new students introduced to the school? What information is provided to new students? Do new students receive information on how to be successful as a working student or does the new student just receive the information on campus and course policies and procedures? Asking these questions is very important because it allows the opportunity to identify the strengths and weaknesses of the current foundation that exists or possibly doesn’t exist at your campus.

There are specific skills that a new student needs to learn, practice and demonstrate in order for the foundation to become solid.

These skills are taught, demonstrated and mentored by an entire campus, not just the individual presenting at orientation, nor just the instructor teaching the first course. The culture of a campus has to be consumed by the mission of coming together for student success, having an attitude that exudes commitment and a belief in the importance of building and fortifying the foundation for student success.

The skills that college students need in order for them to be successful include understanding expectations and accountability; learning critical thinking skills and how to use them effectively in college, life and their career; understanding how to communicate effectively; how to manage stress and resolve conflict; the importance of managing time; the importance of motivation and its relation to achieving goals; understanding diversity in the learning and work environment; working in a team; and the importance of leadership. Altogether, these skills comprise the foundation that is crucial for college and career success.

Setting expectations to include not only reviewing the syllabus to outline the course objectives and what will be expected of the student as they progress through the course, but also the expectations the students should have of the faculty and entire campus. Attitude and accountability are two words that are interchangeable as conversations of expectations are had before and during class. Although it is important to review policies and procedures of the school, unless you ensure that they are related to how they weave into the foundation, their importance won’t stick with the student and they will disregard them.

Critical thinking for college, life and career is a concept that, when taught and practiced, becomes part of the foundation that assists the student with evaluating circumstances and overcoming small and bigger issues. “Critical thinking is the intellectually disciplined process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief and action. In its exemplary form, it is based on universal intellectual values that transcend subject matter divisions: clarity, accuracy, precision, consistency, relevance, sound evidence, good reasons, depth, breadth, and fairness” (National Council for Excellence in Critical Thinking). When students can conceptualize that going to college and learning new disciplines is not always going to be easy, they can begin to understand that by using critical thinking skills to process information, break that information down into steps and formulate a new way of thinking, they become less stressed and buy in to the learning that is occurring.

Learning to solve problems on their own helps students lessen the frustration that they often feel. Students that think critically are more apt to begin building confidence and are more comfortable asking questions to learn the “why, when and how,” something works.

Effectively communicating is a skill that is not easily learned. Teaching new students the importance of communicating their needs or frustrations and listening to what solutions are posed is a consorted effort that must occur within the entire campus culture. Communicating effectively must be practiced consistently between students and their instructors, as well as students and campus departments. In order to build trust between students and the campus, there has to be respect and integrity in what is said and done. Communicating those efforts, whether verbal or non-verbal sets that stage for a more solid foundation that will allow for the building of a relationship to occur. Students can get as frustrated as faculty at times and if those frustrations are not discussed in an effective and safe manner, there will never be a solution and a student will continue to withdraw themselves and ultimately disappear entirely.

Conflict resolution incorporates teaching students how to deal with issues that may arise between themselves and other students or campus staff or issues that may arise at home and work. When students understand, identify, and can resolve conflict, it becomes a stress reducer. This allows students to better understand what is bothering them and can overcome those factors. Conflict can occur at any time and when we can teach and mentor students on how to resolve issues by taking ownership and practicing good habits, the student is more likely to move forward and progress instead of running away and avoiding the situation. Thus, assisting in moving the student forward towards their goals and not retreating and quitting.

Educating students and introducing them to the campus culture must occur right away. Expressing to students and practicing what we preach will instill a sense of community and provide the expectations that the campus culture promotes respect, a non-judgmental and inclusive learning environment. Allowing for a safe, collaborative and positive learning environment builds upon the foundation that stimulates growth and opportunity. It doesn’t matter where someone comes from or what their life has been like – if they have a goal that they want to achieve and going to college fits into reaching and achieving that goal, then that is what we need to encourage and support. Working in the field, students will meet individuals with various backgrounds that are from a variety of cultures.

The world is more diverse than ever and learning how to work with others in an environment where faculty and the campus can set a good example helps to instill the importance of this fact. Your college must have a diverse team that looks and also really understands your students. They need to be able to relate.

Teaching students stress management techniques or ways to cope with life situations would be easily accomplished if we just offered yoga classes or massage therapy at our campuses. Since that isn’t really an option for most higher education institutions, we must teach students how to manage their stress and provide coping strategies that will assist them throughout the educational journey and ultimately in their careers. What one student considers a stressful situation isn’t always the same for another student. A student can become stressed without anyone even knowing, the student just disappears. This isn’t to say that students will always tell someone they are stressed or are dealing with a life situation, it is to say that if we can provide stress management tips and promote ways to cope with stress, students will be able to identify what is stress versus what may just be a hiccup in their day. The students that learn stress management techniques are able to work through those situations more effectively because they learn to identify the triggers of the stress. Stress can accumulate for students and can contribute to walls that begin to rise along the pathway that a student is travelling on or stress can contribute to the development of roadblocks that land right in front of a student. Teaching students how to spot those walls and roadblocks that may be inhibiting them from moving forward to reach their goals will ultimately contribute to them breaking those walls and roadblocks down so they can succeed. Once a student can overcome their fears, it is much easier to help them remember the “why,” to assist them in understanding that they don’t get to quit.

Time management has an integral space in the foundation for student success. When a new student starts their first class and the instructor is providing an overview of the course to include not only what the student will be learning, but providing an overview of the assignments, reading, assessment and projects that the student will be responsible for completing, the facial expressions of the new students are often blank and the instructor can almost immediately see stress beginning to set it. Assisting students with learning how to manage their new life as a college student that is most likely working and possibly taking care of their family or another family, is crucial for their success. Telling a student that they are now in college and that they will need to manage their time in order to get good grades won’t cut it. We have to teach students about time. Assist them in actually listing what they currently do with their time. Helping them identify which of those items on their list are important and which ones may need to be set aside in order to add the “new” time into their schedule that will be needed to account for as it relates to college obligations. Educating students on effective time management by using examples and by instructors leading by example will make the transition into college more successful.

Incorporating leadership training and development into the new student experience assists the instructor with leveraging accountability. Not only from the instructor and campus perspective, but also from the student perspective. The leadership training that is incorporated into the foundation isn’t the typical leadership training. Even though you can discuss leadership styles and even take a fun leadership assessment, the key to this concept is education and mentoring students on leadership characteristics. The characteristics that the student will need to understand and practice throughout school and hopefully take those with them into their career field. Discussing what a leader is and the importance of becoming a leader, as well as growing other leaders contributes to the success of the individual and the campus as a whole. Elaborating on the effectiveness of a strong leader while promoting the importance of taking control of their own educational experience instills a sense of self-worth that some students may not know of or have ever felt before. Understanding how this feels to our students becomes evident in their actions and leads them in the direction to begin working together with the classmates and colleagues as a more effective team member and further enhances the importance of professionalism. Honing in on the importance of being professional and promoting the professional skills that make an effective contributor to an organization is important for the growth of the student. Tying leadership into professionalism fits like a glove and becomes easier to envision for students when they are taught the importance and can see that the campus culture promotes that type of individual. By professionalism, I don’t necessarily mean that the student just needs to be a professional. The concept has to be broken down and explained in a manner that leaves the student knowing that being a professional is something that starts deep within themselves. It begins with respecting themselves and understanding that being a professional is an art that has to be practiced and displayed in everything they do. Looking the part, speaking the part, having the best attitude, showing up on time, staying until the end of a project, holding themselves accountable, taking responsibility, respecting others and gaining respect, mentoring others, having confidence, and sticking to their plan regardless of the roadblocks that may show up along their path.

Building a foundation for student success that is strong, sturdy and resilient is inclusive of the many skills and concepts that have been discussed. Now to sprinkle on the topping of student learning and community resources. Incorporating the presentation of resources that are available to assist students with learning new concepts, how to study those concepts and apply what they have learned along with presenting local community resources that may be available to students as they attend school helps to remind students that they are not alone in their journey. Providing opportunities for students to learn how to learn gives them a sense of belonging and allows them to be honest about their fears of possible failure. Students will encounter obstacles along the way and when they are aware of the resources available to them, they are more open to asking about the resources and seeking guidance that could alter their decision to quit school because they find a way to overcome the obstacle and move forward. We often have to remind students of the tools and resources available to them and that almost all students have obstacles.

This takes an entire campus working together to identify the signs that a student is struggling and jumping in, no matter what, to assist the student and get them moving in the direction that they need to go in or to talk to the person that can assist.

Campus collaboration includes everyone. From campus leadership to the janitor, it doesn’t matter the order of hierarchy, everyone is committed and working together in an effort to ensure the foundation is built and solidified for students to become successful and stay successful. The skills and concepts are presented to new students prior to beginning their first class or during the first class so that the students have every opportunity to become prepared to start out on the right path toward their success. Concepts can be introduced and incorporated into any course material because they are all intertwined together and only enhance the material. Helping students learn more about themselves as individuals and then assisting them with building good habits that will stick with them throughout their education journey and future career is what we need to do. Motivating our campuses to motivate our students in a joined effort not only feels good, it feels right. Seeing how intrinsic motivation comes into play in an environment that is conducive to putting forth the necessary commitment to student success is a truly beautiful sight. The only sight better is the one we see at graduation. When we see all of the hard work that our students have put in along with the hard lifting of our campus teams coming together as the students walk across the stage as graduates. That is the most beautiful sight by far.

The overarching question is – Does your campus culture and processes work for an adult learner living day-to-day. How do you go about implementing this type of change? Setting the stage for building a foundation for student success? It starts with bringing the campus team together. Discussing the “intent” of the change. Why would this be something that could contribute to the betterment of the college? What is the return on investment? Find out what already occurs along the journey of the student starting with admission and moving through to graduation and employment. How are the new students oriented into the campus and campus culture? Brainstorm ideas that you glean from all departments as they relate to the foundation. Analyzing more than just numbers, analyzing the experiences of our students and our teams. Asking the teams how they feel about the campus culture and how they contribute to it? How do they feel about contributing a bit differently? Some will think that more work will be involved and although there will be work that has to be done, the end result will prove to give time back to staff and faculty versus becoming more work indefinitely. As we all have heard over and over; change is not easy. What we need to start saying over and over is that change is inevitable and since we can’t go backward, what are we doing to go forward and continuously strive to be the best at what we do. How are we putting ourselves out there to rise above and give a bit more so that more individuals have the opportunity to reach their goals of attending a career college and becoming someone they dream of becoming? What are we doing to ensure that we have a campus culture that promotes climbing over the mountain through rain, wind and snow while crying and overcoming our fears versus waiting for a different mode of transportation to come along and just take us over the mountain? These questions among many others can be posed as the campus discusses change and how to make that impact that will really bring about satisfaction in a new light and on a new level.

Leaders growing leaders – commitment, compassion and collaboration – remember your WHY.

Shonna Dent

SHONNA DENT is the Director of Academic Affairs for The College of Health Care Professions. She is an experienced educational professional with over fifteen years in higher education working to improve the lives of adult learners. She is a strong advocate for a diverse, inclusive, and innovative work and learning environment. As an extremely motivated and encouraging individual, Shonna is committed to helping others meet their career goals through leading, educating, training, and mentoring.

Shonna is an accomplished author, professional development trainer, public speaker and considers herself a lifelong learner as she is always looking to expand her knowledge. Her commitment to continuous learning is made evident by the over fifteen thousand hours of continuing education that she has completed since 1999 including recently becoming a Certified Education Professional of Excellence in the areas of: leadership, campus operations, teaching, and online teaching.

Shonna has a master’s degree in organizational leadership management focused in educational development and delivery from Colorado State University–Global and is an ACCSC Certified Accreditation Professional.

Shonna’s true passion revolves around educating others in creating a fun and rewarding learning environment while keeping a positive and up-beat attitude. She believes in mentoring and training educators to enhance the skills they currently have and developing new skills that will assist them in creating the most dynamic educational environments possible. This passion results in improved student satisfaction, student retention, and student outcomes as well as changing the lives of others. Her passion for helping others has led her most recent project.

Shonna loves camping, hiking, and pretty much anything that has to do with the outdoors. When introducing herself in a new environment, she tends to break the ice by announcing that her two sons have coined her as “the best worm finder” because she finds the biggest and juiciest worms to use when fishing the mountain creeks.

Contact Information: Shonna Dent // Director of Academic Affairs // College of Health Care Professions // 719-671-0829 // dent@chcp.edu // https://www.chcp.edu/


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