10 Habits of Successful College Students

Success

Today was the first day of a new quarter, which means lots of students are setting new academic goals. Based on my interactions with students over the years, here are 10 things successful college students do:

  1. Go to office hours.

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Taking advantage of office hours is critical to academic success. Office hours are an opportunity to build a one-on-one connection with the professor. In addition to advice on homework assignments or feedback from the last test, spending time in office hours could lead to a letter of recommendation, an undergraduate research opportunity, or helpful career advice.

  1. Get involved.

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Research supports that student involvement increases academic success. Successful students engage in their learning in- and out-side the classroom. They participate in discussion groups, attend educational events, join clubs, and give back to their communities.

  1. Study in groups.

Study groups can reduce procrastination, help students overcome difficulties understanding the material, get new perspectives, and develop interpersonal skills. Studying alone has benefits but can also easily lead to distraction, social isolation, and boredom.

  1. Go to the library.

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Studying in the library can help many students focus better. The library has fewer distractions than a bedroom or residence hall. The library also has useful resources such as helpful librarians, textbooks on reserve, group study rooms, and assistive technology.

  1. Take responsibility.

Successful students do not blame others or make excuses. They realize that they have control of their choices, actions, and behaviors. They own up to mistakes and look for ways they can improve next time.

  1. Aren’t afraid to fail.

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Failure is an important part of the learning process. Successful students do not let the fear of failure prevent them from taking risks, being creative, trying new activities, and stepping outside their comfort zone.

  1. Utilize resources.

Successful students do not try to do everything on their own. There are extensive resources on campus for students. These resources include, but are not limited to, advising centers, careers services, study skills workshops, writing center, and counseling services.

  1. Hang out with healthy people.

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Behaviors and attitudes are contagious. Success has a lot to do with who students choose to surround themselves with.

  1. Have a mentor.

A close mentoring relationship with a faculty member, advisor, resident hall director, or another staff member is an important part of college success. Mentors can provide career connections, encouragement, support, and advocacy – all things that college students need.

10. Use their voice.

Self-advocacy, self-expression, and self-actualization are different forms of using voice. The ability of students to realize their full potential is linked to their ability to communicate, be their authentic selves, pursue their passions, and express their feelings. Successful students  know themselves, know what they need, and can express their needs.

 

Bridging the Gap between Student Affairs and Academic Affairs

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Last week I led a workshop for our Student Affairs Winter Recharge on the topic of “Bridging the Gap between Student Affairs and Academic Affairs.” My experiences as an instructor, as well as my personal experiences in education, have given me an appreciation for the transformative effect of a rigorous academic curriculum. And my interactions with students outside the classroom have confirmed the importance of reinforcing the academic components through additional opportunities for student development. As a result, I often feel like I have my foot in both camps.

In my role as a service-learning coordinator, I served as a liaison between academic affairs and student affairs. Many faculty have limited interactions with student affairs and are unfamiliar with the variety of services and programs offered; not surprisingly, student affairs professionals often feel misunderstood and unappreciated by faculty. The relationship between academic affairs and student affairs may not receive as much attention as retention or graduation rates, but its impact can be just as great for students. Ever since I stepped foot on campus as a student affairs professional I have seen and felt the real “division” between the Division of Student Affairs and Academic Affairs.

Historical Background

Prior to the 1960’s, faculty was responsible for intellectual and social development of students. Around the 1970’s, enrollment increases created a higher demand for student affairs professionals to address needs for co-curricular programs and services. In the 1980’s higher education researchers began focusing on the need for collaboration between the growing student affairs divisions and academic affairs. By the 1990’s, national student affairs organizations like ACPA and NASPA released Best Practices (which are still pertinent). In the past ten years, High Impact Practices have gained the spotlight highlighting many of the practices that fall within student affairs as being critical to academic success.

Benefits of bridging the gap between Student Affairs and Academic Affairs:

  1. Seamless connection between in- and out-side of classroom experiences. When a student is trying to navigate a process that involves multiple departments (like coordinating disability services), lack of communication between departments can lead to frustration. If the student is already distressed, these disconnected experiences can exacerbate the student’s situation.
  2. Co-curricular experiences that enhance and compliment the curriculum. There are many opportunities, including Service Learning, for students to apply the knowledge learned in the classroom to real-world environments. When student affairs and academic affairs work together, students benefit from a richer learning experience.
  3. Holistic support and development of the whole student. Both faculty and student affairs staff are critical to student development. Both play a major role in orienting students to campus, helping students transition into college, and advising students in various aspects of personal and professional growth.
  4. Increased resources and support for students resulting in academic and personal success. Students need many types of role models, mentors, and advisors, and student success is greatly improved when the faculty and student affairs staff who are supporting a student are working collaboratively.
  5. Increased satisfaction with the overall university experience. The success of an institution is dependent on the quality of education and service provided to students. Taking care of our students improves the relationship between the student and the university.

Barriers

Barriers exist on both sides of the university. Barriers specific to faculty include lack of recognition and rewards for participation, significant turnover in student affairs, and lack of orientation and training on student affairs. Barriers specific to student affairs staff include, restricted freedom within the university due to classification (lack of tenure status), lack of understanding of tenure process that drives academic affairs, and perceptions that student affairs play a subordinate role in the university.

Barriers to both Student Affairs and Academic Affairs:

  1. Lack of knowledge or understanding of roles
  2. Assumptions and incorrect perceptions
  3. Competition for resources
  4. Lack of trust
  5. Organizational culture and language
  6. Values and priorities
  7. Organizational structures

Opportunities

The opportunities for collaboration are endless. Partnerships can range from formal strategic decisions to informal alliances. Some of these ideas can be implemented overnight, and others will require long-term planning.

Opportunities for collaboration:

  1. Classroom announcements and in-class trainings provided by student affairs
  2. Faculty office hours in Living Learning Communities/Housing
  3. Service learning courses
  4. Campuswide Task Forces
  5. First-year experience courses
  6. Academic-Student Affairs Partnership Meetings
  7. Campus-based Leadership Institute
  8. Conferences and Presentations
  9. Collaborative Grants and Research
  10. Institutes and Centers
  11. Advisory Boards
  12. Internships in Student Affairs
  13. Recruitment & Outreach
  14. Search Committees

I chose to pursue my Ph.D. because I wanted to leave the door open to academic affairs. I see the changes taking place in education and realize that in the academic world understanding student development theory, the learning process, and factors for success are critical supplements to a strong knowledge base in the academic field.

The gap between Academic Affairs and Student Affairs will not be bridged overnight. We will need both formal and informal processes to build collaborative partnerships. At the center of these collaborations will be professionals who understand the value of both academic affairs and student affairs.

Resources:

American Association for Higher Education, American College Personnel Association, National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (1998). Powerful partnerships: A shared responsibility for learning. Washington, DC: Author.

Kellogg, K. (1999). Collaboration: Student affairs and academic affairs working together to promote student learning. Washington, DC: ERIC Clearinghouse on Higher Education.

Kuh, G.D. (1996). Guiding principles for creating seamless learning environments for undergraduates. Journal of College Student Development (37)2, 135-148.

Martin, J. & Murphy, S. (2000). Building a better bridge: Creating effective partnerships between academic affairs and student affairs. National Association of Student Personnel Administrators, Inc.

7 Tips for Picking Your Major in College

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Do you ever have those moments when you’re speaking but you hear someone else’s words coming out of your mouth? It might be your mom or an old teacher. It’s a rare feeling for me, but it happened today.

I was meeting with a student who wanted to change his major. He had narrowed down his focus but was still debating between a few options in STEM. I heard myself say, “There are many paths to success. There is no wrong answer.” Huh? He looked at me with the same look I gave my undergraduate faculty advisor when he told me it didn’t matter what I majored in.

I entered college with a double major in Psychology and International Relations. My first week on campus I met with my faculty advisor and he said, “Why do you want to double major? Just pick one. It doesn’t matter which one.” How could it not matter? This was my future! A wrong choice could put me on a miserable path for my entire career! I could make a huge mistake!

I was passionate about helping people and wanted to be a psychologist, but I thought a career in International Relations would give me an exciting lifestyle traveling around the world. I continued taking classes in both majors but his words stuck with me. In the end I chose Psychology and dropped International Relations, and I never looked back.

I watched my peers of all majors follow all different career paths. For some their career paths were directed by family obligations, financial factors, or relationships. In any case, each internship, job, and experience gives us important skills, knowledge, and abilities and helps us define where we want to take the next step.

While I did say that there may be no right or wrong choice, there is definitely an informed choice so here are 7 tips for picking your major:

1. Follow your passion. Prestige and earning potential are important factors, but your passion for a subject is going to keep you going during the grueling study sessions and all-nighters.  If you have a lot of interests, spend some time reflecting on your long-term goals and what activities inspire you.

2. Talk to faculty. Each department has a unique culture and faculty. You will be spending a lot of time with your faculty so explore whether the department’s culture is a good fit for you. Are they laid back? Hands on? Approachable? Helpful? Interested in knowing you?

3. Utilize Career Services. Career Services has several helpful resources, such as personality and strengths assessments that can help you identify which subjects you might enjoy and/or areas where you might be more successful. Career Services also has industry contacts and can guide you on possible internship and career options in various majors.

4. Keep your options open. If you want to apply for graduate or medical school be sure to take the necessary prerequisites. Some majors may align more closely to these requirements so it may save you some time; however, don’t let that be the only deciding factor. Ultimately, many graduate schools are looking to see that you have taken the necessary classes regardless of your major.

5. Do your research on undergraduate research. Undergraduate research looks great on a resume and gives you applicable experiences. Look into the various undergraduate research areas on your campus to see if any spark your interest.

6. Ask other students. Peers are a great resource. Seek out students in the major that you are considering and ask them questions. What do they enjoy about the major? What is the biggest challenge? Do they recommend it? Why or why not?

7. Visit the Advising Center. Academic advisors have a wealth of knowledge and can help you identify the major that may be a great fit for you. They have a deep understanding of the curriculum, and they can tell you if you have already taken classes that might meet the requirements of a certain major.

7 Blind Men and An Elephant

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Working in a large public institution has given me the opportunity to observe several leadership styles. Given the segregated nature of the functions of the institution, it is not surprising that many leaders have adapted their leadership style to ensure the survival of their department. At times, this can be frustrating because in my experience it creates seemingly unnecessary conflict.

I was recently reminded of the story of seven blind men and an elephant. In the story, each man is feeling a different part of the elephant. The one touching the tail thinks it is a rope. The one at the leg thinks it is a tree trunk. They start to fight about it. Whether or not the conflict between the men and their perspectives was resolved depends on which version of the story you believe. The lesson I take away is that we all think we know how it is but in reality we only see a piece of the whole.

I like this story because each of the men was right. In my own work life, I have recently started trying to identify the elephant. How can it be that we are viewing the same issue from opposing positions? What could the issue look like from your side of the elephant? And how can I best describe my side in a way that helps us both get a better idea of what the elephant really is?

In some cases, this has required assembling an elephant that doesn’t yet exist. In creating collaborative programs within the institution, different departments bring their components or values. Sometimes they are open to integrating these components and often they want their components to be the whole elephant.

I have recently encouraged the students I work with to see how they could combine their seemingly different perspectives to create a greater outcome. This is especially challenging because the temptation is to recreate our existing structures – silo-ed departments, specialized colleges, two-party systems. Everywhere we look we can find examples of people holding on to their piece of the elephant.

Interfaith Diversity and the Future of Student Affairs

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I recently returned from #ACPA15 in Tampa, Florida. It was a blast! I attended sessions on ADA changes, Twitter, coaching, leadership, and even blogging! The conference brought together student affairs professionals from around the country to Consider, Collaborate, Create, and Commit. All this took place against the amazing backdrop of the waterside Tampa Convention Center.

One of the conference’s keynote speakers was Eboo Patel. I especially enjoyed Patel’s message about the need for Interfaith Leadership. I have often reflected on the role of higher education in addressing religion as part of student identity development. As Patel said, “Student Affairs has made huge impacts on issues of race, gender, and sexuality. Student Affairs helps shape American democracy. How would the U.S. look if we focused on religion?”

Faith-based organizations provide important support for students during the transition to college, when faced with loss, and when exploring the deep issues that emerge during the college experience. In addition to supporting students in their spiritual development, we need to facilitate the dialogue around religious identity and diversity. This includes opportunities for engagement, meaningful interactions, and inspiring relationships across differences.

In 2011, I helped organized our campus involvement in the President’s Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge. The initiative brought together students, faculty, staff, community members and faith-based organizations. Together, we engaged in community service projects that bridged religious and cultural lines. College is a time for students to explore spirituality, morals, beliefs, and even purpose and interfaith community service is a way for students to learn about and explore various faiths and contribute to the common good.

The United States is one of the world’s most religiously diverse nations. Patel reminds us it is important that Students Affairs professionals have the same frameworks, competencies, and tools to work within the realm of religious diversity as we do with ethnic diversity. Patel asked some hard questions. Why has Student Affairs not been more proactive about this? Is religious diversity too hard? Are there dimensions of religion that we are uncomfortable with? Is celebrating diversity only celebrating the differences you like?

I am struggling to answer those questions myself. Doing social justice work often requires a strong self-awareness and understanding. When I embarked on my personal journey to explore my own racial identity, I became a better advocate for ethnic diversity and social change. I believe the path to religious diversity will involve the same attention, research, and knowledge development. I am looking forward to the journey and hope to see interfaith diversity in the future of Student Affairs.

It’s All About Relationships

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My favorite fortune

A short trip down memory lane takes me back to the small liberal arts college where I earned my undergraduate degree and to the two large public institutions where I earned my advanced degrees. While I am grateful for the technological advances that allowed me to email my professors, upload my assignments, and research my dissertation through the library’s online catalog, the experiences I remember most are my conversations and interactions with faculty.

My first psychology professor was a young doctoral student named Dr. Swan from the adjacent graduate school. She was recently married and just establishing herself as a faculty member. She was someone I could relate to and wanted to emulate. I hung on her every word, dissected her wardrobe, listened intently for clues about her life as a new wife and mother, and basically remembered very little about the developmental life stages and Freudian theory.

Fastforward ten years. My dissertation committee chair was a leading researcher in special education and disabilities. He held high positions in organizations leading the way in this field. He advised countless doctoral students, yet always gave me his full attention. After spending hours editing my dissertation and pouring over each chapter while being mindful of his critiques, what do I remember most about my committee chair? He taught in a hospital in Malawi, raised two daughters, bred golden retrievers, and liked to wear Hawaiian shirts.

I remember the personalities of my professors more than the equations, formulas, and theories they lectured about for hours. When I hear students talking about taking a class from a well-known professor, I know they are often drawn to the professor’s character more than the class content. Powerpoints, digital projectors, laptops, and wireless internet are powerful tools but they can’t replace the people behind them.

Students can find the answer to almost any question with a simple Google search. Our challenge as educators is to help them understand which questions to ask. And that happens in relationship – the way we model critical thinking, our response to complex social issues, and our commitment to life long learning. The information students need is already at their fingertips, but the transformation that takes place in higher education still requires a human connection.

5 Reasons You Need to Pull Weeds in Life

“With life as short as a half taken breath, don’t plant anything but love. ” – Rumi
In 2014, I was part of a countywide leadership program. For our legacy project we are planting a milk thistle garden for monarch butterflies. The site will be a place where the butterflies can feed and lay eggs, as well as an outdoor classroom for hundreds of local children.
This weekend we had our first work day. We had forty volunteers, including 12 crew members from our local California Conservation Corps. We spent the majority of the morning pulling weeds. While on my hands and knees in the rain pulling invasive grasses, I started thinking how important it is to pull the weeds in our daily lives.

Here are 5 reasons you need to pull the weeds:

1. To make space for what you desire. This beautiful site holds so much potential (which our group is totally going to make happen), yet the ground was covered with weeds. There was no place to plant the desired milk thistle. Similarly, when our lives are filled with meaningless activities, relationships, and worries, it takes away from our ability to spend time doing the things we love.

2. To see the landscape more clearly. With the weeds removed, the natural landscape became more visible. It was easier to see where to plant the milk thistle and to strategically place them. Likewise, it’s harder to gain perspective when our lives are filled with clutter, both physical and emotional. It’s difficult to see where we should place our priorities when our daily lives are already full and busy.

3. To increase your yield. The milk thistle is the crop we want to harvest. The milk thistle is crucial for the reproduction of the monarch butterfly, and as land has been developed the prevalence of this plant has been severely reduced. In order for our milk thistle saplings to survive, the weeds that compete for nutrients and other resources need to be removed. In life, our negative thoughts hinder our ability to yield the most enjoyment and happiness. Negativity and other distractions prevent us from maximizing our full potential.

4. It feels good. Pulling weeds felt great! I felt satisfied with each small patch that I cleared. I liked seeing the piles of weeds build up, and it was exciting to think of the potential for the new space I had created. Clearing away the unwanted activities, distractions, negativity, and other less than desirable aspects of our lives feels exhilarating. Even carving out a few moments of uninterrupted time can create the necessary space for new ideas, inspiration, and energy.

5. It’s a reminder that life goes on. I overheard one of my peers commenting, “Why are we doing this? The weeds are all going to come back.” It’s true that weeds will always grow back in our garden, just as problems will always emerge in life,  but that’s just the way it is. The hope is that fewer weeds will grow once the milk thistle takes root. However, we will never be able to stop the weeds entirely. Weeds are part of life. It’s not always fun, but it can be made easier with friends! and it’s a necessary part of leaving a legacy!