On Friday, I get to work at 8:30 a.m. after stopping by the hospital to see Bill and his parents. The patient is doing remarkably well! The parents are grateful for all the support offered by everyone in the community.
The next order of business is the Friday staff meeting. In the wake of Monday’s crisis, it is both difficult and salutary to focus on something other than that and all of the students affected in its wake. Our first guest is the faculty member from a science department I mentioned in an earlier post who talks about a new summer research initiative in Brazil and in Kenya, open to students without a science background. It’s a short presentation, perhaps 20 minutes, followed by conversation and Q&A. Appropriately, the next guest is our liaison from counseling services. This had been scheduled months earlier, but it is coincidentally an excellent moment for her to speak to us. Her topic: compassion fatigue – a condition that can befall anyone who is called on to care for others day after day without taking the time to care for one’s self. The subject really strikes a chord for us, and the focus on caring for oneself is a welcome one.
Given everything that has happened this week, we decide to order lunch for the staff, so we spend some time together eating and talking.
Later that afternoon, we hold an assessment team meeting, which tries to meet every Friday to advance our advising assessment projects. To assess the advising system in multiple ways on an ongoing basis is essential to any good college advising program. For this, the advising center staff turned first and foremost to NACADA, an international professional organization for advisers and advising system administrators and faculty. We try to attend the NACADA Assessment Institute annually with a new project to work on. Our assessment results enable us to do several things:
- Account for our resources and justify requests for additional funding.
- Adjust programs and program components quickly and efficiently to achieve our and student goals.
- Help advisers fine-tune their own advising skills.
Advising is usually thought of as wishy-washy and intangible. Learning ways to assess all of our work has made it tangible. We know how productive we are, and we know how effective each adviser is. Then we can invest in our center and each adviser to make it as productive for the benefit of every student as possible.
This week we are focused on assessing our efforts to prepare each incoming students to create their fall program of courses and register for them. There are multiple ways in which we are planning to gather evidence on this initiative. First up is defining a rubric to quantify the knowledge students brought to their fall planning as evidenced by a tear-out sheet they turned in to their advisers at their first advising appointment. Once we agree on the rubric, we split up the tear-out sheets and agree that we will enter data into a spreadsheet within two weeks, at which time we will meet again to begin to interpret the data.
It’s now 3 p.m., and I turn my attention to the week’s clean-up. Emails, phone calls, and the to-do lists. Given how tired I am, I decide to leave as close to 5 p.m. as possible. I check in with the managers on my way out and head home.
One of the reasons I chose higher education administration was to be able to structure my work so that I had clear boundaries between my personal and professional lives. Has it always turned out that I have a ton of time to myself or for my family? No, absolutely not. Higher education administration has become ever busier over the past decade. Am I happy to be participating in the higher education enterprise? Yes. Absolutely. I believe fervently in the life of the mind, in helping young people discover themselves through intellectual inquiry, and in helping them make the best possible decisions they can in college in order to have a strong foundation on which to build the rest of their lives.
So, you may still be asking: why advising? It is because of this. Amidst all of the meetings, planning, budgeting, staffing, personnel management, maintaining software systems, learning assessment, and managing change, among other things, there is always the student. Every student has dreams and hopes. My work is to try to provide for each of them the opportunity for personally transformative, decisive moments. The more substantive opportunities we provide, the greater the probability that the students will experience productive pivotal moments in their college lives — moments in which they imagine themselves as something different in the future that they may never have imagined before. That moment of imagining is the first step toward the creation of a path to that dream. Among the 6,000 students, in the 25,000 appointments we hold in a ten-month period, I don’t know how many of those moments there are. There may be only several a week, but knowing that I have played even in small role in creating a space in which students might have those moments is enough. This has become my mission. Ultimately, I may never be able to explain better than this why I chose this life. But I know that it gets me up in the morning. It sustains me. It offers me a life that I can believe in.