Archive for June, 2008
So today I did something completely unusual for me, I cried; not only that I cried in front of my supervisor. I cried because I was frustrated with the lack of new, professional development opportunities I am getting during the non-session days of orientation. Basically I had been stuffing folders for three days in a row and the end still seems no where in sight. The advising staff (which in most cases includes me and three other student staff members) are in charge of stuffing half of all student folders used this summer. Yes there are 20 some orientation advisers but because they receive a stipend instead of a hourly salary, they don’t have to come in on off days. And the office staff in the orientation office is also not required to have specific hours on off days so it is hard to rely on them. It’s good to know these policies and how they affect all parties (I will certainly contemplate them more at a later date) but when you are the party doing the lion’s share of the work, it’s hard to want to put up with it, let alone see it from a theoretical standpoint. So I cried.
What did it get me? Well not a lot, we still have to do the folders, but there may be some more opportunties coming my way. The big hurdle is the fact that while I’m confident that I could take on more advising roles than I currently have, there are surely those who aren’t quite sure I can do it or should do it. I will be getting the chance on Friday to be the staff supervisor in an advising lab, which will be a first time thing for me and there still a chance that because of increased enrollment numbers that I may be able to lead my own advising session. I really hope this becomes a reality. All I can do is keep working hard and hope that I gain more and more trust and in doing so gain greater roles within the department.
I’ll be honest coming into a new system is hard and wanting/needing to gain increased responsibility quickly is even harder. I’m not sure crying was the right way to go, in fact I’m still a bit embarrassed by my tears, but tomorrow is another day and that’s all that matters.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
Every single adviser I have talked to talks about creating freshman schedules that will help them succeed and not set them up for failure as new students at SJSU. I think that part of the reason that this idea is stressed so much is because a large percentage of SJSU students must take remedial math or English courses when they first enroll. Students must take the Entry Level Math test (ELM) and English Placement Test (EPT) before coming to orientation. Their scores on these tests (the SAT or ACT or AP tests are also sometimes used) determine which math and English classes students must enroll in during the fall term. While this seems relatively clear and aimed at ensuring that students are not in over their heads, other policies seem to contradict with this concept.
For one, scores on the ELM and EPT, high school GPAs, and other test scores have no bearing on what majors or colleges a student can choose between. A student who must take two terms of remedial math can just as easily major in engineering as a student who comes in with a perfect score on the SAT. In another case the pre-Nursing program at SJSU is impacted; this means that there aren’t enough spaces or resources for all incoming nursing students to go through the entire program. In their first two years of college these student must compete with each other for limited spots in upper-division courses. However, their high school work has no bearing on whether they can mark pre-nursing as their major of choice. I contrast that with my undergraduate institution where the College of Engineering had different admission requirements than the College of Arts and Science, which had different admission requirements than the College of Business. If a student couldn’t meet the more rigorous requirements they came in as pre-engineering or pre-business and had to work their way up. I’m sure there are benefits to both systems, but it is currently my belief that setting specific expectations right off the bat for certain majors makes the advising process easier and more honest.
Easy and honest in the sense that I won’t be looking at a student and telling them, “Yes we admitted you into this college and yes we knew that in all likelihood you’d have to drop out of it”. Easy because I won’t have to look at a student and tell them “There’s no way that you can graduate with this degree in four years”. Honest because I will be able to tell a student “You didn’t have the high school grades or test scores needed to get into your major of choice, however here are the requirements you need to meet in order to transfer into this major”.
I will concede that there are some pitfalls to this system. I am well aware that some students simply don’t test well and therefore their math or English scores may never completely reflect their knowledge. However, the first few years of college usually involve a number of tests and in compacted programs like nursing, tests will ultimately be what determines whether a student can move on in the major. I am also sure that their are some students who somehow make the magic switch and despite all signs pointing otherwise go on to be successful in their chosen field. The question as it so often becomes is how much support can we give a student who is challenged by a certain major and what support is best when the challenge seems too great? Is it better to let a student down easy and early or should we allow students to continue on in majors, colleges, careers until THEY recognize that these things are no longer feasible?Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 2 so far )
I’ve been in San Jose for a little over two weeks now. I’m finally getting used to the endless sunny days that have escaped me during my time in Oregon. I am also adjusting to living on campus again. I’m proud to say that I haven’t locked myself out of my room yet, forgetting my key in the middle of the night is still a source of paranoia for me and I finally invested in a robe, which makes the communal shower thing a little more bare able. Adjusting to my new responsibilities as a San Jose State University (SJSU) staff member has been a slower process and one that I’m sure will last throughout the entire summer.
One of the greatest challenges for me has been realizing that I really didn’t do a good job of researching SJSU before I got here. Granted I had approximately 48 hours to decide on whether or not to take the job after it was offered to me, but coming in I didn’t know it was a largely communter campus; I didn’t know that it was located right on the edge of downtown San Jose; I didn’t know that they are in the process of acquiring a new president; and I didn’t know what the campus culture was in regards to student affairs work. Given that I am only here for three months, I am fairly certain that none of these things would have prevented me from taking this position, however, when I search for jobs next year I will be far more thorough in my research. Things I will be playing special attention to include location, whether or not the campus has a strong residential population, how long upper management have been in their positions/what’s the turnover rate like, and what types (if any) of working relationships are there between academic and student affairs departments on campus.
Another challenge has been transitioning into my role as a professional staff member. One of my responsibilities is to help supervise and advise orientation advisers. All of these students have attended SJSU, they all took a semester long class in the spring to introduce them to the program and their roles within it and many are in their second year working for orientation. In other words, they know a heck of a lot more than I do about what it’s like to be a SJSU student and most know more than I do about the program I’m supposed to be helping to run. In some respects, this scenario is quite daunting and I won’t say that I’m not a bit intimidated by it, but I’m here and I might as well grow from the experience.
First off, it is important that I recognize that while these students have a better handle on SJSU and this orientation program, I have a whole year of graduate school under my belt and that’s worth something. I have a thorough understanding of why orientations exist in the first place-to ease the transition from high school to college, to welcome incoming students into a brand new community and impart on them the rules and expectations of them as new students, to increase retention rates and to get students plugged in to the various support systems available to them on campus. I understand trends within orientation programs and the reasons that they exist. Most importantly I know about a variety of different challenges that first year students face and how orientation can help them find support to overcomes these difficulties. For me the key becomes putting my knowledge to the test and helping to impart this knowledge of the student staff in a way that makes them even better at the work they do.
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I think one of the greatest challenges for orientation directors is hiring student staff members hereby referred to as orientation leaders (O.L.s) who can successfully walk the tight rope between peer mentor and staff member. On one hand we are asking these students to gain the trust of incoming students and as such we expect them to be approachable, friendly and for lack of a better word, cool. We want our O.L.s to be liked and respected by incoming students because they are the ones who ultimately have a great deal of influence over whether or not a new student feels connected to the university. Yes, staff can answer their questions about what classes to register for, or where they can go to find out about financial aid, or when to pay their student fees, but O.L.s are the ones who impart on them what it is like to actually be a student. At the same time that they are gaining trust among incoming students, we are asking them to act professionally and represent the university in a positive, professional manner. In some cases this requires that O.L.s act as authority figures among incoming students and do/say things that are in contradiction to their role as new friend and confidant. I believe that the most successful, trusted O.L.s are the one that become comfortable dealing with these moments of dissonance and contradiction.
So how does one go about finding students who will be able to deal with the task ahead? I think that students who have successfully dealt with some type of personal or professional conflict in the past are more likely to have the tools necessary to handle the stresses associated with being an O.L. Students who have gone through the process of developing a new identity while in college, struggled with finding an appropriate major or career, and/or faced the challenges of being a student leader for another campus group are likely to handle their new role as O.L. with greater success than those who have not been in such positions. It is important to ask potential O.L.s questions about how they have handled conflict (within themselves or with others) in the past, how they deal with contradictions and to ask them scenario based questions that gauge if they can walk the O.L. tight rope. It is also important to recognize that students who have been in college for at least a few years are more likely to have developed the skills and critical thinking necessary to be a successful university representative. While it is important to have students at various stages of their education on staff, upperclassman should be sought after not only for their more thorough knowledge of the university, but also for their developmental skills.
This entry leaves me questioning how orientation directors go about recruiting and hiring their student staffs. I’d like to know what kinds of questions students are asked. Whether or not scenario questions are used and/or helpful. I’m aware that it is important to not only hire students who will do a good job, but students who will grow from the experience. The question is how to balance student staff growth with a solid orientation team. In the end it all comes back to challenge and support. How much support can we give O.L.s that are extremely challenged by their new positions and how long can we support them before it begins to interfere with the quality of the orientation program?Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
During student staff training Orientation Adviser and Team Leaders at San Jose State were asked to come up with a list of expectations and goals for the summer. Some of the suggestions thrown out included “having a smile on your face 24/7”, and “giving 110%”. While I imagine that these types of goals and expectations are common threads among many orientation teams, I question whether enough time is spent critically thinking about whether or not these are realistic goals and if they are, how will people go about meeting them. In my mind, it seems rather easy to create lists, post them on the wall, and revisit them periodically, but much harder to get people to ascribe to them day in and day out.
For example, the concept of 110%, otherwise known as smiling 24/7… well, I’ll be honest, I don’t think it’s possible and in my opinion it can even be a dangerous concept if taken literally. After all, everyone that works orientation is human and there are going to be days when someone just can’t bring their A game. To me, it is far more important for students, staff and faculty to be able to recognize the times when they aren’t able to give it all, be honest about it and try to minimize the impact it will have on other people. To me learning how to deal with those days when you are running on empty is an extremely important skill for anyone in student affairs. We are in the profession of helping and compassion fatigue is a very real problem. Self care is essential and as part of the professional staff, I find it important to ask the hard questions about whether we can expect 110%, what we can do when we aren’t quite there, and how best to model self-care.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )