The course, "Best Practices in Student Affairs" is taught by Dr. Jeremy Stringer, the head of the Student Development Administration department, and founder of the entire program (that began 20 years ago this year!). We meet on a strange schedule in order for the class to take field trips to various universities and colleges to tour and learn about how their student affairs departments are managed. We had class from 9 to 5 last Thursday, with lectures and a presentation from SU's civic engagement department, and Sunday we left for the University of Idaho for 2 nights.
Being able to go to the University of Idaho with my 10 other classmates was an incredible experience. We Stayed in their LLCs (Living and Learning communities) which were only built a few years ago, and incredibly spacious. We arrived Sunday evening and met Denise Carl for dinner, an SU SDA alum who now works in student engagement at the University of Idaho. Over dinner, we got to know Denise quite a bit and my classmates and I were buzzing with excitement for the next day.
Monday morning we got breakfast at the U of Idaho's student dining hall called Bob's at 7:30am. After breakfast we met up with Melinda Lewis, a graduate student, and she gave us a campus tour and briefed us about the Greek population there.
After that we met with Bruce Pitman, the Vice Provost for Student Affairs and Dean of Students. He taught us a lot about their structure, student learning outcomes, mission, and student body. I was very interested and constantly soaking up every word he said about their institution. I was intrigued to find out that the University of Idaho did a lot of collaborating with Washington State University because it lies just 8 miles away from the U of I on the other side of the state border. They even, without knowing it, chose the same common reading book that year, and have begun collaborating on that project.
I guess they've had a tough year when it comes to student deaths. Usually there is 3-5, but last year they had 14, and one case was a faculty member murdering a student. They've had a tough year, but you can really tell they've worked hard and kept everything in tact and running smoothly. I truly am grateful I got to meet and connect with the student affairs professionals at University of Idaho. They all are exceptional people and I do hope I can meet with them again some day.
|the view from the meditation room in the student union. So beautiful|
We also met Jeanne Christiansen, the Vice Provost for Academic Affairs. She and Bruce are practically attached at the hip, working in sync for the greater good of the students.
Right before lunch we met another Bruce, Bruce Mann, the Volunteer Center Coordinator. I think he blew us all away with his passion and dedication for his job. Starting out as a marketer and promoter for their campus recreation department, he knew what he always wanted to do, and jumped on the opportunity when he saw the open position in their volunteer center. It was interesting listening to him talk; he repeated a lot of the same values and goals that the Seattle University community engagement department listed. I guess they go on service trips several times a year, and there are at least two abroad trips each year. My favorite, and maybe a quite obvious, lesson from Bruce was that service learning trips must be mutually beneficial for both the students and the community, otherwise it is not successful. Listening to him speak got me even more interested in working with civic engagement on a campus. I'm considering that area much more strongly now.
After lunch we met Ray Gasser, Director of University Housing, and Matt Kurz, Director of Greek Life. They discussed and shared their successes and challenges in student housing. U of Idaho has a large population of students involved in greek life, and there is apparently a lot of pressure to join fraternities and sororities. Ray was telling us about Res Life's challenge and goal to make achievement possible for everyone. They've developed strategies and systems for identifying students at risk and have successfully used it to help students.
I was glad we got to visit the U of I Women's Center, because I find a lot of merit in the department in general. Heather Gasser, Ray's wife, is the director there and she told us about the incredible upbringing of the Women's Center and the LGBTQA Center. In 2008, U of I did not have an LGBTQA Center. I can't recall what happened when, but eventually they created an LGBTQA Resource Center in an office within the Women's Center, but obviously the need for a more welcoming and larger space brought the center out of there and into the student union. Unfortunately the Women's Center is still located in the basement of a building that mostly houses a gymnasium. Just one of the amazing things their center does is have an Emergency Scholarship Fund, mostly for LGBTQA students. A prime example of when a student would apply for use of this funding is if they came out as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender and their parents cut them off completely. The funding is for those students who suddenly find themselves with little to no support and need financial assistance to continue. Heather told us about a particular student who was completely cut off from her parents after coming out and her parents actually reported the car that they had given her as stolen.
|they have a library in their women's center!|
At the end of the day during a wrap up talk with Bruce, we asked him what his mission and vision was for the University of Idaho. He answered:
1) A comprehensive freshman year experience. As of now, U of I has a 79% freshman to sophomore year retention rate, and Bruce would like to see 85%.
2) More space for services to be more efficient in their duties. This way they can provide all students with high impact engagement services.
3) More comprehensive services for first generation students.
Another good point he had:
- If they admit students with a need (first gen, veteran, etc) they must be able to accomodate for those needs, they must be able to provide the services for them. Washington State Unviersity, just 8 miles from U of I across the Washington-Idaho border, recently lowered their admission requirements. The following year they had an unusually large freshman class, however they didn't hire extra staff in student support. Bruce is interested to see the retention rate between year one and year two after the students realize the lack of support.
|Some of the U of Idaho swag they gave us!|
At 6:00pm they served us catered dinner (I had an amazing portobello mushroom cap while everyone else had chicken; guess I was the only vegetarian). We got the opportunity to sit with and talk with many of the professionals that we met that day as well as others we had not yet interacted.
I sat next to Colleen Quinn, Director of Student Engagement. I learned a lot from her. It was actually her first day on the job, but she seemed to be really enjoying it there, and I was not surprised. As I've mentioned, the staff and faculty there seem to be incredible individuals.
All in all,
I learned SO MUCH from this experience. I'm so glad that I was able to enroll in this summer class. It was wonderful getting to know my classmates on a deeper level, as well as having the opportunity to speak with Jeremy Stringer, director of the SDA program at SU, one-on-one. Now more than ever I am excited for classes to start up in the fall. Now all I need is a job to keep us afloat and my anxieties will be gone!
Today Zach might have a job opportunity up in Redmond, so I'm going up there with him today and we might explore that area when he is done. Seattle has been good to us so far!