Category Archives: Student Services

AHHHHH, Perfection!

I learned to use perfection as a way to survive life.  Perfection is exhausting.  Perfection is impossible.  Perfection leads to denial, shock and disbelief.  Perfection limits success.  Perfection was how I was rewarded, noticed, and regarded.  Perfection limited my ability to successfully navigate difficult situations.  Using perfection to navigate difficult situations increased my stress level, reduced my self-worth and confidence, and interfered with relationships.

Ahhh, connection!  Connection acknowledges our frailty, vulnerability, and humanness.  When I allowed myself to connect during difficult situations, I gained strength, knowledge, and support.  Connecting is scary.  Connecting means I may be rejected.  Connecting means I have limitations.  Sometimes I didn’t know how to connect.  I didn’t know what to say, how to act, or how to fulfill expectations.  Connection meant I wasn’t alone.  Connecting is healthy and helpful.

The dilemma of perfection and connection happens on a daily basis in Testing.  It is easy to celebrate success.  It is easy to praise perfection.  It can be hard to connect through disappointments.  Connecting in the imperfect moments builds strength.  Connecting becomes difficult because we may be unsure of how to connect, the other person may reject attempts to connect, or we see our pain, fear, and insecurities in others.

Connecting, whether with ourselves or with another, is human.  I feel successful when I have connected with at least one person.  Connecting is easier when I build rapport, express empathy, and know my limits.

Rapport becomes crucial because it leads to trust, respect, and confidence.  In Testing we must establish rapport quickly.  This video describes strategies we use to connect with students.  Students who are anxious, disappointed, elated, satisfied, and content.

We compliment rapport with empathy.  In most cases, we are not taking the tests.  So we are not always feeling what the student feels.  We can acknowledge, accept, and validate the student’s feeling(s).  It is in these moments we connect through differences.

I am human too.  I have limits and needs.  I connect better when I am energized, refreshed, and focused.  Sometimes, difficult situations means I have to reflect.  I need to understand the impact on me.  Once I know the impact, I can take steps to recover, recharge, and rejuvenate.  As a Testing team we are working on creating this space in our department.  When the demand is high, it is easy to neglect ourselves and serve others.  It is in these precise moments, when we need to take time for us.

 

When you wish upon a star

From a young age I was asked, “what do you want to be when you grow up?”  As with most, my answer changed regularly.  Then high school came.  At this point, I had to decide upon a dream.  Then college started, I was encouraged, maybe even expected, to make my dream a reality.  At this point, I thought I wanted to be a medical doctor.  I grew up in a small town.  I loved school.  I was a certified nursing assistant in our small rural hospital.  I started college by majoring in psychology with the intent to apply to medical school.

Then life happened. College started.  I joined clubs, continued working to finance my degree, made friends, and my interests changed.  I stuck with my dream of going to medical school through the end of my sophomore year.  This is when I learned I could work in a college for the rest of my life.  Somehow this dream took priority over my dream of being a doctor.  Some may say I gave up on my dream.  Others know dreams change as we change.  So did I give up?  Did I find a new dream?  I’m still not sure.

In America we grow up being told we can be anything we want to be.  In reality, our choices lead us closer or farther away from our dreams.  We make choices based upon what is important to us.  Some days I know I choose work over learning sciences.  Other days I think I did not have this choice.  If I gave up on work, I would have been homeless.  I, like so many college students, financed my own college education.  Thankfully I had a scholarship to cover tuition.  I needed money for housing, food, and books.  Some may ask, “well why didn’t you just borrow money?”  I can honestly say that I thought I would need to wait to borrow money once I got to medical school.  So I didn’t want to graduate with a bachelor’s degree and a high level of debt.  So my dream changed.

Looking back, I know that my story is not much different from others.  We can dream a good dream.  We are told to dream big.  Dreams provide hope and inspiration.  When we reach our dreams we develop a sense of satisfaction, confidence, and pride.  Letting go of unattainable dreams is hard.  It is especially hard when we are raised to believe anything is possible.  The reality is that each dream comes with choices.  Sometimes we do not realize the sacrifices that we will have to make along the way for our dreams to come true.  I’m incredibly grateful for the mentor who allowed my dream to change with grace.  When we change dreams it shows strength and courage, not failure.  I’m so thankful that I did not have a mentor questioning my capacity to become a doctor.  Rather I had a mentor that recognized my interests changed.  Today I’m grateful that I made this change.  Now I get to see students live their dreams and change their dreams.  I hear stories about persistence, success, and change.

So far, I have talked about big dreams.  Dreams, wishes, and goals can also be small.  I see this regularly in Testing.  We have students who are coming in for the third time to get reading exemption or the student trying to qualify for the presidential scholarship or a student wants to reduce the number of college-prep classes they need to take.  It is a good day when we get to celebrate these successes.  These little dreams help them move closer to achieving the big dream.  In this moment, we get to be a part of the journey.  It is through my story of the big dream that I understand the value and importance of little dreams.  I need several little dreams to happen for me to reach my big goal.

 

 

 

Catch ’em Being Good

Thank you, Louise So. Reading your post, DON’T FORGET THE GOOD ONES inspired me to write about intrinsic motivation. As an elementary school teacher, I made an effort to encourage intrinsic motivation in addition to using extrinsic rewards such as handing out stickers and saying “good job.”

I learned that if I just narrated the behavior of a student, I didn’t need to compliment or correct the student. Simply describing the scene allowed the individual to create their own intrinsic compliment or correction. For instance, if a student was totally on task and following instructions, I would announce to the class, “Jennifer wrote her name and the date on her paper and she’s highlighting the nouns and underlining our sight words.” Now, Jennifer can create her own intrinsic reward in her mind and the rest of the class is reminded of the expectation.

I think the narration technique builds intrinsic motivation. Using explicit and relevant details sends the message that I noticed Jennifer’s efforts. Recently, while grocery shopping, I noticed how nice the produce section looked. I told the produce employee, “Your produce section looks beautiful. Every item is in perfect rows.” I think he was stunned by my observation.

I imagine that’s what most of us want – to know that once in awhile someone notices our hard work, not just our shortcomings.  As adults, we don’t need stickers on a chart, but isn’t it nice when someone notices our everyday efforts? Just like the swimmers in Louise’s post, recognition of our efforts encourages us to do even better.

 

 

Success or Failure?

“Did I pass?”, asks the student.

Testing employee responds, “Placement exams are not pass fail. Placement tests assist the college in making sure you are placed into the appropriate class. It looks like you placed into MAT 09X, ENG 101, and are reading exempt.”

“Can I take the test again?”

“Yes, students must wait 24 hours between the 1st and 2nd attempt and 3 months before taking the test a third time.”

“What can I do to improve my scores?”

“We have practice questions, an in-person test prep workshop, and a phone app that can help bring forward prior knowledge”

This is a common conversation that Testing Services employees have with students completing placement exams. We have the difficult job of being realistic & responsive, providing hope, and encouraging students to enroll in classes. In this moment a person is more than the results and course placement. In these moments students may be questioning their ability to succeed, wondering why they have so many college prep classes to take, or feeling defeated and rejected.

In this moment, Testing Services is more than just administering a test. We are human. We feel what the student feels. We wish the student met their goal. We want to see the student succeed. We want the student to know that GCC is here for them. We want to see the student come back for retesting, start classes, and persist. When we see a student struggle through a setback, it is a reminder that we are not defined by scores and numbers.

In these moments, we let the student know that we see and hear them. We let the student know there is hope. We manage our fears so they do not become the students. We stand strong, tall, and confidently. By doing this we respond to a challenge by providing support. We embrace our humanity.

Placement testing tells us what we know and what we don’t know. It helps students learn where to begin their college journey. Testing evokes feelings. Placement Testing is more than greeting a student, telling them where to place their belongings, selecting a computer or desk, setting up the exam, and printing results. Testing is a human experience.

 

 

Challenge + Support = Success

Someone once told me that you learn the most from your mistakes. Another wise person encouraged me to find my green lights. A third mentor brought these two words of wisdom together when she shared her expectation that we need to provide adequate support in challenging situations. Throughout my life, I will never forget friends, colleagues, supervisors, family, and faculty who help me live through and become stronger during emotional, financial, interpersonal, and intellectual difficulties.

The way support was offered varied based upon the people, my need, and our relationship. Sometimes it was a brief smile from a stranger when I was walking across campus. Other times, people supported me by telling what I needed to hear but didn’t necessarily want to hear in a kind and gentle way. Still others, helped me embrace my feelings which seemed to be getting the best of me. Sometimes it was about listening. Other times it was about solving problems or figuring out action steps. Regardless of what the person provided, I responded best when I knew why the person was responding to me in a particular way.

At the time I never really thought about how people decided to provide support. I have come to realize there are two different ways, the golden or platinum rule, to respond to others. From a very young age I was taught to treat others how I would want to be treated (the golden rule). This works best when someone is like me. Throughout life, there have been times when I thought I was supporting when I wasn’t. It was through these times I learned it is not about how I want to be treated, rather it is how others want to be treated (the platinum rule).

Looking back, I find myself relying upon the golden rule when I do not know the other person well. In these cases, it is easy to respond based upon how I would want to be helped. Sometimes it is scary to ask what another person needs. At times I have been uncertain on how to ask what a person needs. Sometimes I avoid asking about a need because I’m not sure I can respond. Still other times, I’m afraid to ask because I might identify the wrong need. So the golden rule is safer and works.

The platinum rule – while good in concept – requires connection, risk, trust, and sometimes getting it wrong. The platinum rule takes valuable time. With the platinum rule, I need to communicate my needs to others. I need to give others the space and time to share their needs. There will be times when I ask for something I cannot receive. There will come a time when I am asked for something I cannot do. In these cases, I will learn what is reasonable or doable. I will learn what I must do and how others help. When I am able to practice the platinum rule, I find that connection occurs, service improves, and relationships strengthen.

What will it be for you today? Gold or platinum? Testing Services recently adopted the platinum rule for our team. This means we have spent time defining workplace expectations, discussing individual & group needs and learning about the impact of the “office” on the team. It has taken time. It is an ever-evolving practice and conversation. Just when we think we know everything; new things come up. We are stronger because of the conversations, experience, and memories. We made the change because it provides strength in time of stress or challenge. When we work together, the load lightens.

 

Picking the best path

As I sit here writing, I’m remembering a time when I had to make a decision without fully understanding my choices.  I remember feeling anxious and unsure of how it would turn out.  I recall trusting others with valuable information to help me process the decision and learn about my options.  In some cases, it was empowering when I was able to make a positive decision about my path with the help others.  Even with all the information and best support, sometimes I still made a bad choice for myself.

Looking back, I wonder how others decided if I should be given the chance to make the decision or if they should make the decision for me.  It would be my hope that others allowed me to make a choice when they felt I would be empowered and successful.  I hope that when it has been noticed that multiple individuals struggle with the same choice I was offered, the expert would make the choice for us.  Now that I think about it, it must be hard for experts to know when to make the choices for others or give the choice to me.  Offering too much choice too soon is harmful.  Limiting choice unnecessarily is hurtful.  So how do we decide?

In my experience, my capacity to make an informed choice depends on the complexity of the options, consequences of the decision, and my confidence in the expert.  If the options are complex, the consequences are significant, and I trust the expert more than myself, I would want to the decision to be made for me.  If the expert makes the options easy and the consequences are low, it seems like giving me the choice would be empowering.  As with everything, what may be best for me may not best for everyone.  I can see how it would be hard for an expert to evaluate in the moment if a choice should be given to or made for me.

Every day in the GCC Testing Center, we are balancing the right for individuals to choose how to complete their placement exams.  Students have choice on whether to take all exams at once or split up the Reading, Writing, and Math placement exams up into different testing sessions.  Students have the choice on the order they take the exams.  These choices may influence the outcome.  It is difficult to blame these choices on the course placement outcome.

In the past, we gave students a direct choice on which of the 3 math placement exams to take.  We found that students struggled understanding the options for the math exam.  We knew about the struggle because we frequently had to repeat the question in different ways, explain our terminology, and still received looks of confusion and bewilderment.  So now we make the choice for students (everyone starts with the moderately difficult exam and goes up or down based upon their answers). We made this change to reduce the possibility that the selected exam artificially lowered course placement for a student.  We knew this change may increase the testing time for students who needed to take 2 exams.  We decided the increase in testing time was worth it because the results would lead to more accurate course placement.  Accurate course placement is the most important goal when we test incoming students.

 

SciTech Night of Student Success

Friday night was a night filled with stars, meteorites, comets…chocolate, ramps, burning gumming bears, fossilized arthropods, and so much more. Friday night was the third annual SciTech Festival Event held at GCC North. I had the distinct pleasure of officially starting the event by welcoming everyone…of course, I was so excited I forgot to introduce myself, but I was not the star of the show…our students and faculty are the real stars.

We are so fortunate to have such amazingly dedicated faculty, committed to their discipline and committed to our students. The level of expertise displayed by our students is a direct result of the care and commitment, and their hard work, that our faculty have shown to these students.

My two daughters, ages 10 and 12, gave up their gymnastics class so they could be part of this event, they loved it so much from last year! We all learned so much and I finally have a point of reference regarding light years. As we were looking at a double cluster of stars through one of our high-powered telescopes, Caushlin, the young student who wants to be an Astrophysicists, explained that it was 7500 light years away….”Ok, what exactly does that mean?”, I asked her. “We are looking in the past…7500 years in the past.”, she patiently explains….What? Then she explains that it takes 7500 years for light from those stars to reach our eyes so we are actually looking at the double cluster of stars as they were 7500 years ago…are they even still there? Next things I know, there are two other brainiacs with us, explaining to the uninformed Vice President, the obvious facts about Astronomy. A special thanks to Curtis and Angel for your patience and for not laughing in my face.

Watching our faculty in action takes my breath away. Learning the chemistry of how chocolate is made, as explained by Dr. Christina Clark, was interesting and so well explained that even a non-chemist like myself could understand it…and the chocolate was delicious. Watching the theatrics of Dr. Joe Springer as he blew up balloons and showed florescent chemicals made it clear why our students enjoy his classes. Listening to the excitement in Dr. Sally Watt’s voice as she explained the stars to community members was inspiring.

I have always thought that being an excellent teacher was part art and part science; the art of performing and engaging your audience to learn the science of our disciplines. Watching our faculty and students in action on Friday night, proved to me, that this belief still rings true.

 

Student Success and Financial Aid – Week #2

Count yourself lucky if you didn’t have to rely on Federal Financial Aid for your college education.  At GCC, approximately 60% of our students must battle this maze every year.  In my time as the Vice President of Student Affairs, I have heard many stories from students, learned to understand the secret language of federal financial aid, and offer suggestions on ways to improve our service to students.  For example, take the U.S. born student whose parents were undocumented immigrants from Mexico.  When our student was 13, the parents were deported back to Mexico, leaving our student to fend for himself. Fortunately, he had an older sister who could help but nothing can replace the care and guidance of parents.  I learned there is help for exactly this situation, it’s called a Dependency Override, and while complicated, it allowed the student access to federal financial aid.

Every semester, a process called Enrollment Cancellation begins 35 days before the start of the semester.  This is a District-wide process that drops students from their classes for non-payment.  It has a complicated long story, but suffice it to say, there is a lot of angst surrounding this process.

Last summer, GCC was preparing to drop approximately 7000 students for non-payment.  Luckily, we were able to push robocalls to these students, encouraging them to sign up for a payment plan.  We also learned that approximately 3500 students had a federal financial aid application on file but had not completed the steps for awarding.  We saw this as a call to action, an opportunity to reach out to these students and to try to push them through the maze of financial aid.  We coined the phrase “Financial Aid Friday” and on a hot Friday in July, we were able to reach over 300 students.  GCC gained a lot of attention from District Office that day and a representative was sent over to witness and participate in our big event.  As a result of our focus on student success and financial aid, the messaging that students received was streamlined and made easier to understand.

So, what has GCC done now that we understand the impact of the federal financial process on our students and their success?  We have streamlined the GCC Financial Aid department and have hired four part-time staff to focus solely and completely on getting students through the maze we call federal financial aid. We are also planning additional Financial Aid Fridays throughout the summer.  The biggest take away for me has been in seeing the positive impact of one-on-one attention to our students.  It is time consuming and costly but ultimately, worth the price if we can help one more student through the maze.

 

Trickle-Down Help

The theme this week is asking how I have helped someone. I could go on about all my amazing successful students, of course. (There is nothing more rewarding than mentoring students.) Instead, I want to highlight how I have been helped … and how hopefully that help has trickled down to the students.

Before I came to the community college, I taught science in a Montessori Elementary setting, and I also handled the tough behavior issues that went beyond the classroom. I felt pretty good about classroom control and helping students learn from their behavioral mistakes.

Funny thing though, Montessori Elementary classroom management techniques don’t always work in a community college setting – for a host of different reasons. I can no longer ask students to check their cell phones in at the door. Moving people’s seats during a lecture doesn’t go over very well. Students who misbehave cannot be sent to another classroom, and they don’t get detentions or “write ups.” They cannot be asked to write a reflective essay on their behavior. Adult students expect a certain amount of freedom – after all, they ARE adults!

I know I am not the only one who can spot a problem brewing. When we see this, we must decide how far to take it. I usually start by speaking to the student individually. I can suggest, cajole, offer, etc. to students who need help to visit the appropriate support service (counseling, testing center, library, writing center, etc.) – but sometimes those students just do not follow through. Then, when the student is not getting what he/she needs outside the classroom, it shows up in classroom etiquette and other disruptive behaviors. As soon as it becomes a distraction to the learning of the others in the class, we have options and support.

The Behavior Intervention Team, a committee through the Dean of Student Life has helped me handle a specific difficult situation and become a better teacher at the same time. I had a student that was significantly disruptive and I frankly was concerned for his mental health. I started by having an informal conversation with Dr. Trisha Lavigne (fellow faculty are amazing), and then I followed through by filing a report online. I wanted the record to be in the system, but it was only in there for informational purposes. It is important to track things like this, as if the student repeats the behavior for another instructor, we at least have a paper trail. After the initial report was filed, we decided to have someone call him and offer services to help him get on track. Trisha gave me some words to use when speaking to the student about it. He got agitated, and the next class period, his behavior was even worse. I knew I was going to have to speak to him again, this time about his grade and what he was going to need to do to remain enrolled in the class. This is where Lt. Nate Achtizger helped me. He sat in the classroom and assessed the situation, then he sat outside the conference room when I met with the student. His feedback helped me feel more safe when the student was around. In the end, the student ended up dropping the class, which was helpful for everyone else – and maybe for him, too. Whew! Dodged a bullet! All through this process, Dean Monica Castaneda was aware and ready to step in if I couldn’t handle it.

The bullet was not dodged for long, though. That same student enrolled for another one of my classes this semester. Again, Dean Castaneda spent time emailing and talking with me to be prepare before the semester even started. While we tried to get the student to get the services he needs, he has refused. He is, however, doing much better this time around. And so am I. I know I am supported – the team has my back. I have established a new rapport with the student, and maybe, if he continues to not be disruptive, I will be able to reach him. Maybe he will eventually follow through on getting the services he needs. Just maybe. I hope.

So to answer the question, “How have you helped someone,” I can say that the GCC community has helped me. And in turn, hopefully, I can return the favor.

 

Healthier, Happier and Smarter

Have you read Spark yet? It gave me goosebumps.

The book basically justified my persistence for the past 30 years in the field of Fitness and Wellness. Exercise is not just about getting fit, looking good, preventing heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes and the like. It helps keep you smarter!

I finished this book on a plane flight to Dublin last summer, on my way to see my family, but more specifically, my ailing mother who is suffering from the debilitating effects of Alzheimer’s disease.

The book highlighted many of the mental health issues we deal with, including Alzheimer’s, ADHD, stress, anxiety, depression and addiction. And guess what? Exercise outscores medication in every case. It may not replace it for every case, but it certainly is a great complement to treatment.

It turns out that exercise is like Miracle Gro to the brain. It promotes the production of Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF) which causes neurons to grow! It was only discovered in 1990! Since then, neuroscientists have been studying it like crazy. Exercise lays down the foundation for our students to learn.

In his book, Ratey devotes an entire chapter to the “Learning Readiness PE” program in Naperville, Illinois. These high school students are outsmarting their Japanese and German counterparts on the TIMMS test! You can find out more in this video!

It is my intention to make a difference in the lives of our community college students, faculty, staff and administration by raising awareness about the importance of movement throughout the day.

Just yesterday, the following bill was passed in Senate (SB211). I read it excitedly to my students this morning! Positive change is finally happening at the national level!

“A program of physical activity (i) that consists of at least 20 minutes per day or an average of 100 minutes per week during the regular school year available to all students in grades kindergarten through five and (ii) with a goal of at least 150 minutes per week on average during the regular school year available to all students in grades six through 12. Such program may include any combination of (a) physical education classes, (b) extracurricular athletics, (c) recess, or (d) other programs and physical activities deemed appropriate by the local school board. Each local school board shall incorporate into its local wellness policy a goal for the implementation of implement such program during the regular school year.

…That the provisions of this act shall become effective beginning with the 2018-2019 school year.”

Elementary schools and high schools will finally see the benefits of more movement on the brains of the students. I hope we can continue this trend at the community college level. It is critical to the success of our students.

Source: Ratey, J. J. (2012). Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain. Little Brown and Company.