In my role as Student Engagement Staff in the Philosophy and Religious Studies Department I often get to interact with students in need of direction and guidance. With one recent encounter I used a method of personal analysis based on the work of the late USC philosopher, Dallas Willard. He called it the VIM method. I outline some of what I shared with the student below. What I particularly like about this approach is that recognizes the critical importance of “vision.” This is to acknowledge that people cannot be forced into human flourishing or that which is good for them. What we can do is to paint a vision of the good life that they might find alluring and motivating. As I interacted with this student I tried to guide the discussion with questions that would bring this student face-to-face with their ultimate goals and their understanding of the “good life.” I think “vision” is the key component and the other two (intention and means) can fall into fall rather nicely under the guidance of a wise counselor.
What is your vision for the “good life”?
Physically, emotionally, spiritually
If the desires of my heart came true, what would it look like? (Try to be specific)
What do you want to be doing/experiencing in …
Vision is not enough. We need to intend by an act of the will (actually, repeated acts of the will) to move toward the Vision set before us.
We cannot merely dream—we must act!
Clarifying vision can help motivate intention. As I see clearly the good life, my desires for it increase and I’m more and more willing to move my will toward it.
Have I really intended to pursue the Vision before me?
Am I willing to begin to make the changes necessary to begin to see the Vision fulfilled?
If not, why? What is holding me up?
What are the tools, resources, people, and practices that I will need to see Vision fulfilled?
Tools, resources: Technologies, Services (counseling, professional organizations)
People: Counselors (professional, wise family and friends), family, friends
Practices: Study habits, time management, focused “free-time,”
Question: What one thing do I need to do today to pursue VIM?
There is the need for civil dialogue on the complex and controversial issues of our time. It should be one of the tasks of higher education to illuminate the path toward such a goal. This quest, however, is fraught with danger in that there are some who would rather shut down dialogue and debate rather than engage in rational intellectual interchange. The examination of ideas and perspectives different from one’s own can be disorienting. I often remind students to embrace the cognitive dissonance they may at times experience as they learn new philosophical ideas, rather than simply run from it. Even if one does not change their views on a given topic, the challenge of working through the intellectual discomfort of foreign ideas can lead to a deeper understanding and appreciation of the views which they hold. I hope all would resonate with the words found in the Arizona Revised Statutes when they state:
“It is not the proper role of an institution of higher education to shield individuals from speech protected by the first amendment, including, without limitation, ideas and opinions that may be unwelcome, disagreeable or deeply offensive.”
Toward this end of promoting free exchange in the marketplace of ideas, the GCC Philosophy and Religious Studies Department along with the GCC Philosophy Club continues to sponsor its bi-annual panel discussions—God & Truth; Critical Dialogues. These events allow a spectrum of speakers to engage significant and, sometimes, controversial topics in an atmosphere of mutual respect and reasoned engagement. The issues discussed run the gamut from religious issues such as the meaning of life and God and morality to the political and cultural issues of transgenderism and religious rights and civil rights.
We are already planning our next Critical Dialogues panel discussion set for October and we are planning to tackle one of the most contentious issues in our culture—Abortion. Dealing with a topic which is prone to sloganeering and emotion is challenging and we are hopeful of examining the philosophical and legal aspects of this debate from different perspectives. And, as always, we will be seeking to model to our students, staff, and community how to have a serious and substantive conversation in an engaging and civil manner.
I wrote a piece for the 6×6 blog series back in February 2020 (before Covid!)—Celebrating the Value of Free Speech!—and I ended that piece with the following words which still seem apropos:
The Need for Vigilance
The culture of free expression and civil disagreement is healthy at Glendale Community College. This is partly a function of the laws enshrined in the Arizona statutes as well as the legal precedents handed down in defense of the Maricopa County Community College District. For example, in a 2010 decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit—Rodriquez v. Maricopa County Community College District—these powerful words are found:
“Without the right to stand against society’s most strongly-held convictions, the marketplace of ideas would decline into a boutique of the banal, as the urge to censor is greatest where debate is most disquieting and orthodoxy most entrenched. The right to provoke, offend and shock lies at the core of the First Amendment. This is particularly so on college campuses.”
Laws and legal precedent are necessary but not sufficient. There is always the need for vigilance. There must continue to be a firm commitment to freedom on the part of individuals who inhabit our institutions of higher learning. As Alan Charles Kors and Harvey A. Silverglate remind us, “Freedom dies in the heart and will before it dies in the law.” It is for this reason that institutions like Glendale Community College with their commitment to the free exchange of ideas ought to be celebrated and emulated.
In my previous two posts, I focused on the theory and structure of the Student Engagement Staff position created less than two years ago in the Philosophy and Religious Studies department. In implementing the program we chose to take a two-pronged approach that focused on (1) Classroom presentations and (2) Individual student assistance. In this post, I will focus on the classroom aspect and its impact.
Recognizing that many students are unaware of the many resources for student success available on our campus, I put together a 15-presentation that would introduce students to some of these resources as well as acquaint them with my role as Student Engagement Staff. I have been modifying the list of resources we highlight in these presentations each semester but the list of resources we used this semester was as follows:
Advisement: I always ask how many of the students have ever seen an advisor and I am amazed at how many have never seen an advisor on our campus. I stress the need to be connecting with an advisor every semester they are here.
Needs Support Site: This is the relatively new link which
highlights access to resources regarding food, housing, safety, transportation,
and paying for college. I stress the fact
that, although there are all sorts of issues outside of the campus that can get
in the way of your education, there are resources available on this campus and through
this campus that can potentially help.
Resources and Services (DRS): I make quick mention of DRS and
the kinds of issues they can help with in students’ lives.
Brainfuse Online Writing Lab: I provide a step-by-step tutorial on how to access this resource and how to use it to produce better papers. By taking the time to go over this tool I’m attempting to do a number of different things—(1) Give the students an immediate takeaway resource they can begin to use, (2) create the potential for students to become better writers, and (3) help professors by making it easier on them when they have to grade the writing of their students! I know of at least one professor outside of the Philosophy and Religious Studies department that invites me to his classes just so his students have access this to training on this resource.
Micro-scholarships: I end with this resource and explain that they may
qualify for some monies from four-year institutions simply based on the work
they do here at GCC. (If you are not
familiar with Raise Me I would
encourage you to check out this link
and click the “Student Overview Tutorial.”)
I like to tell students about one student on our campus who has
qualified for $32,000.00 from a participating institution in another
state. I, then, like to ask, “Based on
what I told you about Raise Me, how
many of you think you might create a profile?”
Usually, 80-90% of the hands are raised.
recognize that there are a myriad of other resources on our campus for the
promotion of student success. I have
chosen these resources in consultation with others to respond to the twin
issues of urgency and immediacy—some of the resources may
be urgently needed at some point (e.g., food issues) and others can have an
immediate pay-off (e.g., the online writing lab).
We have been excited to see the reach and impact of these presentations. For the spring 2019 semester, I was able to present in 23 classes with a total of 353 students. In the fall 2019 semester, I was in 34 classes with a total of 776 students. This semester, spring 2020, I was able to present in 39 different classes to a total of 691 students.
development has been the expansion of these presentations beyond the Philosophy
and Religious Studies department. I have
also presented in classes in the Mathematics, Psychology, and the Public Safety
We have also seen some good trends in those metrics we can track. At the beginning of the fall 2019 semester (August), there were 280 Raise Me profiles. After presenting in 34 classes to 776 students the number of Raise Me profiles on January 8, 2020, was 711! As of this week, there are over 865 Raise Me profiles that have been created by students. Of course, my presentations are not the sole cause of this increase in profile creation, but we do have confirmation that a number of students have created profiles in response to the presentations—I’ve even had students create a profile while I was presenting!
Another area we have seen an increase of activity concerns the online writing lab use through Brainfuse. Going back to figures from the school-year 2017/2018 in which there was a pre-Brainfuse electronic writing lab, there were 320 uses—remember, that is for two semesters. After the spring 2019 semester, there were 222 uses of the Brainfuse online writing lab. After the fall 2019 semester, there were 327 uses—which is more than the entire school year of 2017/2018.
As excited as we are to see the scope and impact of the classroom presentations, we are even more enthusiastic about the individual lives we have been able to help. In my next post, I will detail some of these stories.
In my last post on Student Engagement, I laid out some distinctions in the term “student engagement” comprising techniques, practices, and modalities. I ended by mentioning the modality of Student Engagement Staff that we implemented in the Philosophy and Religious Studies department. In this post, I want to outline the nature of the Student Engagement Staff (SES) endeavor.
As an initial attempt at
providing a working definition for this modality of Student Engagement Staff we
came up with the following points:
Engagement Staff is dedicated to student advocacy; promoting students’ success
and completion of their education at GCC.
Engagement Staff is dedicated to educating all instructors about the importance
of early intervention when students begin to slacken in their attendance and/or
Student Engagement Staff is a coordinating link in the process of connecting faculty and students to resources that further their educational goals.
Engagement Staff is committed to enhancing the general awareness of Student
Engagement across the campus through various events and programs.
A key component of student
engagement is a focus on the triangulation of three key elements: students,
professors, and resources.
reasonable set of questions to ask is: “What
is unique about SES? Aren’t there many
people, departments, and staff devoted to the same agenda?”
considering the nature of Student Engagement Staff we have come to recognize
two distinctive elements. The first
element is that of being a generalist modality. Most of the modalities on campus are
specialist in nature. Think of the
following departments and the specialized help they offer:
Disability Resources and Services
Center for Learning
desire and design was to have SES be more general in nature. Student Engagement Staff would, thus, seek to
accumulate information on a number of different resources available on
campus. What was given up in depth of
specificity was compensated by a greater breadth of coverage. SES was designed to be a sort of
clearing-house of information regarding resource as well as a point of contact
into the more specialized departments.
generalist modality was to work in tandem with the second key element—fluidity
and flexibility. Being situated
in the Philosophy and Religious Studies department allows for increased
response time in intervention as well as a closer connection to professors who
are the frontline in seeing those students most in need of help. We like to refer to this as “Bringing the
institution to the student.” A quick
example may help illustrate this. An
adjunct professor came into the department office asking for help regarding a
student in his class expressing suicidal ideation. I was able to immediately come to his class,
meet the student, and offer to walk this student over to the Counseling Center. I am not trained as a specialist in counseling
but as a generalist I knew enough about what resources we had on campus that
could help. Being able to respond
immediately and personally helped the professor maintain his focus on his
duties while also allowing the student to get personalized help.
next post, I will detail the specifics of what we are doing with Student
Engagement at both the classroom level and the individual level as well as
highlight some of our success stories.