Failures in Course Selection, or Why Students Don’t Read Email

I had the pleasure of sitting in Hayes Healy last semester watching students register, or attempt to register for courses. It was a mixture or elation and sheer frustration, as classes quickly closed and options dwindled.

After my two hour shift, I was exhausted, and as soon as  I got back to the office, I received more visitors, and helped a few more students. I was sure that I was able to help the bulk of my student caseload, so I looked forward to a quiet day today. So imagine my surprise when I checked email this morning.

Help, I didn’t know registration was today.


I am not going to go into a rant about how the student should have paid attention to the emails I sent him. I have another issue to bring to light – are we sending students so much email that they just zone out when it comes to seeing “IMPORTANT PLEASE READ” in the subject line?

I, for one, do not like sending email to students UNLESS it’s vitally important: Last Day to Drop, Advising Appointments now available, Deadline, etc. I know some entities drop emails like rain: Last Day to Drop is Next Monday. Last Day to Drop is THREE Days Away. Last Day to Drop is Tomorrow! LAST DAY TO DROP IS TODAY ZOMG.

Email is a vital form of communication. I get that. I also know that we love to email students to death. Our bad. There is a fine line between “Dude, I gotta read that” and “This stuff again? Delete.” We owe it to you as students to send email appropriately, but you need to meet us halfway. Tell us what works and what doesn’t. Check your email often and opt out when you want to opt out.

The only way I’m supposed to email you all is through your USFConnect email – and I know messages go unchecked. I just hate to see you miss an opportunity to do something right the first time. Some faculty members even state it in their syllabi: “Please check your USFConnect email frequently.” I hope this goes without saying, but unfortunately it’s the nature of email and college students.

So scheduling for Fall 2014 is going to happen in about five weeks. Keep an eye out for emails, and if you’re the person sending the emails, use your better judgment.


How Time Flies

Hello friends.

It’s been a long time since my last post – and time has indeed flown. A lot has happened professionally, and while I won’t blame that for the passage of time, it just meant that the beam of light had to point somewhere else for a change.

Starting last April and lasting until August was the work transitioning our newest class at USF into USF life. This meant daily connections with Facebook, Twitter, email, whatever. We did some really cool things that I have ALWAYS wanted to do, and it did take up time that I didn’t anticipate.

One of the new innovations that I came up with was a live text-based chat for incoming students. It was something that I always wanted to do. It was easy rounding up my colleagues to book their respective days, but it was harder yet to explain how the chats would work. In a nutshell, every Wednesday from mid-June until the week of Orientation, we had a chat session hosted by yours truly and another campus department. Public Safety, Career Services, SLE, Student Employment, you name it, we did it.

I found that students of this day/age are not so much text-based chatters…we didn’t get a TON of numbers, but I did find that students that came in, really liked it. Sometimes it was hard to get people to chat, so we wound up just talking amongst ourselves, which then led to some conversations. It wasn’t until the last day that it came to me. I have a uStream account and decided to host the text based chat and use the uStream as a diversion. Students could watch the chat as it unfolded including who was responding. It was really fun. I wish I had done that earlier.

Sadly, this will be the last time I do this for the incoming class. Working with Admissions was a freakin’ BLAST. They are so wonderful and very collegial; they allowed me to be part of the Facebook group for the last three years, and each year the groups got bigger, but it helped me so much to realize the strength of social media in helping with the transition. To have a face and  name answering your questions CONSISTENTLY is powerful and builds engagement like no other, and this is where I learned it. Yes, I am the Facebook girl, when first years see me on campus. I love it. This is a wonderful gift that I have been given, and I’m sad to not be able to continue it.

Which leads to my next update – I am going to be working with our Branch Campus students from here on out. This is a new position that I am in, and I took reigns in July. I had a heavy heart when I thought of the work, but it’s good work. This doesn’t mean that I will be leaving my Firsties in the dust. I will continue to assist when I can, and @iTweetUSF will forever be answered only by ME.

My commitment will always be to the success of students no matter where or who they are. This time the beam of light is pointed at the Branches, and that’s where I will be for now. Know that I remain committed to Hilltop campus in every pore and blood cell. My posts might not be as frequent (I’ll work on that), but I am still here and will still contribute to the amazing fabric of this wonderful place.

Ciao for now. I promise to be back.


Stand Strong with Boston and Everyone.

As I’m writing this, I have my headphones on, and I’m listening to NPR following along with the events as they unfold in Boston. I have a few students and friends from the area, so of course it’s a personal interest, but it’s also a professional interest because as students who hail from Boston are dealing with the terror from afar. We need to be aware of the goings on to be able to support students.

Crisis impacts lives daily – and we are challenged with responding to issues no matter how close or how far they are from the Hilltop. We are challenged to find meaningful ways to console those that are worried, be responsive to questions about support after hours, and show that we are there for students. I’m not surprised to see students responding to each other in FB or on twitter, providing support via #hashtags and reaching out to friends from the 617.  I think it’s a sign of a community is aware of each other’s needs and issues and responding in kind. It’s the kind of thing that makes USF a special place.

The reality is that students come to USF from all over the United States, and whatever happens abroad happens here.  It would behoove any of us who work with students to be aware of the lives of our students and where they are from to get a better clue on how to support students in times of need such as this one. We have to be nimble in our responses, kind in our words, and exercise being Men and Women for others, not just on days like this, but all days.

And imagine if the world was the same.



Things Parents Ask: Does My Student Have to Clean His Own Room?

Does my student have to clean his own room?

Oh parent, sweet parent. The answer to that is, and I did respond thusly: “It would be nice, but it’s up to them. If you’d like to do it for him that’s your call. But I think it’s time for him to clean up his own room.”

Parents are funny.


The End is Near: An Ode to Seniors

As the semester nears an end, I walk through campus keenly aware that the clock is ticking for many of our seniors who are getting ready to move on to bigger and better things. Graduation serves as a marker of many things – growing up, moving on, and new beginnings. The graduation ceremony itself is a quickly moving event with speeches, accolades, and praise; it’s a blur in leis and funny mortarboards.

Before we do that walk together, let’s think for a moment about the markers in our lives: birthdays, religious ceremonies, graduations, and such. These serve not as just events where gifts are exchanged and awkward photos taken. These events are rites of passages. Today in current society, rites of passages fly under the radar – these events are not truly recognized and honored as essential markers in the lives of young people. I’m going to take a huge leap to say that rites of passage, as we know it, are not discussed in every day life as they may have been in other days and ages.

Rites of passage, in a traditional sense, were celebrations by a community that are bathed in seemingly complex rituals, meaning, and, more importantly, reflection. Some forms of rites of passage more familiar today are debuts, cotillions, quinceaneras, and mitzvahs. The rites served as markers whereupon young men and women leveled up, so to speak. Congratulations, you are moving on from being a child to an adult.

So fast forward to where we are today – seniors rushing to meet deadlines and complete graduation checklists. As we prepare for good things to come, we need to stop and think about what the next phase of our life is – not just repaying loans, but reflecting on what the lessons were that you learned from the last 4 years of your life. What would you have done differently and will do right from here on out? Have you righted wrongs and have you made amends? How do you want to be remembered? Are you ready to leave adolescence behind?

I am a strong believer in ritual to help ground us and built in markers for my programs for this reason. Rites help us remember, help to create common vocabulary amongst generations, and to hold hope that future generations will follow the traditions we have created. In following those traditions, we hope that they will also understand the meanings and importance of leveling up as, I hope, we have.


Should I Take This Class?

I came across this article the other day, thanks to Shawn Calhoun of Gleeson Library. I thought of it as relevant these days because registration is coming up.

Students often ask me for recommendations on professors, and the truth is I try to steer as far away from recommending one faculty member over another, preferring to share that I am familiar with the faculty member only socially and he/she has been lovely to connect with. On the other hand, if it’s a faculty member I have heard nothing positive about, I’m more likely to refrain from sharing second hand remarks, suggesting that the student talk to his/her peers to get perspective. If I happen to know the faculty member again, socially, I’ll mention that as well.

It gets tricky because you know students are biased and have opinions about faculty that are based on personal experiences and expectations that are or are not met. Expecting an A but getting a C is a tough, and if given the opportunity to respond, sometimes people will go there. When I happened to peruse, I saw a lot of this, the anger of expectations dashed to the ground – but I also saw reviews that were glowingly positive and some were just really random. Whenever using review sites, it helps to remember frame of mind and critically think about the reasons why people say the things they say. Same goes for reviews on Yelp, right? Clearly someone with an axe to grind has a wonderful forum on which to do just that. Everything with a grain of salt.

What matters is that you do your due diligence and learn as much as you can about the faculty and the kind of course before you commit to registering for it. Even if you’re not sure, it may be worth it to give it a go anyway and commit yourself to learning as much as  possible. While negative reviews on Yelp might steer you away from a restaurant, have you ever been to a restaurant, thoroughly enjoyed the experience then were surprised to see low reviews when you got home? It happens – that people are steered by negative reviews, but you should think for yourself and maybe even give things the benefit of the doubt. You never know what you will learn (pun intended) from the experience.

If you’re interested in check out:

Gonyea, N., & Gangi, J. (2012). Reining in student comments: A model for categorizing and studying online comments. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education (37)1. pp. 45-55.

Otto, J., Sanford, Jr., D. A., & Ross, D. (2008). Does really rate my professor? Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education (33)4. pp. 355-368.

I think that life presents us with people we don’t always like at first glance, whether it be at the bus stop or on the job, but that can’t preclude us from trying to make it work. I’ve been the student in classes where the faculty member was prickly and students were turned off. I happened to catch her in between classes during one of her famous smoke breaks (this was when it was okay to smoke outside buildings on campus), and we connected over the material and shared a laugh. After that, I learned to see her differently, and learned the hard way that first impressions are just that – first impressions. If you let first impressions get in the way, you’re going to have a hard time not just in that class, but in life.

So before you go on be sure to think about not just what you’re reading, but who the person is that’s both writing the review and the person who the review is about. Be critical.

Good luck with registration!


The iTweetUSF Manifesto

Let it be known that I started iTweetUSF with one goal – to engage with students. I started this account 4 years ago today.

iTweetUSF has become a part of who I am, professionally and personally. I have come to embrace the challenges of social media and working in a higher education context. I am excited about my work on and offline, and am nothing but the biggest fan of using social media when it comes to students, faculty, and staff.

Fortunately, as the field emerges, shapes itself, and evolves, best practices are ones that are being created daily. Ideally, best practices reflect the work that you need to do for your campus. I wanted to approach this manifesto saying that this is what works for me in my social media world at USF. What might work for you may very well be different, but here’s my two cents.

Understand social media. The first and foremost rule about social media (at least in my brain) is that it is about engagement with your respective community. Throw out everything you know about the number of followers you have – it means nothing. Engagement, from where I sit, means that I am cultivating a positive reciprocal relationship with the folks who follow me. Who follows me? Students. Faculty. Staff. Families. Prospectives. The Provost, for heaven’s sake. Engaging means an exchange, a give and take of information, comments, and questions as well as answers. If you’re doing this to solely clock numbers, you’re doing it wrong.

That being said, subsection A. of this point is to be mindful. The things you say, and how you say them have an impact on your followers and those that are your potential followers. It’s tempting to think that out of Twitter’s 500 million users that no one could possibly notice a tweet bemoaning your campus, you’d be surprised.

Know your audience. I want to say to everyone who’s going to try their hand at social media – you owe it to your audience to know them. You need to understand their culture, what students like, where they eat, what their seemingly random hashtags mean. Get out of your office, for goodness sake. Go to student events. Eat lunch in the café. The more you’re out, the more you will learn. I don’t profess to understand the student experience – but I do highly recommend that you do your due diligence and research. Do you know where students are? Do you know where you are on the academic calendar? Can you tell me about the events that are going on after class today? If not, you are not listening.

A word to those who get their students to take over the twitter reigns when you have to step away from the keyboard: your Twitter voice changes. I know, for instance, if someone is at the reigns other than the usual. The word choice is different. The flow is different. I was not able to attend orientation until later on in the morning and let a student use my account. Never again.

We could talk about branding at this stage, but it’s like Toyota all of a sudden releasing pet food. It says Toyota, and that alone has its own cache, but doesn’t quite feel right. Keep your voice singular – or if you are tweeting from a team perspective, indicate that it’s someone new by using initials at the end of the tweet. If @barackobama signs tweets he puts out there instead of when a staffer does it, it’s good enough for you too.

Be a voice – yours. I had an interaction where I was asked to talk about my work with social media. I, along with other social media heavy weights (hat tip to @davidmsilver, @shawncalhoun/gleesonlibrary and @usfca), talked to digital media class about how we used social media, our tools, and thought processes. A student said to me, “It sounds like you’re making fun of us when you talk the way you do.”

Set aback, the truth is that I talk like a student most days when I’m not straightlacing in front of the university community. My tweets reflected this – and there is nothing worse than trying to act a role or be someone you’re not. “This is how I talk. It’s my voice, and I’m not trying to be anything but myself.” Nods.

People know if you’re, for lack of a better word, fronting. Please avoid this at all costs. Don’t try to sound hip – it will always fail. When students try to seek you out to thank you for all the hard work that you’ve done answering their questions, AND THEY WILL, when you present otherwise, they will smell a rat.

Seize opportunities to engage. The work of engagement is indeed work. If you have your deep listening tools ready to hear what people are saying about you or your institution, you will hear some great and equally foul things. Social media is interesting – some folks liken it to standing on a hilltop screaming out your vices, virtues, and telling people what you had for lunch.

Two years ago, to accommodate for the incoming first year class, the University had to make a tough decision to alter offers of housing to 2nd year students and move them from the preferred campus housing to farther off, therefore less desirable, student housing. They were a mad and cursing lot. Unable to get satisfaction from the staff answering the phones at the front desk of Student Housing and Residential Education, parents and students took it to social media.

It was 10PM, and I already settled in for the night. I decided to, as I often to, look at my twitter feed and see what was going on. Tweet after tweet about the difficulties this was going to cause. It would have been easy for me to shut off the laptop and call it a night. After all, I wasn’t employed by Student Housing. I had little to nothing to do with the situation.

I dashed off a tweet instead to the angry parent. If my twitter-fu was better I could actually share it with you, but basically I said “I’m sorry you’re upset – SHaRE opens tomorrow at 8:30. Please give them a call: 415-422-6824.” We went back and forth a few times, and I’m hoping he was able to get the resolution he needed. I sent off a message to a colleague in housing letting them know what was going on in social media, and to expect a message from a particular individual.

That parent was heated – a few were. But being able to address and acknowledge someone’s feelings up front was important to me, not just as a representative of the University, but as a human being. He was mad, and I wanted to help him feel heard. I took a chance to tweet him to help him find a venue to get his concerns heard. Some companies will request that the individual direct message (DM) in order to get a response. No, let’s put it out there because people are reading responses and this is a great opportunity to address the entirety of the community instead of just taking to the internet’s back room and handling it privately. Of course there are situations that merit handling it privately, but this was one that I needed to put out there. We as a University acknowledge there is an issue, and we want to help you with it. That’s called customer service elsewhere. Why is it any different because it’s higher education?

Be worth listening to. When I first starting figuring twitter out, I sought out people to follow. At that time, one of my favorite shows was a Food TV program that actively promoted said chef’s twitter account. Sure, why not.

A few tweets in, I noticed that the chef’s tweets were coming in in third person. “Watch Chef so and so in the exotic locale of such and such.” My first thoughts were: if this was really homeboy, then why is he referring to himself in third person, and these seem really fake. I unfollowed him shortly thereafter. And surprisingly enough, I stopped watching his show too. Lack of genuineness had that big of an impact on me.

What are you putting out there on Twitter? Is what you’re putting out impacting the community? Is it relevant? Maybe the better question is: Does it give value? Do not, for any reason, get an account to think that it will be the magic bullet – the success of any account is a multiplicity of things, but definitely what you choose to say from your digital soapbox is crucial.

I decided to do weather reports every morning because San Francisco is well known for its microclimates, and where I live has a different climate than where USF is located. I need to know what I’m getting myself into. So I started putting out weather, expected highs, and any interesting feature (rain, storms, extreme heat of 70+ ;-)). It was early enough that people heading to campus to start the day will have a heads up on whether or not to bring an umbrella or heavy jacket – that’s the value. I can’t say it’s saved lives, but at the very least, it’s adding a reason to follow me.

Collaborate – be social. One of the hallmarks of my work is #GreenandGoldFriday. I am committed to bring some sort of campus tradition to campus, that is wearing something green or gold on Fridays. In order to make this fly, it was going to take more than me screeching at colleagues (which I did, but with love) or posting it on twitter. I enlisted the advisor for @LosLocosUSF, the student spirit organization on campus. They were on board. I enlisted @DonsAthletics. I wrote a blog post. I took pictures. Slowly, it’s moving and creating school spirit; together we started building something wonderful, and even alumni are starting to take notice.

The whole point of social media is to be social – and as I’ve stated before, it’s about being engaged with your community. The beauty of #GreenandGoldFriday is that it takes a team approach – that we need Athletics to know that we’re supporting the teams/athletes. We would love to share this with Los Locos, the most spirited group on campus, so they can embrace the tradition and push it out to other students. It takes more than one person to start a culture shift, so use social media as a tool to broadcast your message and build networks and get some work done too.

As I write this, today is the first day that the Bookstore will offer a discount on any USF gear. HUGE deal. I couldn’t have done that alone. I needed others to help advance the mission.

Sharing and share alike is important – pay attention to who asks you for a RT. Also, give props to people who RT your stuff. I love the admissions acceptance season because I often get to interact with the incoming first year. Check out #NewDon for reference. It’s fun, but it’s also important that as these students are making decisions that I get all my ducks lined up and answer the questions they have about USF. So it makes natural sense to involve @USFCA_Admissions if it’s questions they have about deposits or transcripts. Also, many of them have questions about internships, so a quick cc: to @USFCareer is warranted. Interested in Communications? I’ll let @USFDonsComs know too! You see how this works?

As a potential first year student, imagine having the doors thrown open to you – and there’s someone there to answer all your questions. And if the answers aren’t readily available, a cc: will fix that. Which school would you choose: the one that takes forever to respond to email or the one that hears you and responds with more than you asked for?

Put in Work. One of my favorite shows was Rob & Big on MTV, if only for the saying, “Do work, son!” Obviously, the most important work that you can do in social media is the active work of what I learned from @claire’s book Twitter for Good. In the book, she describes the means by which you can use Twitter for businesses and organizations. She recommends the T.W.E.E.T. strategy: Target, Write, Engage, Explore, Track.

  • Target: identify your core audience.
  • Write: hello, tweet away, to your core audience.
  • Engage: take the time to learn how to @ your audience and connect with them regarding their questions, comments, and concerns. Use hashtags (#)!
  • Explore: learn the power of the search function and find other like-minded Twitter accounts. Build connections.
  • Track: get some analytics to confirm you’re doing what you said you were going to do.

Putting a tweet out into the wild isn’t necessarily all the work you can do for your org/school/group, etc. It’s work to be good at social media so you have to put in the time to do it.

If you are a university, who are your followers? Parents? Students? Faculty? Alumni? Are you contributing to your audience? Are they RTing you? These are essential questions to your work (and there are many more) because it will help you see if you’re meeting your goals.

There are tools to help you do this – I personally use @hootsuite and pay for the Pro account because it allows me to look at analytics in a meaningful way – what are my followers clicking on? What did they RT? What conversations were had? BTW, I’m not getting paid by @hootsuite for the mention! There are other tools out there, so analyze away.

Also, I have learned to hate leaving my phone behind when I head off to meetings – use your mobile phone to capture things on the fly – take pictures on the go. Easy stuff. Go do it. Everything is interesting!

Finally, have fun. If you look at social media as boring, stupid, or daresay WACK, then don’t do it. I have encountered people who just don’t get it – those are not the people to be in charge of your social media and marketing campaigns. Find the kid with the tricked out phone and wicked (yet Jesuit) sense of humor to run your account. That’s the one who is going to turn your account from blah to hurrah.

I can’t stress that doing this has been more fun than I ever thought possible. Being able to connect on the fly with students, faculty, staff, high school seniors, and parents is an amazing opportunity to have outreach and engagement that other universities would kill for. Colleagues ask me how much time this takes to do, and I always tell them that it doesn’t take forever – it takes maybe a few minutes a day to read the tweets, process what you’ve seen and respond. I can’t spend all day tracking my streams – this is not, as many people seem to think, my only job. It is, however, one of the highlights of my work.

This is how currents shift – when you love what you do, the good things follow. You will have unprecedented growth and be able to write a manifesto about it someday.

Peace out! LMK what you think in the comments.


Why Failure Doesn’t Suck

During college, I was home during break, and while relaxing, I could hear the mail arrive. I dashed downstairs to pick it up. Rifling through the junk mail and the bills, I found what I was looking for. My report card. (Please note that this was a very long time ago, and we actually had grades sent home, so thank your lucky stars  that this is no longer the case, friends)

I went to my room, shut the door, and opened it. I scanned for the letters that would dictate my future. Calculus: F. Economics: F. The other courses, I don’t remember the grades, but I’m pretty sure I passed those classes. But these two I couldn’t get past. I folded it up quietly, shoved it into a book, and tried to avoid conversations about how I was doing in school from my parents.

I find myself now in a position where I am talking with students about grades, and I can see that look in their face. I had that look on my face too that quarter: I have to do better.

Failure doesn’t suck, or more so, it doesn’t have to suck. Failure brings to the surface a reality check, as it did for me. I had to ask myself: 1) What are my priorities? 2) Am I living up to my expectations, or the expectations of those who worked so hard for me to get where I am today? 3) Am I doing everything in my power to be at my best?

As an 18 year old, those questions didn’t necessarily hit home for me. I thought about it, said, “Yes, I have to do better.”  Then I moved on to do something completely similar. The next quarter, I got a D- in Calculus. And then a D in Economics. Repeat the race to the mailbox. The staring at the ceiling wondering what I was going to do next. The dread of telling my parents. What made it hit home even more was the line: “Subject to Dismissal.” There it was, in black and white, that this was my last go.

You’d think that after my first failure I’d get it. But it wasn’t until round 2 of the Fail Circus that I got it to stick in my head. If it didn’t work, then something needed to change. Something needed to click for me, and that line did it for me. It was time to change.

I met with a student yesterday who was studying Economics. I said to her, reviewing her courses and transcript, and after having a heart to heart talk about what was going on in her life, “You’re an economist. You know what opportunity cost is, right?” She looked me and smiled, “Of course.”

“So all those social events, the obligations you have, what does it cost?”

“It costs…my grades.”

“More than that…”

“The time spent with my friends could be time spent studying.”

And then the light goes on.

Part of the work I do with students is that your failures are not the defining moment – your defining moment is how you get out of that failure, and sometimes you are destined to repeat the same mistakes over and over again until you figure it out. For me it didn’t take one quarter. It took two. And a really stark letter that said, “Get your stuff together or you’re on your way.”

The reality of failures is that they don’t have to suck – they can if you want them to. Being on probation or subject to dismissal isn’t a death sentence. What is a death sentence, however, is making the decision to not change what got you there in the first place. Academics is not something you can do by yourself. You should reach out to people who are there to support you and help you through these places and spaces. You should make your failures known to people who can help you – mentors, friends, parents, classmates, etc. Finally, be open to getting help. I know this sounds silly, but being in a position of asking for help means that you are allowing yourself to change.

I wish I could tell you that after I got my life in gear and made the changes I did, more to follow on that, that I became an A student. The truth is, I didn’t, but I did get my college degree. My master’s degree. And my doctorate. Those failures don’t define me. What does, however, is my ability to dust myself off, and get to work, even in insurmountable odds. And you can do just that as well.

Here’s what I did:

  1. Find out how you manage “time”. Time for us means different things. Take a step back and try to account for every day this week. Do you know where it went? Yes and no, right? Compare that to what you are supposed to be doing…does it match up? Evaluate where you use time. This is the NUMBER ONE reason why people go on probation. Not knowing where to put your energy will be a surefire way to get on probation.
  2. Peace out on my friends. I know this sounds drastic, and it is certainly hard to do, but for me it was easy because I told them I needed to do this for me. Real friends will get it and support you. I was very happy to have friends say to me, “Okay it’s time for you to study, get outta here.” If anything once I was done, I could go back to hanging out with them as much as I wanted to. Guilt free fun? OKAY!
  3. Cut down on extra-curricular activities. I loved playing volleyball in college. I worked out with the men’s volleyball team, got pretty good at my position, but at 6-9 hours a week of play, it did add up to time I could be doing other things like studying. My main goal in college was to study and get a degree. Volleyball would have to take a back seat.
  4. Talk to an advisor. I needed to get my life in gear, so I talked with someone from my Dean’s office to figure out what I needed to do to get back in academia’s good graces. I needed to learn how to focus better, learn what tutoring was available, and how to read all my texts. It was hard to hear this after being a strong student in high school, but it made a difference.
  5. Finding someone to check in with. This was my advisor, but it was also a good friend who I could be honest with. It was also someone at CAPS on my campus who I was able to vent to when things got crazy. A sounding board is a good and healthy thing to have.
  6. Check your priorities. Every day all day, you need to make sure you know what your priorities are. Your guiding principles should be lined up with your priorities. Your priorities is going to school? Then is hanging out with your friends with unfinished projects looming over your head contributing to that? Probably not. You see, I’m all about you having fun in college. I’m not, however, for you studying 24-7 – you need to find balance in all things. So imagine you have friends that are going to some awesome something, and you have a paper to write. Going to the awesome something is tempting, but would it be fun with something bothering you? No, it wouldn’t. Get the business done first, then awesome something next. Trust me on this one.
I hope this helps you with what’s next in life. What you learn now is going to be what you need for work, life, and family later. Trust me on this. I’ve been there.
Former 1.5 GPA earner



The Person at the Front of the Room

I was sweating. I ran from one class to the next, and I was significantly tired from staying up the night before. I was working on an assignment that was due in a week’s time, and the other assignments from other classes were due around the same time. I was completely overwhelmed, and that probably explained away half of the sweat that spilled on my brow.

I got into class, threw my bag onto the floor, and settled in, wiping my brow. My professor walked in, ready to go to work. He was a nice enough person, we had conversations outside of class, he was friendly, but boy was he stern. The stern part of it was part bluntness (“You should have thought about that earlier!”) and part was his unrelenting drive for us to be bigger and better young people (“Come on, think! You have a brain!”). I lived in fear in that class because I so desperately did not want to get berated by him, and I also didn’t want to have him regard me as someone trying to get by. I wanted to do well in his course, and I wanted to get recognition for my efforts in the meanwhile. He was someone prominent in the field and in his department, and, course, in the minds of his students.

He began to lecture, and I as I cracked open my notebook to get to writing, I started thinking to myself, “Hey, maybe I can ask him for an extension on my project.” And immediately, I stopped. I rationalized to myself, “No, he might chide me in front of the class, and everyone will think I’m slippin’. I should just knock it out.”

This conversation repeated itself relentlessly for the remainder of the 3 hours of my seminar. I worded it and reworded it. No, sounds too sappy. No, sounds too angry/direct. Nope, sounds too passive. Need more conviction. I was exhausted at the end, taking notes and practicing my request, but I had finally convinced myself that it was time to ask. He wrapped up class, and I packed up my stuff quickly in order to make sure I caught him before he walked out the door. I started to sweat and get nervous again. Come hell or high water, it was time to find out if I could have a few extra days (or even hours would have helped) to make this project the right way it should be.

“Professor, is there any way I can get an extension on the project? I can have it done by next week.”

Deep breath.


“Okay, thanks. It’ll be ready for the deadline.”

Surprisingly, it didn’t come to mind to be extremely upset after walking up to him and asking. If anything, I was completely relieved to ask the question and get the answer. Now I knew where I stood, and I can move forward.

Need I mention I was in grad school at the time?

The reason I write this today is because I have students who are absolutely terrified to talk to their faculty members. Truth is, culturally, this is something rampant – that students don’t want to talk to faculty because of the perceptions they have of the faculty member as well as the fear that they will get shut down.

Wayne Gretzky said it best: “100 percents of the shots you don’t take don’t go in.”

Yes, I was shut down. BUT the point is that I asked. If you never ask, you’ll never know. I want to encourage students to be brave and ask – not necessarily for extensions to projects only, but to ask:

  1. What I can do to improve my learning in the course?
  2. I struggled to learn this part of the book – can you please walk me through it again?
  3. I got a poor grade on this paper – I would like to improve for future assignments, so what do you recommend?
  4. I really enjoy this class – can you recommend further reading? (hey, don’t laugh…sometimes people feel this way and that’s great!).

See, the person at the front of the room isn’t your adversary – they’re there to help you learn and introduce new topics and check your learning on those new topics, hence tests and papers. Learning how to approach faculty, I feel, is one of the top three things you will learn in college. In turn, this will help you learn how to talk to supervisors/bosses, graduate school professors, your students, supervisees, etc. This is an important skill.

So here’s my quick fast and dirty hints for talking to your professors:

  1. At the beginning of the semester, go and meet your faculty member. You will not have any grades to show for it, so there’s no stress for your meeting. Go during their office hours and say hello. Introduce yourself and tell the faculty a little about yourself, and, if you’ve pre-read the syllabus and some of the intro material, ask good questions.
  2. If you completely skipped #1 (WHY!), then go into a meeting with a professor prepared. Make a list of your questions. Put them in order of how you want them asked. DO NOT BE ASHAMED OF YOUR QUESTIONS. You have questions, ask them. You know who’s responsible for grading you? Your faculty member. They hold the key, so you should ask questions of them. It’s expected that students will have questions, so please by all means, ask away.
  3. Be concise in your questions. There is little time to dance around when there’s a line of people waiting to ask the same question. If you are going to ask for an extension, explain why you need an extension. Make it a good reason, and NO lagging does not count as a good reason.
  4. There’s no shame in “I don’t know, so can you help me understand this” and summarizing what you know about the situation. There is shame, however, in “I didn’t do the reading so I don’t get it, so tell me what I need to know.”
  5. Building a relationship with your faculty member is not only crucial to your success as a student, it’s crucial to your future. You may at some point require a letter of recommendation, and the better you know your faculty, the better they know you. Bam, better letter of rec. Don’t do it to schmooze. Do it to be a better student and to build a relationship.

Fast forward to a couple of years later, and I’m the person at the front of the room. I want students to ask me questions. To visit me during my office hours. To be inquisitive and try to learn more by dialoguing with me. It doesn’t take much to approach me, but it will take are the brave little steps you make along the way. I know that sometimes I can be intimidating – that as a teacher, people put me on a different pedestal. However, if you took the time to get to know me, and, in turn, get to know your professors, you’d learn that we are regular people.

Be brave. And ask.


New Digs, New Possibilities

I am writing this from the comfort of my murphy desk (not this elegant or big but you get the point). I am finally settled into my new office on UC 3rd Floor. This is the first time in four years that I have had a proper office. With a closing door. I am quite honestly, in heaven.

It’s taken a while to get used to the new noises and new sounds. The constant rumble of the white noise makes it nice and quieter, but I’m finally happy to be able to listen to my music on speakers instead of in headphones.

I’m a big fan of new ways of working, and being in this new space helps make that happen. I’m very proud of the team I work with because before we were always calling each other, sending email, etc., but not they’re only a hop, skip and a jump away from all of us. Question? Go down the hallway. No more waiting on emails or returned phone calls.

The flow of traffic is nice too – being on the 3rd floor, just a floor away from the cafe is wonderful. Students don’t feel like they have to go out of the way to find me. I’m literally only a few seconds away. Triaging a student is only going to take minutes instead of hours or worse yet, days. I’m really enjoying this.

We have also implemented USF Achieve, powered by MapWorks on campus. Each first year student and incoming transfer student is assigned a University Adviser. This individual works with the student for all four years, no matter what their major is. Each student takes a survey, and based on the results of the survey, the student is assessed on the risk for leaving USF. It’s incredibly intuitive, easy for students and staff alike to read, and is a wonderful example of how new ways of working can increase productivity, depth of insight, and support student retention. This is exciting stuff.

I do have students who, based on their responses to the USF Achieve survey, who are at-risk for leaving. This is normal – the challenges of being in a new space are very real (as I can attest from my new office), so I am challenged to find  a way to reach out to my students, get them support, and to ensure that they are at their best. It’s scary to see things like, “I’m extremely homesick.” or “I don’t know if I will be here next semester.” But we’re here as University advisers to make sure that they get what they need to be successful.

More updates as we learn how to be coworkers with each other in this new space and as we endeavor to create new possibilities for students to become successful!