It takes more than exchanging an email address or a
business card to build meaningful connections.
It’s early morning and I’m sitting in the San Diego airport as I write this week’s blog. For the past few days I had the opportunity to participate in one of the larger student success conferences in the nation. Year after year, the Annual Conference on the First-Year Experience brings together professionals from around the nation (and world) to discuss critical issues of student success. The multi-day event helps higher education professionals develop and fine tune programs to meet student and community needs.
Higher education issues of budget, classroom strategies, faculty development, retention and persistence, learning communities, recruitment, and characteristics of our first-year and first-generation students are some of the agenda offerings.
But there is something more that stands out to me; an intangible that you generally will not find listed as a program offering. National programs like “FYE” (as well as others I will participate in this year: NADE, Noel-Levitz, Teresa Farnum and Associates) provide a network for collegiality that is hard to duplicate. It allows us to move away from our insular communities on campus to connect and share with colleagues from around the nation. True, in the age of social media, we can Skype, Hangout, and chat. But there is still nothing quite like the feeling of shaking a colleague’s hand, taking time to sit down for a cup of coffee, and look into one another’s eyes. It provides me with personal validation, opportunities for social integration, and a sense of professional relevance.
Years ago, when I first got into higher education, a colleague of mine constantly encouraged me to attend professional development opportunities. I typically waved him away with the explanation that I did not have the time—and I did not need to take the time from my campus culture. I have come to understand and appreciate my older colleague’s encouragement.
Video recommendation for the week:
When I am on the road, I also take the opportunity to connect my students with the places and events I have the good fortune to visit. I started a “series” called “Where in the World is Professor P?” I shoot on location a (usually) 90-second video that asks students to guess where I am. I use questions (pop culture, history, geography, sports, and the like) as clues.
These videos are fun to do and my students get a glimpse of a world beyond our campus. But I did not understand a collateral benefit until one of my international students responded to one particular video by saying that my videos inspired her to continue her education because she wanted to be able to travel like me. In a small way, my attendance at an out-of-town conference helped connect a student to a larger world and made her college dreams more relevant.
I cannot over estimate what I receive professionally and personally from these events. I constantly learn. I continually build networks: strengthening long-time connections and forging new ones. As the National Resource Center for the First-Year Experience explains on its website, the conference setting “provides an ongoing forum where higher education professionals can share experiences, concerns, and accomplishments related to supporting student learning, development, and success in the first college year.”
It takes more than exchanging an email address or a business card to build meaningful connections. If you cannot attend a national event, find a forum closer to home. Or start one for you and your colleagues. Do what you can to be an agent of collegiality and collaboration.
Make it a wonderful week— H.T.R.B. as needed.
Information on my newest book, Choices for College Success (3rd ed.), can be found at Pearson Education.
(c) 2014. Steve Piscitelli. All rights reserved.