Top Five: Encouraging Student Reflection Through Blogging

This fall, Lead365 is adding to its repertoire of conferences and leadership resources with a new Reflection Journal! Designed to guide you to reflect on each of Dr. Corey Seemiller’s Student Leadership Competencies, it is a wonderful mixture of thought-provoking quotes to get your wheels turning…and the open space to take your journey. Today’s Top Five from Ohio Dominican’s Becca Fick talks about how to prime your students for success in reflection.

IMAGE CREDIT: Ohio Dominican University

What sorts of experiences did you have as a student leader that led you to want to continue working with college students?

My student involvement was the one thing that kept me in school. I was a member of the summer orientation staff and a college 101 course assistant, on the dance team, and an officer in my sorority. I don’t mean to say that my academics weren’t important – I was a triple major and accepted into a few honors societies -but that I can directly trace my retention to my involvement on campus. Paying for a private school education as a first generation college student was incredibly challenging for me, but knowing I had a people who were counting on me pushed me to work hard over the summer to pay down my balance as much as possible. It also meant touch points over the summer – orientation sessions, dance camp, and leadership retreats – and commitments to uphold in the fall. I know how valuable campus involvement can be for students because I’ve seen first hand the role it played in my own growth, development, and retention.

 

How did your undergraduate background in journalism and applied writing inform how you choose to work with students each day? Storytelling and clear, concise communication. I have a deep and sincere appreciation for people’s stories and perspectives that I credit to my background in journalism. Though I don’t write feature stories on all of the students who come through my office, I certainly could. Applied Writing is about communicating clearly in a way that an audience can understand. Between emails, presentations, meetings, and 1-1 interactions, this it the writing jargon version of using language to “meet them where they are.”  While I find writing and reflecting both natural and rewarding, it is also important to realize that this is not the case for everyone and multiple forms of reflection should be considered.

While I find writing and reflecting both natural and rewarding, it is also important to realize that this is not the case for everyone and multiple forms of reflection should be considered.

There is a heightened call to create opportunities for college students to reflect on their experiences- why do you think that is? The job market is more competitive than ever and it’s not enough to have a college degree anymore. Couple this with the increased regulations and call for higher education to prove our value and you have an environment ripe for providing rich experiences. As the field of Leadership Development continues to grow, we will see more emphasis in this area as well. It is not enough for a student to participate in an experience; the learning and development that signal change and growth happen when students engage in reflection and meaning making processes. Blogging is a sort of hybrid of journaling and small group discussions, tools already readily used by educators. Whether you are using Kolb’s Learning Styles or Bloom’s Taxonomy, research shows the value of including reflection in the learning and meaning-making process.

 

Now I want to get to our Top Five, in which you pose five points or tips for those looking to create a more contemplative and reflective experience for students through blogging. How do we get this going for our students?

Point/Tip One:  Blogs are not essays or journals.

Blogging requires a different level of thinking and writing than a personal journal, or even one shared with a teacher. Blogging makes your thoughts 3 dimensional. It takes them from being 1) in your head to 2) in front of a teacher or professor, and into 3) a space for discussion, interaction, and feedback. There is a different level of thoughtfulness when your writing may be read by someone else, by strangers even. That’s not to suggest that you should over think blogging either, or trap yourself in analysis paralysis – it’s not that serious.

If college is about finding yourself, blogging is about finding your voice.  Unlike writing a paper or answering a question on a midterm, blogging asks you to write like you think. This runs contrary to the writing skills students have learned through formal education. Students learn to write the answers teachers are looking for, the answers that will pass a standardized test, the answers that are right. This is the greatest reward – and the greatest challenge – of blogging for students and teachers alike.

Point/Tip Two:  Make it easy.

Especially for beginning bloggers and those who may not know where to start, give them prompts or a structure to work within.

What? So What? Now What?

I like using these three questions to create reflection prompts for students. Whether you are giving students a prompt for reflection or asking them to create their own, this format is easily adapted and easy to remember.

  • What? Explain the thing you did or experienced. (ex Service project, leadership workshop, study abroad trip, internship)
  • So What? What happened because of this experience? (experience new culture, new meeting management skills, learned to use excel, relationships, etc)
  • Now What? As a result of this experience, how have you changed or grown? What will you do with this new information?

Point/Tip Three:  Don’t limit it to writing.

Playing with the format can address multiple learning styles and intelligences. Writing comes naturally for some students, while creating a video blog or a photo essay may be easier for others. For example, when discussing and processing identity, visual aids can be incredibly helpful in helping a student tell their story.

An assignment might look like this: Take pictures of what your culture values. Define your culture. What do you value? Where do your values come from?

Point/Tip Four:  The Internet is forever.

Sites like WordPress rank high in search engine results and can be a benefit to students when creating and curating an online presence. There are plenty of resources available about personal branding and career development, but I would be remiss if I didn’t include this reminder in a top 5 list.

Point/Tip Five:  Model the Way

The best way to be familiar with a tool is to use it. In this case, it’s also an excellent way to model expectations and engage in the learning process with students. If we aren’t willing to do the things we talk about and advocate, they (students) know. The power you have to influence students is unfathomable. Start somewhere. Believe in it, even if its imperfect (and it will be). Give yourself (and your students) the grace to try it.

 

If you had to distill all of this into one suggestion for professionals seeking to create an environment that fosters and encourages a blogging spirit, what would you suggest?

If you want to help students develop their identity, give them a place to develop their voice. If you want students to be meaningful contributors to society, give them something bigger to be a part of. They’re ready for it.


 

 

reflections journal cover
Look for more details about purchasing your own Lead365 Reflections journal!

 

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Top Five: Encouraging Student Entrepreneurship

This fall, the Lead365 Conference will be adding two sessions on student entrepreneurship to the lineup- check out our schedule for more details on this session. To prepare you for the idea of learning about entrepreneurial leadership, we talked to Northeastern University’s Lauren Landry about the value she sees in that sort of thinking and how you can encourage it in student leaders on your own campus.

Lauren Landry, NU Experiential and entrepreneurship mentor
Lauren Landry, NU Experiential and entrepreneurship mentor

What sorts of experiences did you have as student leaders that led you to want to continue working with college students?

When I was in college, I had the opportunity to work for the school’s first lifestyle magazine, initially as a writer and eventually as the managing editor. What made the experience so meaningful is that it became the place students could come to discover whether publishing was the right fit for them, and in what capacity. Did they start as a writer, but fall in love with design or sales? Or did they think they wanted to be an editor, but realized they’d miss writing their own stories?

The magazine served as a creative outlet for so many. It was also a place run on peer editing, meaning students were pushing each other to be better. Our goal was to create the same quality you could find on newsstands and, because of that, it took a lot of work. Students made the choice to spend their time outside of the classroom on the magazine, and that desire to be the best was inspirational. It’s easy to miss that collaborative environment and youthful energy, which is why I was thrilled to cover campus innovation for BostInno.

Given your background as a journalism student, where did the interest in student startup culture start for you, and what opportunities did you take to build it?

Admittedly, prior to taking my job at BostInno, I was a stranger to student startup culture. That said, I, like so many others, was unknowingly plugged into it all along. I was constantly logging on to Facebook, regularly sharing documents via Dropbox, or visiting SoWa on Sundays just for Roxy’s Grilled Cheese. When doing these things, I never thought, “These companies got their start in Boston-area dorm rooms.”

My position at BostInno granted me the opportunity to remind people of that. Even better, I got to put a spotlight on the dozens of other young entrepreneurs trying to make our world a better place, whether through the convenience of on-demand services or the democratization of education.

My initial goal was to simply educate readers on a growing culture I was surprised to know so little about—particularly as a former Boston college student. We launched the Campus Innovation Guide in mid-2012 to highlight the incredible work being done city-wide, as well as provide aspiring student entrepreneurs with the resources necessary to get their ideas off the ground. As luck has it, some of the stories populating that Guide happened to spark the interest of investors and customers, which proved to be a huge win for students and motivated me to wake up every morning.

Over time, I realized my role went far beyond sharing stories—it was making connections. I spent many inspiring nights sitting around tables with student leaders from around Greater Boston brainstorming and collaborating. When I met an entrepreneur I knew could benefit from the expertise of another, I would introduce the two, regardless of the schools they were studying at.

Achieving a vibrant startup community is impossible if everyone is operating in silos. A lot of progress has been made—student-run firms like Rough Draft Ventures and the Dorm Room Fund are great examples of that. More could always be done, however, to encourage students to break out of their campus bubbles.

As I’m sure you’ve seen, many institutions aren’t always ready to support entrepreneurship, instead preferring to steer students toward more traditional paths like corporate work, graduate school, or service. Why do you think that is? [what fears are tied up in it, what skills need to be developed, etc.]

If an entrepreneur is stumped on a problem, they will do whatever necessary to figure it out—often on their own. I think that scares some schools; they fear irrelevance. If an aspiring entrepreneur can learn something without attending class, why should students bother taking on the average $30,000 in student loan debt? After all, we live in a world where students are being paid $100,000 to drop out.

That said, the best schools are making entrepreneurship a part of their fabric. I’m admittedly biased, because I currently work at Northeastern University, but the school’s Center for Entrepreneurship Education has done an amazing job connecting what students are learning inside the classroom to what they are building outside of it, using three simple words: “Educate,” “Incubate,” and “Launch.” They assist students at every point of their startup journey—from fleshing out that initial idea to bringing their concept to market.

More schools should be supporting student entrepreneurs and celebrating innovation.

 

Now I want to get to our Top Five, in which you pose five points or tips for those looking to create a more inclusive and fruitful leadership experience for students who want to create a lasting impact through building a company or solving a problem.

Point/Tip One: Give students the room to innovate.

There is no better time to start a company than in college, when students have a built-in safety net and don’t have to worry about how they will cover rent or additional living expenses. Acknowledge that and encourage entrepreneurship. It’s hard to believe that, at one point, students at Harvard were forbade from running businesses out of their dorm room. Ensure you are not killing the next Facebook by giving students the room to innovate.

Point/Tip Two:  Create a safe space for students to innovate.

Part of giving students the room to innovate requires they have a safe space to do so. This doesn’t require a state-of-the-art facility—it’s unrealistic to say every college or university can afford to create an Innovation Lab. That said, schools can provide a variety of resources dedicated to fostering entrepreneurship. Is there a spare classroom that could be turned into a makeshift co-working space, or faculty available to walk students through their business plan? Are you bringing outside speakers in, perhaps successful alumni, who can inspire students to take that leap or offer mentorship? There are a lot of little things colleges can do that make a big impact.

Point/Tip Three: Celebrate the wins through more than business plan competitions.
Business plan competitions are a great place to start—students should be recognized and monetarily rewarded for their hard work. But business plan competitions shouldn’t be the only way entrepreneurs are supported. Additional programming should be integrated throughout the academic year, whether that be hack nights, networking opportunities, or speaker series. Entrepreneurship doesn’t happen in a vacuum during the spring semester; your programming should reflect that.

Point/Tip Four: Help connect student entrepreneurs to the greater community.

For students in Boston, there are dozens of ways for students to plug into the greater startup scene. Help students discover those opportunities. Too often, we complain about a “brain drain”—students coming to school here, acquiring knowledge, and then leaving immediately after graduation. A way to prevent that is by helping young entrepreneurs build a network too valuable to leave. Companies in this area are committed to giving them a reason to want to call Boston home. Tell them about ventures in your area like Rough Draft Ventures and the Dorm Room Fund, introduce them to accelerators like Techstars and MassChallenge, or bring them with you to events like TUGG’s Tech Gives Back or the New England Venture Capital Association’s NEVY Awards. They will thank you for it.

Point/Tip Five: Build a strong, encouraging alumni network.

One of the best ways to inspire student entrepreneurs is by introducing them to someone who’s experienced what they have. Start building a strong alumni network early—one that’s able to support like-minded entrepreneurs post-graduation if your school might not have the resources to do so. Alumni want to get involved. A prime example of that is the Soaring Startup Circle, a summer accelerator program started by Boston College alumni for Boston College students. Encourage initiatives like this, and provide students with the confidence that their support won’t run out immediately after commencement.

 

If you had to distill all of this into one suggestion for professionals seeking to create a more inclusive environment for creating an environment where potential student startups and their founders can thrive, what would you suggest?

It’s simple: Celebrate entrepreneurship. Create an environment that encourages students to want to take that leap of faith. As President Obama said in July at the Global Entrepreneurship Summit:

Everywhere I go, across the United States and around the world, I hear from people, but especially young people, who are ready to start something of their own—to lift up people’s lives and shape their own destinies. And that’s entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurship creates new jobs and new businesses, new ways to deliver basic services, new ways of seeing the world—it’s the spark of prosperity. It helps citizens stand up for their rights and push back against corruption.  Entrepreneurship offers a positive alternative to the ideologies of violence and division that can all too often fill the void when young people don’t see a future for themselves.  

Provide students that future.

Top Five: Attracting a Diverse Student Leader Population

This post marks the start of our Top Five series, designed to provide practical advice on areas of interest and challenge in higher education. Today, we speak with Jamila Lee-Johnson and Walter Parrish, doctoral candidates at University of Wisconsin-Madison in Educational Leadership, about best practices for attracting a diverse population of student leaders on your campus. 

What sorts of experiences did you have as student leaders that led you to want to continue working with college students?
 Jamila:
Like many other student affairs professionals, I was the over-involved student.  I was President of the Student Government, a member of the Honors program on my campus, an orientation guide and involved in numerous other positions on campus.  I did not fully understand what I wanted to do until I started working under the Vice –President of Student Affairs at Morehouse College during my junior and senior year, I loved being on a college campus, and I love helping others get to college, I felt like I was in my element.  I loved my college experience, and I wanted to help others get that same feeling I have and still have when I talk about my undergraduate experience, because my college experience definetly had a major impact on who I am today as an African American woman.

Walter: I was heavily involved since my first year of college. I created and developed a hip-hop dance organization, actively involved with the Black Student Union and diversity trainings, worked at the credit union on campus, student center, and in housing as a RA, etc. As I progressed in my college career and became more involved and engaged, I noticed my peers approached me for advice more frequently on how to operate their organizations, interpret policies, and navigate collegiate issues. It felt good assisting my colleagues and I wanted to provide students with the same excitement around campus engagement; it had a positive impact on our overall learning and development.

Jamila, having attended a historically black college (Clark Atlanta University), do you see any notable differences between your experience and that which your students have had?

Jamila:  Yes, I do.   I think one thing HBCUs do is cultivating leaders and allow students to feel empowered from Day 1. I think about when I first got to Clark Atlanta (CAU), I remember being inducted in into my freshman class, I remember thinking I belong here. At CAU, I was encouraged to be myself, start organizations, and just be involved not only on campus, but also in the community that surrounds Clark Atlanta.  What I have found is that when many students of color are at PWIs they often find themselves having to assimilate to the dominant white culture on campus.  I think that PWIs have more resources than HBCUs but often do not seek to see to learn what students of color may need in terms of providing support and for them to have a positive experience on campus.  When programs are created for students of color, they are often overlooked and do not have the proper tools in order to help the program maintain sustainability.  I also think that with universities facing budget problems, they will cut off programs that are meant for students of color. Which will often leave students not feeling like they can be apart of the campus of the college they attend.

I’ve often spoken to professionals that are concerned that their offerings don’t attract student leaders of color or other diverse backgrounds- are there notable mistakes that we make when framing these epxeriences that excludes underrepresented students?

Walter: I think the biggest mistake is not asking students what they want. As student affairs professionals, we often assume what our students need and desire. That is not the most effective way to engage underrepresented students (or anyone, honestly). Secondly, think about who is coordinating the initiatives and who participates. Programming is often sustained year after year with little to no modification or consideration for who participates (and who does not), why they participate, and what learning occurs. Due to the sometimes, hectic and demanding nature of our functional areas, assessment gets dropped or diminished. Yet, it is so crucial to our work. Also, if professionals want to attract and engage different populations of students, we need new faces at the planning tables to provide fresh perspectives and ideas. Not the same staff, planning the same events, every year. And if offices or campuses lack different perspectives and various identities at the professional level, that is also a problematic.

Now I want to get to our Top Five, in which you pose five points or tips for those looking to create a more inclusive and fruitful leadership experience for students of color or other underrepresented populations.

Point/Tip One: Diversify your staff.

This is particularly important at PWIs. Many, but not all, students of color and other underrepresented populations get excited to see faculty and staff who look like them and/or those who genuinely seek to understand students. Students of color, much like small children, are good at detecting faux-allies. Though, this does not mean that all students of color will connect with professionals of color. Additionally, this does not imply campuses should only hire professionals of color to exclusively work with underrepresented populations.

Point/Tip Two: Talk to your students.

If students of color are not engaged in programs and activities, perhaps they are simply not interested in the topic(s) or do not view them as relevant. So, ask yourselves, “why?” Then, ask them! The best way to understand students is to talk to them. Seek to understand, before being understood.

Point/Tip Three: Diversify programming and initiatives.

Our jobs are to holistically develop students. Not one particular population, but students of various and multiple identities. When we do not value the existing diversity on campus, we prevent students from engaging with each other and send them off ill prepared to partake in a pluralistic society. Simply because a campus is composed of majority White students does not suggest every experience should attract or cater to only White students. Stated differently, experiences at PWIs should attract students of multiple identities and not perpetuate the habit of conforming and assimilating to the majority, as most students of color endure. Yes, senior administrators are concerned with budgets, attendance numbers, and return-on-investments. Therefore, conscious and intentional planning is required.

Point/Tip Four: Help students understand the relevancy of campus engagement.

One reason students of color may not engage with the campus community is because they do not see the experiences as applicable or significant to their present and future. Campus engagement allows students to hone skills such as communication, organization, leadership, networking, and other learning outcomes that are transferable to the workplace. Discuss post-graduation possibilities and how to best gain (and communicate) the necessary skills to begin a successful career.

Point/Tip Five:  Make underrepresented students feel like they belong.

This is probably the most complex tip because it varies between individual. The unfortunate reality is underrepresented students (not all) tend to feel disconnected or have a low sense of belongingness. Professionals should be cognizant of verbal and non-verbal communications, understand their own privileges, and sincerely seek to gain a better understanding of the experiences of underrepresented and marginalized students.  Remember, all students have equal ownership of the space. It is our job, as professionals, to create and facilitate inclusive communities.

If you had to distill all of this into one suggestion for professionals seeking to create a more inclusive environment for attracting and engaging student leaders, what would you suggest?

Jamila: I would tell them to not just look at what the numbers are saying, but actually go out and talk to the students. Not just student leaders, but students who may not be as involved as other students who are repeatedly called on to represent all students of color.  Talk to students of color staff, and they maybe able to provide input on what is needed to engaged students.

Walter: Have sincere conversations with your students and speak up for them when their voices cannot be heard. Imagine being an underrepresented student on campus. What would you want and how would you want administrators to address and advocate for your needs?