Wednesday, September 26, 2012

New Workshop Helps Peer Leaders Keep Students On Course!

Today’s post comes from Ruth Silon, executive director of the Ohio Association of Community Colleges’ Student Success Center and former DEI director and English faculty member at Cuyahoga Community College (CCC). Ruth describes how CCC combined what they learned from two of their DEI initiatives to increase the impact of student leaders on their campuses.

As Cuyahoga Community College’s Developmental Education Initiative (DEI) grant came to an end, making good use of the remaining funds was not a challenge. The College’s grant used peer leaders in two of its major initiatives: Supplemental Instruction (SI) and Peer Mentoring. For another initiative, a redesign of Math 0850, Skip Downing’s On Course principles were a major part of the course. Most math faculty who taught the course attended On Course Level I and II workshops during the college’s involvement with Achieving the Dream and DEI. During DEI, the workshops were offered to all faculty.

Two occurrences led us to the decision to hold an On Course workshop for student peer leaders. First, during the second year of DEI, English professor Mary Ward, who used On Course in her class, asked if her SI leader, Tiffany, could be trained. Having Tiffany in the workshop with the faculty was a real benefit as her presence added a valuable perspective to the training. Instead of just talking about On Course in an abstract setting, we talked about its principles and their value for students with a student. Tiffany then went on to promote On Course as an SI Leader with students in her English class. Then, during the third year of DEI, Robin Middleton from Jamestown Community College (JCC) facilitated the Level II workshop. From her we learned about a new workshop “Creating a Culture of Success: On Course for Front Line Staff.” In order to promote culture change across the college, front-line staff who work in admissions and financial aid were trained in On Course principles and techniques. Although a workshop for front-line peer student leaders had not been tested, Skip and Robin agreed to put it together.

On September 7, 2012, over forty student leaders from multiple Cuyahoga Community College (CCC) campuses attended the one-day workshop. The students were supplemental instruction leaders, student ambassadors, peer advocates with the C2C program, student coaches with Cleveland Transfer Connection, and an AmeriCorps coach. The students dove deep into discussions about the following topics: “Eight Choices of Successful Students,” “On Course Core Beliefs,” “The Language of Responsibility,” “Victim versus Creator Language,” and “Staying On Course When at a Fork in the Road of Life.” They practiced working with each other on the wise choice process and the problem resolution process. One of the students told me that she worries about students who are very belligerent: “They don’t know how to react to anything except by getting angry and using their street behavior.”  Student leaders quickly saw that using the wise choice process would slow down students’ reaction process and get them to think more critically. Another student said, “I think On Course will help me save my marriage!” 

The group activity that impressed many attendees was “Creating a Mission Statement for Front Line Staff.”  The task was to create a statement of “purpose you would be proud to post in your work space for all to see…. a Mission Statement that will guide your important work with students.”  Below are a few statements from the student collaboration:
  • To serve as a support system with students to help them get their Associate’s Degree and achieve a rewarding career
  • To provide an environment where students feel that they are part of a community
  • Help students to learn and achieve the tools to be successful students and citizens

Giving these leaders the opportunity to put into words what their goals are and recognize how important their position is was quite moving. They felt empowered and then would go off to empower students. Clearly, this is a workshop that other colleges should think about bringing to their institution.

It is also important to mention that staff who work with these student leaders attended the workshop and many have attended On Course Level I and II training. If this program for student leaders is to work, trained staff will have to continue the conversation with them and encourage the use of On Course principles and methods.

Often as a grant ends, you find yourself saying, “We wish we knew then what we know now; we could have done some things differently or sooner.”  Blending together two of our initiatives, using student leaders and On Course training, was a great example of the culmination of our learning. I am so pleased that we were able to make it happen.

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