August 03, 2011
As we wind down the summer semester and prepare to welcome the incoming and returning students, I admit that I am facing the 2011-2012 year with both anticipation and anxiety.
During the four years that I have served as the University President, many of the students who started as freshmen have graduated, and they are beginning their adventures in law school, graduate school, medical school, or they are entering into the workforce with the goal of fulfilling their responsibilities as emerging leaders in a competitive, global society.
So, why the angst? In my conversations with students, I empathize with them as they prepare to leave the comfort and familiarity of campus. They are beset with numerous contradictory messages in their attempts to navigate the transition from secondary school to college, from dependence to independence, and from non-chalant consumers to independent thinkers and leaders.
My conversations with these millennials are both reminiscent of the 1970's and hopeful for the 2020's. Regardless of how they arrived at college or their experiences prior to coming, students usually arrive at college with hopeful and optimistic expectations that the college experience will have a positive effect on their lives and the lives of those they love. Yet, while seeking their versions of a better life, students also bring with them their past experiences with educational institutions, the non-verbal messages they have endured from various sources about what their lives are likely to be, and the indisputable economic and societal factors they encounter.
While listening to these students, and looking into their eyes, I also realize the awesome responsibility we have as educators, mentors, and teachers to demonstrate by example the values of hard work, compassion, altruism, patriotism, and integrity. It is our hope that our newly developed University College and the development of learning communities will assist with this transition, and enable our students to enjoy continued success in their personal and professional lives.
As the new academic year quickly approaches, I know that once again I will experience the anxiety of observing students make the transition from young adults to industry leaders and anticipate the joy of seeing the Class of 2012 make their way across the stage at Commencement.
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May 05, 2010
"In April, we cannot see sunflowers in France, so we might say the sunflowers do not exist. But the local farmers have already planted thousands of seeds, and when they look at the bare hills, they may be able to see the sunflowers already. The sunflowers are there. They lack only the conditions of sun, heat, rain and July. Just because we cannot see them does not mean that they do not exist."
- Thich Nhat Hanh
A few evenings ago, my husband and I had the opportunity to listen to graduating seniors talk about what they valued in their educational and social experiences at Cheyney University.
Yes, the seniors almost always mentioned the caring and knowledgeable faculty and coaches who took time with them and cared about them as individuals. Without a doubt, the graduating seniors felt both challenged by the faculty and reassured by them that, with hard work and perseverance, they could “be anything they wanted to be.”
In addition to the faculty, graduating seniors held in high esteem their relationships with their peers and the development of deep and enduring friendships. Sometimes—as they recounted specific details of these friendships—they had to stop to wipe the tears from their eyes. These friendships were bonds which helped them through college and life. There were so many stories of how students supported each other and how that support helped each of them to develop as individuals and as adult members of our society.
Some seniors surprised us and declared that they had not intended to stay at Cheyney University. These students had plans to move on to some place more prestigious. After a year or so, they had planned to transfer to UPenn, Penn State, or even the University of Pittsburgh. However, something happened, and the students began to appreciate the legacy of Cheyney University, reap profound benefits they had not expected, and they began to love the University.
When I was young, I often heard that “April showers bring May flowers.” Of course, I eventually understood that those darker, rainy days when you had to step over puddles, and days when you were actually caught unprepared in a cloudburst, those days actually led to beautiful spring flowers, a new season of fresh fragrances, and expectations of new beginnings. After a lifetime in higher education, this is how I view Commencement each year—fresh flowers and new beginnings.
The transformation that occurs from freshman to senior years is hard to overlook with most students. At freshman orientation, they sit with their parents or guardians, and for the most part, they seem hesitant, docile, and almost afraid to be themselves–at least until the parents go home. Then the fun begins as the incoming students try to discover who they are and to explore who they might become. This fun takes many forms including traveling, studying the cultures of others, and gradually learning how to impose more self-discipline.
Thus, the first couple of years at Cheyney University, and on many college campuses, can be viewed as transition years, and probably many students feel that they experience rains because of the general anxiety and conflict involved in leaving adolescence to assume adult responsibilities. Others experience stress because they are not sure that their pre-college work has really prepared them for college or where college should lead them.
At Cheyney University, we recognize how vulnerable students are during these years, so we are exploring the feasibility of constructing a University College to structure our academic and social support activities more appropriately to help reduce the stresses of students’ experiences. We will also encourage all incoming students to participate in the choir, the Cheyney University Band, clubs, athletics, and academic organizations, or any other appropriate organization sponsored by faculty or staff to better support them, as they make their transitions into adulthood.
Sometimes as students become more aware of civil, political, and environmental inequities and agendas in their world, it is usually, the faculty, coaches, alumni, staff, and extended Cheyney University community members who see the budding sense of social responsibility. They listen to these students and gently ask them, “So what are you going to do about it?”
By senior year, or by the time these students have acquired enough credits to earn graduate degrees, the careful observer can see the flowers begin to emerge and the development of earnest dedication. As students relate their plans to study for the LSAT/GRE, to move forth to graduate study, or to join a company in which they may have had an internship, we can see that they are beginning to form answers to the question, “So what are you going to do about it?”
At Cheyney University, while we will celebrate the completion of academic requirements with a suitable array of Commencement activities this week—we are really acknowledging that another group of students have demonstrated academic growth, and they are moving forth on their journeys to become responsible and contributing global citizens.
It is this cycle of growth and transformation that enriches us and energizes us to begin again to cultivate more amazing and varied flowers!
April showers do indeed bring May flowers!
September 02, 2009
First of all, if we believe the premise that the higher education of a wide range of Americans is necessary to secure our future well-being as a country and competitive economic power, then anything is possible including designing a smoother transition to college and furnishing financial resources for youth who cannot afford to attend college without such resources.
Recently, I have been reading about some of the factors that affect the transition of students of color, and first generation students, into college and their overall progression towards graduation. Of course, one of the reasons I am studying this body of literature is because we want to identify best overall practices to help increase the number of college-going students in the Philadelphia region and the Commonwealth. The Thurgood Marshall College Fund is also interested in this topic and is accepting proposals from scholars who want to conduct more research on the factors that influence retention and graduation rates at Historically Black Colleges and Universities.
My two years here at Cheyney University, and my thirty years of service in seven other institutions including Chicago State University, Winston-Salem State University, and two community colleges, suggest to me that more pre-college planning and entrée to appropriate financial resources is paramount to providing access to higher education for students from average and less-advantaged households. Pre-college planning is very important since the entrée to scholarships and financial resources is also linked to a student’s performance on SAT and ACT tests. When our youth are in their early high school years, it is essential that we develop a wide range of proficiencies in all students and keep these students on our radar for further knowledge and skill development in college.
Observing the enrollment management processes at Cheyney University has illuminated for me that providing access to college opportunities has at least two significant phases. The first phase needs to happen long before students arrive on campus for orientation and enrollment processes. In fact, the transition to college needs to begin by the student’s second year in high school and earlier than that might be desirable depending on the student’s career goals. In starting the transition to college, it seems critical that all educational professionals and support personnel have high expectations for our youth and begin the conversation about college with each child they encounter. An expectation about lifelong learning and achievement can be built into each lesson plan, lecture, casual conversation, and extracurricular activity. These expectations and conversations will send important messages to students about succeeding at higher levels of learning.
When students and their parents explore college in this first phase, families should learn as much as possible about the cost of a college education, options for paying for a college education (grants, scholarships, tuition reimbursement, work study, etc.), and the timeliness necessary to be ready to apply for financial aid (scholarships, grants, and loans) from particular institutions, banks, and agencies. The exploration of college options should, moreover, lead to a strategy for performing well on college entrance exams, which tend to determine who is eligible for scholarships at a specific university. Students who come from families with more resources tend to take SAT/ACT test preparation courses and the exams several times to attain a “best score.”
So without a doubt, phase one of accessing the opportunities of a college education and financing a college education involves the entire family of a student. As a parent who currently has a daughter in college with aspirations to attend law school, I can personally attest to the angst involved in paying for college. Each family has to discuss its resources and how these resources will be employed to help defray the student’s college tuition and other expenses. The family also must be made aware of the need to act in a timely manner to complete financial aid forms, loan applications, and the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FASFA). The first step for completing the FASFA is to “get organized” (by gathering income/tax documents).
Some of us in higher education take for granted that students will go online and complete the FASFA six months before arriving on campus; however, my experience suggests this is true for maybe 50 percent of the students who arrive on campus. So, what do we do to help expand access to college opportunities? It seems that colleges and universities need the help of other organizations who will also guide families to “get organized,” so that the student can have a successful transition into college. This is where the Village comes in. There are numerous pre-college organizations and agencies that will work with students during their high school years to help them prepare for the college entrance exams, select an appropriate college, and work with the family to organize and plan for paying for college.
At Cheyney University, we will expand our efforts to partner with these organizations to help families organize and plan for the transition to college. PHEAA (PA State Grant Applications), INROADS, Project Grad, Gear Up, CORE Philly, Upward Bound, and the Chester County Higher Education Network, are just a few of the organizations and agencies that are there to help families. Additionally, many churches have also developed social ministries that include furnishing scholarships for students to attend college.
Once students arrive on a college campus with a clearer vision of their goals, and completed FAFSA’s, scholarships, and other plans for paying for college, the second phase begins. The second phase might be where the real work begins; it involves helping students to understand their responsibilities to maintain their grades, to progress towards a major in a timely manner, and to continue to stay organized regarding how they will continue to finance their college education. This might mean registering early and keeping apprised of changes in federal financial aid policies and working with campus advisors.
The second phase of helping students to stay organized must involve the University’s faculty and staff who are needed to help retain students by reminding students of actions needed to maintain their college status and their financial aid status. Faculty are especially essential for exposing students to an array of disciplines, opportunities, passions, and paths to encourage pursuit of a purposeful life.
When you think about it, the Village will only benefit from a highly-proficient, talented, and educated citizenry and workforce. We can all rest a little easier in knowing that we are preparing a better future for America.
P R E V I O U S P O S T S
- President's Blog - May 2014 - The Road Less Traveled
- PRESIDENT'S BLOG - April 2014 - Angela Davis - An Intellectual Bridge to the Future
- President's Blog - March 2014 - Let Us Continue to Build Heroines
- President's Blog - February 2014 - Loving One Another
- President's Blog - January 2014 - New Year's Hope
- President's Blog - November 2013 - Let Us Give Thanks to Our Parents and Our Grandparents
- President's Blog - October 2013 - When Thou Callest ....
- President's Blog - September 2013 - Let Us Hear It For The Southern Ladies
- PRESIDENT'S BLOG - August 2013 The Importance of Senior Leadership Teams
- President's Blog - July 2013 - The Great Migration-- A Journey Only Half Completed
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