In The Chronicle of Higher Education: “What to Say”
Community engagement efforts in Singapore.
Letter to parents and families on supporting students to get the most out of their college experience.
On the value of residential living.
MY GOOD FORTUNE: WORKING AT THE NEXUS OF ACADEMIC ADMINISTRATION, RESIDENTIAL LIFE, & LIBERAL ARTS PEDAGOGY
College is a time of tremendous possibility but also uncomfortable personal growth, especially for students who are not accustomed to independent decision-making, living and learning among a diverse peer group, or being suddenly ‘average’ for the first time in their lives. In a residential educational environment, college becomes a home, learning laboratory, and support system for students making the transition to adulthood and independence. As a student life and academic affairs professional, my aim is to help students get the most out of their college years so that when they walk across the graduation stage it is full of confidence, creativity, and resourcefulness. Above all, I seek to cultivate an environment of generosity, inclusion, partnership, and intellectual curiosity. Through programming and norm-shaping, I encourage students to be generous in sharing their passions with the community, and curious to learn from professors and peers alike.
On a broader scale I use my on-the-ground experience with students to promote compassion, equity, and innovation in college policies and procedures. Generational change creates opportunities as well as the necessity for institutional adaptation. I can best serve my students when I remain closely in touch with their evolving experience and ideas, providing leadership but also facilitating collaboration between students, faculty, and staff. Since I currently work at the intersection of residential life, student affairs, and academic administration I have the unique privilege to serve as an information conduit and instigator for collaboration among these different college constituencies.
Whether directly or by working behind the scenes through residential staff, I am committed to providing one-on-one academic counseling to students on matters such as course selection, reading and note-taking strategies, major declaration, thesis preparation, and more generally on balancing academic as well as non-academic ambitions and commitments. I also support a diverse student body with the myriad personal and emotional challenges that come with transitioning to college and navigating a competitive educational environment. I trace my own academic success to the efforts of a few mentors who recognized ways in which I was underperforming and helped me develop strategies for success. I am eager to offer similar guidance to students in need, which I see as a natural extension of my role as an educator and community-builder.
Notably, effective support does not mean helping students to evade or avoid struggles. On the contrary, those can be the most powerful learning moments. When experienced to the fullest, college involves a good deal of both struggle as well as success, both of which contribute to student development, learning, and growth.
Being available to students during moments of struggle is key, but so is preparation. For this reason, I work with residential and student affairs staff to develop adaptable tactics for common issues such as parental pressure, mental health needs and self-care, sleep problems, procrastination, and anxiety management. As good as it may feel to be indispensible to students, my goal is actually quite the opposite. I encourage students to support themselves and each other, through suitemate bonding activities, Big-Little Sib programs, connecting students who have been through similar difficulties, and by encouraging student-led workshops on diverse topics from major selection to meditation.
My own educational and professional experience spans four very different institutions of higher education:
Wellesley College: a small, secluded, fully-residential, very established, all-women’s, undergraduate and teaching-focused liberal arts college;
The London School of Economics and Political Science: an urban, internationally-recognized research institution serving undergraduate and graduate programs in the social sciences;
The University of Virginia: a large, historic, quasi-public research university with a strong undergraduate teaching culture and liberal arts tradition alongside an increasing investment in professional programs;
Yale-NUS College: a new, entirely undergraduate, fully residential, government-funded, Singapore-based college with an American-inspired but internationally-minded and quite innovative liberal arts curriculum.
Working and studying at such different institutions has left me with the strong conviction that within this class of excellent colleges, no place is better than another – each institution has its own distinctive strengths and constraints for students to seize and navigate. Even the most elite, competitive schools may be phenomenally well-resourced, but the associated stress can be toxic for some students, and counterproductive to transformative learning. No matter the institution or the student, a listening ear and meaningful support structure promotes the deep education and personal growth we want for our college students.