Planting a Seed: Becoming the Students Inner Voice

Henrietta Pichon, New Mexico State Membership Coordinator

June 28, 2017

I began my work in higher education as a retention counselor in a special admissions program in 1994. My main responsibility was to provide academic, social, and career counseling to students admitted through this special admission programs. As an eager 23 year old, I did that and then some. I took my job very seriously and would later be promoted to a retention specialist, an Associate Director, and finally a Director.  This included not only one program but for three different ones, all at the same time.  Needless to say, my hope was that I could help students realize their educational goals for baccalaureate degree attainment and beyond.   

Fast forward to 2017, with nearly 25 years of experience in higher education with the most recent being as a faculty member, I ran into a former summer bridge student from 2000 at the American Educational Research Association Annual Meeting in San Antonio.  During the Annual Meeting, he had presented several scholar papers on educational leadership and his work had been cited in one of the national higher education magazines. I was beaming like a proud parent. As I introduced him to a senior scholar in the field of higher education, I relayed the story of how I knew the student and the senior scholar commented, “ohhh, so you have played a role in his being here?”

I stood their somewhat shocked by the question and thought there was no real connection. In fact, I quickly retorted “not at all; this is all him.” Now that I am home and had a chance to communicate with my former colleagues who had also worked with him, we begin to see the connection. Although we acknowledged that it was really all him, we were able to outline several actions that we participated in that may have facilitated this growth and/or planted the seed. Not only for this student but also for others.

One, we treated all students as valuable contributors to the academic and social life of the institution. At the time, the literature was replete with studies on student-environment-fit which postulated that if the students do not see a fit with the institution, they are likely to leave. Well, for us, it was not a matter of do the students fit but rather how the students fit. We sincerely believed that everyone entering the doors of the institution could be successful; we just had to help them to realize their success.    

Two, we worked with students through their academic issues by using multiple approaches.  Mainly, we used intrusive academic advising in which we really got to know students’ strengths and weaknesses, home and work obligations, and career interests and used that to help them create the best schedules possible. We identified appropriate resources that met students’ specific learning needs, such as tutoring, technologies, and other academic support resources.  Additionally, we had great relationships with faculty in various colleges, so we were able to help our students understand certain course requirements and expectations. 

Lastly, we truly enjoyed the work that we were doing with students.  I have never worked with a more enthusiastic group of individuals who wanted to see every student succeed.  We were actually motivated by students’ success. So much so that we volunteered to work backstage at graduation so we could personally congratulate our students. The pictures reminded us of the students’ growth. I remember doing “brag boards” and sharing stories of our experiences with those students who had graduated.  In some way, it reminded us that everyone was able to have that experience, so we worked hard to ensure that it happened.

To this day, as I see students and continue to talk to mentees, I feel good about my experiences with them because I know that I did everything within my power to help them realize their academic goals. And in doing so, I see that we are planting seeds.  

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