In my first year as a dean I did not teach any classes, as I had too many administrative responsibilities. When asked if I missed classroom teaching, I reply that I don’t, as I’m still able to have many interactions with students. Yesterday and today, for instance, I had interesting and productive meetings with three students.
Student A was a member of my student advisory board composed of representatives from all seven departments in my college. He recently graduated, but wanted to share ideas for creating a co-courricular program for helping students improve the so-called soft skills, which Wikipedia defines as “the cluster of personality traits, social graces, communication, language, personal habits, friendliness, and optimism that characterize relationships with other people. Soft skills complement hard skills which are the occupational requirements of a job and many other activities.” We discussed ideas such as a workshop to teach students how to shake hands and make eye contact, and how to compose email that wouldn’t cause prospective employers to roll their eyes. Part of me thinks that I should have found a way to have one of Student A’s grades turned to an F so that he could not graduate and then serve on the advisory board again next year :).
Student B would be in the target audience for Student A’s ideas. A first year student, Student A stood me up for an on-campus lunch yesterday. When I emailed him to see what happened, he blamed me for not telling him where we’d meet. (15 minutes after the scheduled meeting time I saw him enter the building near the one lunch spot that’s open during the summer.) When we met today we discussed how he should have handled that situation differently. I need to say something next time about his limp handshake, however.
Student C is a recent graduate who after participating in the spring commencement discovered that he is actually one credit short of officially receiving his diploma (!). I volunteered to conduct a 1-credit independent study class with him, and we met yesterday to discuss options. A criminal justice major, he settled on a project where he’d watch season 1 of the TV show The Wire, we’d meet a couple of times to discuss it and research articles about the show, and then he’d write a paper imagining what the show would be like if set in Kenosha today in 2014. I recently finished watching season 1 myself, so I’m looking forward to the discussions!
Interacting with students in innovative ways is one of the highlights of being a college dean. In an ideal world, most students would be like Student A: motivated, active in student groups, and earning good grades. In today’s world, however, students come from a wide variety of backgrounds and abilities, so college faculty, staff, and administration have to be flexible in how we work with students to help them become successful in and out of the classroom. I look forward to more creative engagement with students in my second year as a dean!