Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Actually Get Closer to Students

After a fantastic dinner on Thanksgiving, I began to ruminate (yes, I used both my bellies). The issue I was working to digest was the desire of students for more meaningful relationships with people at the college. Students want to increase their college experience by adding a dimension that has been lacking on many campuses nowadays. They wish to be more involved with the professors. No, not in that way! In ways like I had opportunity to when I was a charter class (first class in the door) undergrad at UMass-Boston.

The University of Massachusetts in Boston had just opened its doors. It was a brand new adventure in higher education that became an excellent experience. It was great school. So great that after orientation day the week before the start of classes we were told to go home for a week. Classes would start a week late because the building was not finished. (Yes. It’s 15 minutes for a fool professor, 10 minutes for an assoc. professor, 5 for an assistant and a whole week for a building.)

One of the things that made UMass-Boston so great was no one knew any better. It was a new school with some new faculty; some of whom had never taught before. Some had not even been professors or been tainted by the rite de passage called the doctorate. In fact, my first English professor was Dan Wakefield, a wonderful teacher and professional writer but not an academic. He actually got to know us and was concerned that we enjoyed the book a week we read.

He did something really crazy. He invited us over to his apartment to sit and talk about books and writing. Dan did not know that protocol called for him to draw a line between he, an upper caste faculty Brahmin and we casteless students. He could be excused of course since he did not have the academic indoctrination experience. But I also had some other crazed English faculty such as Sean O’Connell who came to my wedding; Marty Finney who with Dan Wakefield called late one Saturday night from MLA to tell me I should be a lawyer and marry a beautiful blonde in my lit class; and Lee Grove of the five hour finals with yellow NECCO wafers glued on the page for a question on images of the sun in American lit who called in a panic asking me to meet him at Harvard Square to find some shoes he could wear at the open house he was holding for students that weekend.

And it was not just the English Department. I have already written in an earlier article and in The Power of Retention about a brilliant and caring math professor Dr. Taffi Tanimoto. If it were not for Dr. Tanimoto I would not have graduated.

All of these teachers reached out to students and connected with them as people who cared and enjoyed connecting with students. And yes, I know they are not alone or this only happened at UMass-Boston and UMass-Amherst where Dr. Robert Creed, the head of Graduate English and I became and remain very close friends.

In fact, during discussions and late night reminiscing at conferences with colleagues and friends, the one issue that will evoke the most positive discussion is the “one person who made college a good experience for you.” This leads inevitably to reminiscences of someone who reached out and made the person feel valued. The faculty member who treated me as a person. The administrator I could go to when things got crazy and I just needed someone to talk to. Or the adult you worked with in the bookstore who invited you to her home for dinner with her family. The stories of human contact outside of the formal roles and positions made school so much better. And for many, the anchor in their experience at the school that kept them there.

So, it is no surprise that when we do a customer service and retention audit at a school, students tell us they would like more out-of-class contact with faculty and others. We strongly agree with them since this is a very important retention and customer service activity that can reap solid positive results. In fact, we suggest that all colleges and universities create ways to bring students, faculty, administrators and staff together in informal and more personal ways.

Bringing Students and Others Together in Ways HR Will be Comfortable

The student request to be able to get together with faculty outside of classes is one that can be easily accomplished perhaps but also one that HR and legal could see as problematic. The problematic aspect can occur, of course, when a faculty member and a student might become involved in an inappropriate relationship. But this can be overcome quite easily by providing opportunities to meet with a faculty member in a group and public space. For example, it could be very possible to set up a program for faculty and students to meet in a back table of the cafeteria or a side room to discuss a topic of interest to both. A literature teacher meeting with students to critically discuss a new book or movie; a science professor talking with interested students on some new scientific discovery that is in the news; an ethics prof discussing the public option in the health care bill or a couple of faculty members leading a discussion on the folklore and reality of vampires, and so on. These could be done informally by a faculty member just getting the word out at the end of class or by making these into a regular brown bag lunch series. It would of course help if the University supplied coffee or food to participants. Food is always a draw for faculty and students.

We further suggest opening these brown bags to being offered by staff and administrators as well. There are many talented and very bright staff for example who have many topics to provide information or how to’s on. The grounds people could be excellent sources of information on growing house plants in your room. There are likely crafts people who would be delighted to be able to teach students and colleagues their craft. And do not rule out intellectual skills that can be used to provide lively discussions between staff and students. By bringing staff and students together through common interests, Monmouth would overcome the barrier that exists when anonymity allows staff to be seen as “just a part of the University”.

Having faculty, staff and students share ideas and work together would increase understanding and empathy between customers and service providers and in so doing improve customer service significantly.

If this made sense to you, consider obtaining a copy of my best selling new book on retention and academic customer service

AcademicMAPS is the leader in increasing student retention, enrollment and revenue through research training and customer service solutions to colleges, universities and career colleges in the US, Canada, and Europe as well as to businesses that seek to work with them
We increase your success

GET A COPY OF MY NEW BOOK THE POWER OF RETENTION: MORE CUSTOMER SERVICE IN HIGHER EDUCATION by clicking here. Conduct your own campus customer service retention seminars. Discounts on multiples copies of The Power of Retention.
“We had hoped we’d improve our retention by 3% but with the help of Dr. Raisman, we increased it by 5%.” Rachel Albert, Provost, University of Maine-Farmington

“Neal led a retreat that initiated customer service and retention as a real focus for us and gave us a clear plan. Then he followed up with presentations and workshops that kicked us all into high gear. We recommend with no reservations; just success.” Susan Mesheau, Executive Director U First: Integrated Recruitment & Retention University of New Brunswick

“Thank you so much for the wonderful workshop at Lincoln Technical Institute. It served to re-center ideas in a great way. I perceived it to be a morale booster, breath of fresh air, and a burst of passion.” Shelly S, Lincoln Technical Institute

No comments: