STAYING GROUNDED: WHAT IS MINDFULNESS ANYWAYS?

Tyler Hall, Student Success Advisor, Dalhousie University

Throughout our day, a myriad of students come through our offices and share with us their stories. Sometimes they are stories of triumph, but others feel defeated and need support. Our schedules keep up busy and very rarely do we have time to collect our thoughts before the next student. It is vital as an advisor that we take a peaceful pause and stay grounded, even if only for a few minutes. Chaos can be tempting. It threatens to pull at us and rush us along on its path of uncertainty, but there are ways to resist the pull. It can be challenging at times, but I know I can always come back to one thing. Mindfulness.

The term Mindfulness is thrown around a lot as a magic cure-all band-aid for anxiety and stress. “Do some mindfulness and you will be fine.” Mindfulness takes practice. Mindfulness takes work. It takes commitment to notice when your mind wanders away from what is important and begins to drift to less productive thoughts. You begin to fall down the proverbial rabbit hole.

There are many ways to practice mindfulness and many definitions but for me, the first definition I heard stuck. Jon Kabat-Zinn, the founder of mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) defines mindfulness as “paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally”. In that sentence, they summarize the 5 things one needs to do to stay mindful.

Pay Attention

This is often the hardest part, but the most important. To stay mindful, you need to notice when you are not being mindful. We all have had those interactions with students that leave us with our heads on our desks. Sometimes it is from feeling lost as to what advice to give, or sometimes a student has shared a particularly emotional story. Sometimes those feelings can stay with us all day. It is important to pay attention to our thoughts and notice when this happens. Without that attention, this feeling can continue to weigh on us and take us down even further.

In a Particular Way

Once you are able to notice these moments, it is adding intention that begins to create a mindful state. What you do once you notice these moments is the next step. How can you move through the experience in a useful way? How can you sit with these feelings and be comfortable with them? This is where the mindfulness techniques come into play.

On Purpose

Similar to the above statement, intention is so important. Mindfulness must be done on purpose, not by accident. If thoughts are noticed by accident and you deal with them and move on without a purposeful mindset, that is not mindfulness. Before I begin any mindfulness session, whether it is 3 minutes before my next student or 20 minutes at the end of my day. I say out loud, I am going to begin a mindfulness practice. Saying it out loud and defining it helps shift your thinking to the task at hand.

In the Present Moment

Sometimes you will hear mindfulness described as being present. The present is the only thing we have control over. The past has happened, and the future has yet to happen. How we deal with what is happening now can help us steer where we want to go. This can be one of the hardest things to do. Our minds like to wander away from the present. It could be thinking of past appointments with students or what you are going to make for dinner.

“Between stimulus and response there is a space, in that space is our power to choose our response, in our response lies our growth and our freedom” – Viktor Frankl

That space is the present moment and we need to embrace it. By slowing down and becoming aware of that space, we gain control of that power to choose our response. Sometimes autopilot takes over and doesn’t make the best choice.

Non-judgementally

Perhaps one of the most challenging parts of mindfulness is treating thoughts without judgement. Even when you have set an intention and are being mindful in the present moment, thoughts will cross your mind. It is important to give them no emotional weight whether positive or negative. Every thought is neutral as it floats through. The trick is to notice them and let them go and focus back on the present.

So what now?

Hopefully, you can begin to understand what mindfulness is and what it isn’t. There are many ways to practice it be it meditation, mindful eating, mindful driving, body scans, etc; but the heart of it lies in the five tenants that Jon Kabat Zinn sets out. Mindfulness is and will always be a practice. There is nothing to overcome, no blackbelt or Michelin star proclaiming you are the best. It is just about paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.

As advisors, we are constantly exposed to struggles and hardships faced by students. It is vital that we stay present not only to serve the students better, but so we can serve ourselves. For me, mindfulness is a way of life and a great comfort when things get challenging. I encourage you all to think about mindfulness and how the tenants above sit with your understanding.

Techniques to Stay Mindful

3 minute mindfulness

This was one of the first techniques that I was introduced to when starting my mindfulness journey. The best part is, you just listen to the video and follow the directions. I encourage you to carve 3 minutes out, find a comfortable position, sit intentionally ready to engage in mindfulness, and listen. The video below is just one of many on Youtube. Explore different ones and find which ones work for you.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=evJHBLldMsE

Seated Mindfulness

Once you feel comfortable with guided mindfulness like above, you may want to branch out and create your own way of being mindful. One way to do that is to sit intentionally and focus on the present. Easier said then done. I often pick an anchor, something to focus on that is happening right now to keep me focused.

While seated, close your eyes if comfortable and set a timer. Start with 3 minutes if you can and work your way up once you feel more comfortable. Start by setting your intention and acknowledge that this is a mindful practice.

Sound – This is the first anchor that you can try. While being mindful, focus your thoughts on the sounds around you. What can you hear? What sounds are new now that you are being mindful? The challenging thing is to not judge these sounds. You may notice the tick of a clock come into your focus. This might be annoying. This is a judgement. Try to let that judgement go and focus only on the sound.

Breath – Another way to focus your thoughts on the present is to focus on breathing. Notice as it fills your chest and then leaves your body. Judgement can come in to play if you begin to worry about the rate at which you are breathing or the sound it makes. Let the judgements go and focus only on the breath.

Body – A third way to focus is on the body. One of the easiest ways is to do a body scan. Starting at the top or bottom, mentally scan your body and notice each part individually. Sometimes you will become mindful of pain or irritation. Try to notice these neutrally and then move on. An example of a guided body scan can be found here:

https://www.mindful.org/the-body-scan-practice/

Inevitably your mind will wander, thinking about other things. When this happens, notice it and refocus on your anchor. That notice and refocus is what being mindful is all about. You may need to pull yourself back every few seconds when you begin but as you practice, you will be able to stay mindful with fewer distractions. You will never be perfect so treat each session as a practice without comparing to other times. Only the present matters.

These are only a few methods that can be incorporated right at your desk between students. There are a myriad of techniques to practice mindfulness, so I encourage you to try out ones that work for you. Some resources I have found helpful are below. Just remember, the act of practising is doing. There is no right or wrong, only practice.

Resources:

Online

www.happify.com

https://positivepsychologyprogram.com/mindfulness-exercises-techniques-activities/

http://www.freemindfulness.org/download

Books

Hanh, T. N. (1999). The miracle of mindfulness: An introduction to the practice of meditation. Boston: Beacon Press.

Harris, D. (2014). 10% happier: How I tamed the voice in my head, reduced stress without losing my edge, and found self-help that actually works–A true story. New York: Harper Collins .

Kabat-Zinn, J. (2005). Wherever you go, there you are: Mindfulness meditation in everyday life. New York: Hatchette Book Group.

Kabat-Zinn, J. (2013). Full catastrophe living: Using the wisdom of your body and mind to face stress, pain, and illness.New York: Bantam Books.

 

AACUSS Talks March

Author: Kewoba Carter

Another March has come and gone, and now we can reflect on a particularly important day in March.  And I don't mean St Patrick's Day, although I continue to be amazed at the different gradients of green that decorate our campuses every year without fail.  March 21 is the International Day for the elimination of Racial Discrimination.  The UN observes this day to remind us all that "everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in the Declaration, without distinction of race or any other kind" (UnitedNations, 2018)

Fifty-eight years ago, police opened fire on apartheid protestors in Sharpville South Africa killing 69 people.  From our historical perspective, most of us will call this incident appalling and unacceptable.  Yet here we are in 2018, and students who identify as minorities often report incidents of discrimination and exclusion based on race.  As part of the conversation, we would be remiss to ignore students who don't identify as minorities, yet also say they feel discriminated against and unfairly treated. 

Race relations on our campuses have never been simple and straightforward.  Recognizing that more needs to be done, institutions have taken several steps to explore and implement diversity and inclusion programs on their campuses.  This often takes the form of group workshops and information sessions.  While many of them are important and helpful in starting conversations, we often struggle to continue these discussions.  Hearing the word 'micro aggression' is one thing, understanding how it plays out in day to day activities is quite another.   For many of our students, their post-secondary institutions may be the first time they are learning and working alongside peers who are from different ethnic backgrounds.  It may be their very first time realizing that their style of writing assignments, preparing group presentations, choosing what to eat, what sports to play,  music to listen to, is radically different from the student they are sitting next to.  At best this could lead to small misunderstandings.  At worst it could result in re-enforced stereotypes, social media bullying, intentional exclusion, and violence.

So how can we in Student Affairs and Student Services support our students as they navigate race relations while pursuing their academic goals?  How do we create inclusive environments for our increasingly diverse student body?

As with all things in the post secondary world, there is no simple answer.  A complex, multi-layered problem requires a complex and multi-layered response.  After implementing diversity and inclusion programs, we need to follow up with applying a critical race theory lens to the great work we are already doing.  We must further seek to make changes through that lens.  The following are strategies that I've learned to apply:

 

1.        Recognize my own biases when I plan programs and workshops for students.  It's very natural for us to do what we already know.   If I am tasked with organizing a series of spring/summer tutoring workshops, I might at first plan them on days and times that work for my schedule.  But then I have to take a step back and ask myself, "Do these days conflict with important days of other cultures?" I could have unknowingly planned a workshop on Eid or the Summer Solstice, days that are very important for Muslim students and Indigenous students respectively.  By checking my bias, I can structure programs that are more accessible to a wider audience.

 

2.       Listen to students' stories, without interjecting my own.  Many of us interact with students on a daily basis, whether it be through advising appointments, health consultations, front desk support etc.  We listen to their many questions, triumphs and complaints.  We have to interpret what they are saying and then provide them with advice.  However, we can so easily make assumptions that fit our world view.  For example, if a student's parents constantly accompany them to  advising appointments, I could assume that the student simply doesn't assume responsibility for their academics and leave it at that.  I am drawing from my own experiences to reach that conclusion.  After all how many times have I heard my next door neighbour casually talk about how she is the one to follow up with her daughter's school since her daughter always forgets?

But then again, I could listen to the student and I may very well find out that from her cultural context, parents have always taken an intrusive approach in their child's education up to the post-secondary level.  I could 'park 'my own experience and try to understand and appreciate the student's experience.  Then I could improve my advising practices to ensure that I properly communicate to the parents as well as the student, ensuring that they do not feel excluded and the student by extension is more comfortable with the conversation.

 

3.       Recognize that there is a lot going on that I don't see.  Campuses are huge and ever-changing,  and there are lots of conversations and events taking place.  No human being is privy to everything that happens in and outside the classroom.  Yet when students of colour come forward and talk about their experiences, they can be so easily dismissed.  Racialized students are often told they are "too sensitive", or "XXX didn't meant that".  We must remember that as faculty and staff, we do not experience the campus in the way racialized students do.  But just because we never encountered micro-aggressions personally, doesn't mean they don't exist.   When we have privilege, it is very difficult for us to identify it because it's something we never had to think about.  So instead of dismissing the concerns of our students, we need to actively listen and acknowledge their experiences.  We can then proceed to explore what we can do to ensure those experiences do not occur in the future.

 

I would encourage everyone to read Heather Doyle's August 2017 message for more resources on Allyship.    As we work together to make our campuses more inclusive, we should not be daunted.  Rather we should embrace the road ahead and continue making progress towards the goal of building safer, supportive campuses. 

 

More Butter for Your Bread: The Brag Board Project

More Butter for Your Bread: The Brag Board Project

For many of us, February can be a challenge.  The novelty and the feelings of starting fresh in a new semester is over, and the long and cold days can be difficult for both students and student services professionals alike. For many students, money starts dwindling in second term.  Student mental health challenges are more prevalent, and graduating students are anxious about the transition to their next career steps.  For us student services professionals, as we rise to meet students about their challenges, we must also ethically ensure that we are addressing our own challenges.

For me, in the winter, I often think about the Bilbo Baggins quote from Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring: “I feel thin, sort of stretched - like butter scraped over too much bread”.  This time of the year, I am often drowsy, lacking energy and feel that the needs will always exceed available resources. I know, during these times, that I need to start practicing for myself the principles of self-care that we’re so quick to remind our students about. For me, “self-care” doesn’t necessarily mean engaging in temporary distractions from my busy life (although those can be fun, too).  It means reaching inside and reminding myself why I choose to engage in our work on a daily basis.

Often, in student services, we don’t necessarily get to see the results of our work with students.  Sometimes, our paths may cross with students only one time and for a very specific purpose.  When we are fortunate enough to learn that students have achieved their goals that we have helped them with, we hold tightly to those moments.  It could be a student telling you that they got a job interview, a student sending a quick email that they got into the graduate school of their choice, or sending a thank you card to share that they met a personal goal.

I began my brag board project after seeing these small breadcrumbs manifest in my work life. Students would occasionally send me cards, emails, or letters to let me know about significant and positive achievements in their life that I had, in some small way, helped them with.  I began collecting and keeping these small stories as a reminder for those times when I feel ineffective, frustrated or feel that projects aren’t moving forward as fast as I hoped.  I assembled these into a memory board that I crafted for the purpose of reminding me about the important work that I choose to engage in.

 

Brag Board 2.jpg

The board is an eclectic mix of handwritten expressions of gratitude, email printouts of success, notes, cards and mementos from students, colleagues and supervisors. It is also a living canvas: I incorporate or set aside elements as I need to make space for the type of positivity I hope to bring into my life at the moment.  I hang it prominently in my office, a visual reminder that I have a positive impact on more people than I may believe.  

Brag Board.JPG

This winter, I challenge you to make your own version of the Brag Board. What feedback, gratitude, and stories are nourishing for you?  How have you helped students? Which items on your board can you share with colleagues and supervisors so that they can share in your victories?  It is my hope that in the deliberate re-reading and re-telling of these faded, bent and wrinkled stories that we have enough butter for our bread for both today and for tomorrow.

 

Trish Murray-Zelmer, MEd

Employment & Financial Aid Coordinator

St. Thomas University

Meeting the Communication Needs of Students

Submitted, Cindy Crossman, Mount Allison University, AACUSS Health Divisional Rep

Communication is essential for the translation of knowledge, particularly in the academic setting. Yet, how are we, as student service providers effectively communicating with the demographic we serve?

According to an article written by David Baez, entitled, “How Campus Communication Technology Works”, today’s generation of college and university students are among “the first to take technological innovations such as e-mail, text-messaging and wireless Internet capability for granted”.

“As university administrators try to keep pace with the expectations of these students who've grown up using the Internet, they’re transforming the college campus into a wireless environment that integrates the latest communication technologies into the classroom and into student life”, according to Baez.

We work with students, we collaborate with students, and we communicate with students; if we are going to do this effectively, we need to engage students in such a way that is familiar to them.

In 2015, the University of Waterloo conducted a survey looking at preferred methods of student communication. The survey had 1,199 student respondents and explored the following questions:  
1-How do Waterloo students want to be communicated with?
2-How are Waterloo students using email and social media?
3-Who do Waterloo students consider an important source of information?

Highlights from this survey include:

“Waterloo students consistently identify email and social media as their preferred communication channels.

The use of multiple channels to communicate key messages helps ensure your messages will be heard by Waterloo students.

Waterloo students are equally likely to read their emails on a mobile device or a personal computer.

Waterloo students identified email subject and sender lines as two motivating factors for reading an email.

Waterloo students identified that their email reading style is ‘skim and scan’ and in an email, they prefer to have links to further information.

The majority of Waterloo students are using social media, but platform preferences and activity levels vary amongst different groups.

The majority of students consider their professors or program coordinators and academic advisors as sources of important information.” (University of Waterloo 2015)

In summary, based on feedback from the Waterloo student survey, as well as best practice in email and social media communication, Waterloo has created the following guidelines to ensure effective student communication.

·         Increase the likelihood that students will open, read and retain your messages by tailoring the email subject line

·         Meet student requests for concise, easy-to-read emails from their university 

·         Create a student-friendly social media strategy 

Therefore, no matter how many savvy or aesthetically pleasing posters are designed or flyers are distributed, we also need to be targeting our student group. This can be done by communicating effectively through email and social media using the guidelines suggested by the University of Waterloo.

Social media and technological innovation has opened the door to more effective engagement.  Instead of reaching out to students through passive programming, effective online engagement enables real-time feedback that is useful when connecting with students on projects outside the classroom. Therefore, while University Affairs staff may still need to maintain formal channels of communication, increasingly sophisticated messaging systems are becoming a preferred method of student communication. 

However, do not underestimate hands-on, face-to-face, or personal interaction. This method is still effective when seeking student involvement. At Mount Allison, sidewalk chalk messages are used frequently and do not forget about using humor in the media strategy- it works too! In conclusion, academic institutions can try different methods of communicating to students and figuring out which approach is the most effective.  

 

References:

https://people.howstuffworks.com/how-campus-communication-technology-works.htm

https://uwaterloo.ca/student-success/staff-and-faculty/communicating-students

Student Success In College—Creating Conditions That Matter

Authors:  Kuh, Kinzie, Schuh, Whitt and Associates

Last June I was the first and happy winner of the newly minted “AACUSS Reads” contest.  I received a brand new copy of the 2nd edition of Student Success in College.  With seemingly vast stretches of time during the summer, I figured I’d knock off the review I promised to complete--writing a review was the contest catch—long before the summer was out, no sweat   Well, here it is almost December with end of term hysteria abounding all around and exams looming,  and I’m just now honouring my commitment.  Let’s just say my professional reading and writing road to hell was paved with good intentions. 

Student Success in College (SSiC)—Creating Conditions That Matter is one of those professional references that should be on every post-secondary educator’s bookshelf.  It is chock-a-block full of practices that promote student success and reveals how to implement them effectively. 

The Documenting Effective Educational Practice (DEEP) Project involved the study of 20 U.S. colleges and universities identified with higher-than-predicted levels of engagement and graduation.  Many of the practices highlighted in SSiC would be familiar to many of you.  The authors stress, “first year programs, learning communities, interdisciplinary seminars, and capstone experiences along with opportunities for community service, internships, and study aboard are nearly universal...what makes DEEP schools distinctive is that substantial numbers of students are involved in more of these effective practices….”  SSiC explains how these 20 schools achieved higher than predicted results and that’s what makes it a worthwhile read for post-secondary educators.

The text examines six overarching features common to the 20 DEEP colleges and universities.  It also presents examples of policies, programs and practices that can be adapted to enhance student engagement in the five areas of effective educational practice measured by NSSE—Academic Challenge; Active and Collaborative Learning; Student-Faculty Intervention; Enriching Educational Experiences; and Supportive Campus Environment. It summarizes and interprets the implications of the DEEP research findings and closes with a synthesis of what has transpired at the 20 institutions since 2005 when the first edition was published.

Here are ten DEEP school practices reported in SSiC that resonated with me:

  • Institutional values guide actions at DEEP schools. Policies and practices align with mission and values.
  • There is an unshakeable focus on student learning.  The schools experimented with engaging pedagogies and provided support for faculties to do so.
  • DEEP schools create pathways to show student what to expect and what success look and feels like.
  • Some examples of pathways—required 1st year seminars; robust advising services; capstone courses.
  • DEEP schools use active and collaborative learning methods and believe that every student can learn under the right conditions. 
  • DEEP schools host celebrations of educational attainment; progress toward degree completion and graduation.
  • Reward systems are used to recognize teaching excellence. 
  • DEEP schools are never quite satisfied with their level of performance. They continually strive to improve and innovate, even human and fiscal resources are thin.  They use data to inform their decisions and make improvements.
  • DEEP schools have effective partnerships among faculty and student affairs professionals
  • DEEP SCHOOLS SEEK TO BE BEST AT WHAT THEY DO WITH THE STUDENTS THEY HAVE.

Too be honest, I found this book a bit of a slog to read from cover to cover.  I do not recommend that you read it in bed!  If you are pressed for time and want to get right to the ‘nuts and bolts’, read Part Four where the findings are summarized and the recommendations are listed. Then you can skip back to earlier sections and chapters for more detailed descriptions of specific institutions’ practices. No matter how you approach your reading of this resource, I highly recommend it.

 

Jody Gorham

Acting Senior Director

Academic Success, a division of Student Services

University of New Brunswick, Fredericton

 

 

November is Financial Literacy Month

Submitted by: Shelley Clayton

Director, Financial Aid, University of New Brunswick (Fredericton Campus)

Some Interesting facts to consider:

  • In recent numbers released from Statistics Canada, Canadians’ household income has increased 1.2 per cent in the last quarter. Sounds like great news--right? Not really. During the same quarter, household credit market debt rose by 1.9 per cent. Simply put, the average Canadian carries $1.68 in debt for every dollar of disposable income. This covers consumer credit, mortgages and loans, for a nationwide total of more than $2 trillion (yes, trillion).
  • Based on Statistics Canada, almost half of Canadians are now living paycheque-to-paycheque, therefore, even the smallest financial hit can have major consequences.
  • A national survey conducted by Leger* on behalf of Financial Planning Standards Council (FPSC) has found that 42 per cent of Canadians rank ‘money’ as their greatest stress. That stress is driving Canadians to lose sleep, reconsider past financial decisions, argue with partners and lie to family and friends. 
  • Between July 31 to August 3, 2017, Leger* also conducted an on-line survey of 1527 Canadians and discovered that more than half (53%) of Canadians with children say their children are dependent on them financially and 30% say their children are causing a strain on them financially. Three-in-ten (31%) say that assisting their children with post-secondary costs will or already has postponed their retirement and already has or will prevent them from paying of their debt.
  • Some highlights from the Recent statistics from Global News/Ipsos Reid poll showed: (https://globalnews.ca/news/1819345/smart-money-canadians-stressed-about-finances-as-debt-levels-rise-exclusive-poll-finds/):
    • 40% are stressed about saving for retirement;
    •  Saving for big-ticket items, like a car or a down payment for a home, is another cause of stress for four in 10;
    • Paying bills on time and credit card debt is a cause of stress for one in three;
    • Mortgage or rent payment concerns affect one in three;
    • 25% are stressed about caring for their dependents like aging parents or kids.

 

“A budget tells us what we can't afford, but it doesn't keep us from buying it”

~ William Feather

Mindset and Grit – The keys to unlocking student success?

Neil Cole - Academic Advising Support Coordinator, UNB

“Mindset” and “grit” are now among higher ed’s buzziest buzz words, but they are not “fad concepts” like MOOCs, which have come and gone. Rather they are proven to be successful approaches in student development, and for good reason.

So what is mindset? What is grit? Is grit different than perseverance? Why are they important to student success?

Briefly, mindset is an area of study in psychology pioneered by Carol Dweck and several research colleagues. In their work they discovered that there are two basic mindsets that all people have: either growth or fixed. In short, a growth mindset is the idea that one’s ability, talent, and intelligence can grow and be strengthened, much like exercising muscles. On the other hand, a fixed mindset is the idea that one’s ability or intelligence is (you guessed it) fixed and unchangeable.

Growth mindset is supported by new research in the field of neuroplasticity that has recently discovered the brain is always growing new neural pathways when actively learning and actively applying previously learned skills and information.

What about grit? Grit and perseverance are generally the same, and have gained more traction the past several years through research by Angela Duckworth. Duckworth may not have discovered grit the same way Dweck discovered mindsets, but her work is nonetheless important to understanding our students and how to support them the best.

The remarkable link between mindset and grit is how a growth or fixed mindset may influence a student’s grit or perseverance. A student with a fixed mindset has been shown to have low grit. In other words, if you believe you can’t do a task, and you believe no amount of effort will make you better, then you’re likely not going to work any harder at achieving or completing your task.  Flip the coin, if you have a growth mindset and you know that with the right amount of effort combined with appropriate strategies that you can learn or complete that which is difficult, you are more likely to persevere when the difficulty emerges.

In the example above, a gritty, growth mindset will stick to the difficult task until it is done, or until the appropriate learning is accomplished. A gritty, growth minded student understands that learning is hard and requires lots of effort to be highly successful, whereas a low-grit, fixed minded student will often buckle under or give up as the earliest signs of struggle or challenge.

So why are these concepts important to student success?

As educators, counselors, advocates, advisors and coaches, financial aid officers, administrators, accessibility officers, career practitioners, health officers, residence staff, or whatever you do, we all have a role to play in helping our students unlock their gritty, growth minded potential.

 

You can learn more from these resources:

Mindset, by Carol Dweck

Mindsetworks.com

Growth Mindset vs Fixed Mindset, animated video by Sprouts

The Power of Yet, TedxNorrköping, Carol Dweck

The Power of Belief, TedxManhattan Beach, Eduardo Briceno

Grit, by Angela Duckworth

Grit: the power of passion and perseverance, Ted Talks, Angela Duckworth

Grit, animated video by Sprouts

 

Take the Mindset Quiz and Grit Scale Self-Assessments

Mindset Quiz (online self-assessment)

Grit Scale (online self-assessment)

 

Neuroplasticity

The Brain that Changes Itself, by Norman Doidge

The Brain that Changes Itself, The Nature of Things Documentary

Reflecting on Welcome Week 2017

Travis Myers - Memorial University


University welcome week is an exciting time for everyone involved and emotions can run high. There is excitement, anxiousness and curiosities of the unknown at the forefront of those embarking on a whole new chapter of their lives. As university faculty, staff, students and volunteers prepare for hundreds of hours the arrival of the new recruits, we all have different objectives we hope to achieve in the days of welcoming new students to our campuses.
 
The blending providing an exciting, inviting atmosphere and sharing our institutional traditions, spirit while making sure our students feel welcome, make connections, know how to navigate our campuses and be academically prepared is a delicate dance. Families of students are a large support structure and we need to make sure they are also comfortable with the choice the student made to study at our schools.  At Memorial this year as we welcomed students to their new homes on campus, it was very much a family affair. Parents, guardians, Moms, Dads, brothers, sisters, grandma and the family dog were part of the moment. The day included a lunch in the courtyard where everyone was invited to spend time together along with faculty, staff and volunteers. These informal moments shared by the student, their parents and the people of the university helped ease the tension for most because of the welcome. We expressed our joy for having the new students arrive and reassured their choices of coming here to study. Those small interactions are what help students make that initial and crucial connection to the institution by letting them know that we are genuinely happy they are now a part of our community.
 
During our residence life staff training this year I put more emphasis than usual on seeking out students who transferred from other schools. Many students who do not make those institutional or social connections in the first few weeks of their arrival do not tend to stay or be successful at their institution. It is always important to try and understand where our students are coming from and what they may have experienced in the past if they decided to transfer. Transfer students may be particularly vulnerable if they are not connected. Sometimes they do not get the attention that is required to ensure their success. This topic inspired a great discussion among our staff as some are transfer students themselves. They shared their view on the importance of feeling a sense of belonging and that there is apprehension around “trying this again” at another institution.
 
It was great to see a blend of faculties, schools and support units at Memorial come together to provide different opportunities to engage students and try to intercept as many of those new faces to ensure that they felt a connection to Memorial. It is one of my most favorite times of the year and love sharing that experience with everyone involved.
 
Specifically to the Housing Division but open to all divisions, I would love to hear what things went well for your orientation/onboarding/welcome weeks. Are there new things that were tried this year and were there lessons learned?  What things have always been done that work so well for your institution in welcoming students and their families? If you would like to let me know you can email me at housing@aacuss.ca or call me at 709-864-3475 and I would welcome a conversation about your experiences.

Go-To Faculty @ Saint Mary’s University

Saint Mary’s University continues to work diligently to increase mental health awareness, mental health literacy and evidence based mental health care on its campus. To this effect, Saint Mary’s University is participating in a study lead by Dr. Stan Kutcher called LIST (Learn, Identify, Support & Treat): A Comprehensive Mental Health Development and Pathway through Mental Health Care for Postsecondary Settings. This study is being conducted throughout the Atlantic Provinces with the participation of six post-secondary institutions.

This study encompasses several components, one of which is the creation of “Go To” Faculty Members on campus. “Go To” Faculty Members are members of the faculties of Arts, Science and Business who have been further familiarized with mental health literacy and ways to identify, listen, support and refer students who are in distress through a specially designed training. It is not uncommon for students to reach out to faculty members or present in class in such a way that demonstrates that they might be struggling. The goal of the “Go To” Faculty Training is to help faculty identify and refer students in distress to the most appropriate resources while also feeling confident in their approach to working with students in distress.

“Go To” Faculty Members will be promoted on campus as being faculty members who are safe to speak to about issues such as mental health. They will not be promoted as being permanent support persons and will not be asked to engage in any counselling. “Go To” Faculty Members will be supported throughout the academic year by a member of The Counselling Centre Staff. The “Go To” Faculty Program will be running on Saint Mary’s campus during the fall and winter semesters. Through this initiative, Saint Mary’s University hopes to increase the likelihood that students who are in distress receive support and focussed referrals to appropriate resources.

For further information regarding the “Go To” Faculty Program, please do not hesitate to contact The Counselling Centre at the information listed below:

Caroline Danis, M.Ed., CCC, RCT-C

The Counselling Centre, Saint Mary’s University

923 Robie Street

Halifax, Nova Scotia, B3H 3C3

Phone: 902-496-8766

Reception: 902-420-5615

Email: caroline.danis@smu.ca

A Statement from the AACUSS President

As August speeds on, I know that all of us in Student Affairs are eagerly anticipating the arrival of students back on campus in a few short weeks. However, I cannot help but intentionally reflect on what occurred in Charlottesville Virginia this past weekend, on a university campus, in an area and city that I have visited frequently. The blatant racism and intolerance that occurred that day, and has continued since, reminds us all that we are far from an inclusive, just and equal society. 

Here at AACUSS, we denounce all forms of racism, inequality and prejudices, and support our offices, schools and communities in supporting this mission.  It is important for us to recognize that this is not just a problem for our neighbours to the South, but that Canada is not immune to racism, nor is Atlantic Canada. Talk to any racially visible student, colleague or friend, and you will hear lived experiences of facing blatant and systemic racism daily. This means that this is all our problem and there are things that we can be doing each and every day to help fight systemic racism. I especially encourage my fellow white colleagues to consider what we can do to recognize our own biases as well as to be active allies/accomplices.  I have attached a few resources to this message that I encourage you to reflect on and consider. I also encourage you, the AACUSS membership, to challenge us, to ensure that AACUSS is advocating for the values of inclusivity and diversity and continues to work on making AACUSS a supportive environment for all its members. As always, if you have any questions, thoughts or concerns, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Best,

Heather Doyle

President, AACUSS 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_dg86g-QlM0

http://stackedbooks.org/2015/08/committing-to-diversity-when-youre.html

https://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/11/05/what-white-privilege-really-means/

(Resources from @nyashaJunior)

Student Affairs Motivation from NBCC

Justin Stoodley, NBCC

Have you ever struggled to stay motivated?  It can be tough working in Student Affairs, you must adapt, work on multiple projects, “be on” most of the time, and not everybody understands what we do. Are there any words of wisdom that help you remember the reason you do what you do? I asked my colleagues at NBCC (New Brunswick Community College) to share with us some of the quotes that they have on their walls that they use to help get through the day with a smile, and here are a few:

1.       “Knowledge is Power” – Francis Bacon

Lee Murphy Nobbs, Career and Wellbeing Counsellors says that when working through challenges, be they academic or personal in nature, inevitably we learn what does not work before we come up with a better way.  Because of our uniqueness as individuals, in particular, self-knowledge is one of those intangible perks gained as students navigate difficult tasks and pass crossroads along their post-secondary journey.  That self-knowledge is something you can put in your pocket – it’s as useful as the certificate or diploma you earn, and similarly, it will always be there for you when you need it in the future.

 

2.       “For what it’s worth … it’s never too late, or in my case too early, to be whoever you want to be.  There’s no time limit.  Start whenever you want.  You can change or stay the same.  There are no rules to this thing.  We can make the best or the worst of it.  I hope you make the best of it.  I hope you see things that startle you.  I hope you feel things you never felt before.  I hope you meet people who have different points of view.  I hope you live a life you’re proud of, and if you’re not, I hope you have the strength to start all over again.” – Eric Roth

 Victoria Scott, Learning Strategist has Eric Roth’s quote hanging on her office door.  She has always found strength and motivation in it.  She mentions that she feels this quote speaks to a lot of our students that have chosen to come to college, in many cases after having spent time living (and working) a life that they were not satisfied with.  Victoria states that she is constantly amazed and inspired by the stories of students and the courage it takes to change the direction of their lives, and how we are humbled to be a part of that process.  

 

3.       “Are you here with the solution or are you part of the problem?

Dale Finnamore, Regional Operations Manager says that everyone needs to step up to make things better.  “I don’t want someone coming into my office simply to complain.”   What are the options, how should things be changed?  Everyone can make a difference in the organization just by taking responsibility or by offering solutions or at least offering to help be part of the solution.  

 

4.       “No One rises to low expectations.” – Les Brown

Penny Chase, Manager of Student Development stumbled upon this quote a while ago and it has really stuck with her.   She states that we all need a reminder to challenge ourselves, and those around us, to grow!  Don’t be happy with the status quo; you can always do / be more.

 

5.       “Don’t tell me the sky is the limit when there are footprints on the moon” – Paul Brandt

I have found this to be a great quote.  It reminds me from a personal perspective, and from a leadership perspective that there are no limits to what we can accomplish!  If we can send a man to the moon, then we can all achieve the impossible.  

 

What these quotes remind me is that we all change lives, we genuinely change lives.  Wherever you are working in Student Affairs, you change lives because the work you do is critical to a student’s success.  

You have seen some of our favorite quotes that help us and refresh, WHAT WOULD YOU ADD TO THIS LIST?

Greetings from the President

It looks like summer has finally arrived in Atlantic Canada! It is hard to believe that a month ago many of us were in Truro at #aacuss17. It was such a rejuvenating and energizing experience to reconnect with colleagues from across Atlantic Canada and to learn from each other. Based on much of the feedback, it certainly sounded that Dr. John Austin’s keynote resonated deeply. I would challenge all of us to consider his message: how are we telling our story of what it is that we do to support students? How do we become storytellers of our discipline? For those of you that were unable to make it, we hope you will join us next year in Charlottetown PEI, as AACUSS will be held in conjunction with the Annual CACUSS conference.

Also at the AACUSS conference I officially took the “reins” from Matthew as President. I recognize that I have large shoes to fill. Matthew has been a leader in the organization for the past number of years and has been a knowledgeable presence in the organization. I feel lucky that his leadership will continue in the ever-important role of Past President. We also elected a new executive. Although we had some returning members, we also welcomed new executive members, including Dean Martin, UNB, as President-Elect. I am excited to say that the executive not only has representation from every province in Atlantic Canada, but also from both the university and college sector.  I think that this will help to ensure that we have a deeper understanding of the various lenses and voices of our membership.

 

As I look ahead to the next year as President, there are several areas that I hope we can explore. The first is to continue thinking of professional development opportunities for our members outside of the annual conference. The second is working with CACUSS to solidify our relationship and provide opportunities for AACUSS members to engage in both organizations. The third is to continue to ensure we are being transparent and providing opportunities for the membership to actively engage with the association. I also welcome any of you to contact me with any ideas or thoughts on how AACUSS can grow, develop and be more inclusive of its diverse membership. You can reach me at president@aacuss.ca.

I wish you all a safe summer and hope that you can take some time to recharge as we prepare for the busy fall semester, which is right around the corner!

Best,

Heather, President, AACUSS

Pronouns: She, Her, Hers

 

AACUSS Highlight - On-the-Go Support Offered by The Counselling Centre at Saint Mary’s University

Submitted by: Sarah Morris, MEd. Assistant Director of Student Services

Saint Mary’s University prides itself on innovation, so much so it’s one of the pillars of our Institutional Strategic Plan. For the Winter 2017 semester The Counselling Centre decided to pilot an innovative project, in the hopes of offering support to students using a different approach. As a result, On-the-Go Support was born. Historically, several universities in Canada and the United States have embedded counsellors in other services across campus (i.e. residence, international centres), however, On-the-Go Support is different than such offerings.

On-the-Go Support was not meant to duplicate counselling sessions already available on campus. Rather, it was intended as an option for students to make a preliminary connection with The Counselling Centre who were in need of mental health support but, for whatever reason, had not made it into The Centre. Conversely, it was also meant to offer one-time support to those who may have needed assistance but not necessarily ongoing counselling. Such one-time support included offering validation/reassurance and a place to talk about their current difficulties while providing resources and appropriate referrals, among other things.

On-the-Go Support was piloted in Residence (On-the-Go Support @ Home) and Graduate Studies (On-the-Go Support @ Grad Studies). Residence was selected as many first year students live on campus and require transitional support that goes beyond their first semester. They may not necessarily need ongoing counselling and their concerns could possibly be met using a single session or brief model. Graduate Studies was selected as many graduate students face a unique set of challenges in their academic careers. However, they tend to be more isolated than their undergraduate peers while having less access to specialized services targeted to such peers. In Residence a therapist from The Counselling Centre was present in an office central among the three Residence buildings every Friday from 1:30 to 4:00. In Graduate Studies a therapist was present in the Graduate Studies office every second Monday from 2:00 to 4:00. Appointments were entirely on a drop-in basis and limited to 30 minutes maximum.

On-the-Go Support was received well by many individuals across campus and talked about readily. In terms of student uptake, we met with 10 students in Residence and 4 students in Gradate Studies throughout the semester. Several of those students were encouraged to pursue ongoing therapy at The Counselling Centre, and a few did follow through, while others were provided with resources and/or referrals and encouraged to drop-in again, if necessary.

Like any pilot project, On-the-Go Support had some challenges. One of the bigger challenges was finding optimal locations for the service. Securing an office that offered privacy (to uphold confidentiality) that was also somewhat central in a communal space (in the hopes of offering visual cues) was difficult. Additionally, securing a space that provided adequate safety for the clinician and students was essential. For graduate students, in particular, situating On-the-Go Support in the Gradate Studies office may have deterred some students from seeking support who required it, for fear that programming staff and/or faculty may see them seeking help or be notified of their need for help (which was not the case).

Looking ahead to September 2017, the intention is to run On-the-Go Support @ Home and @ Grad Studies again, which would allow a more throughout full-year assessment of the service. Meetings were conducted with various University personnel to explore the frequency of presentation, location and other challenges encountered in the Winter semester.

If anyone is interested in learning more about On-the-Go Support offered via The Counselling Centre at Saint Mary’s University please feel free to reach out to us using the information below:

Cindy Boland, M.Ed. Psychologist (Candidate Register)

The Counselling Centre, Saint Mary’s University

923 Robie Street, Halifax, Nova Scotia, B3H 3C3

Phone: (902) 496-8172     Reception: (902) 420-5615

Email: cindy.boland@smu.ca

AACUSS Keynote: John Austin

The AACUSS 2017 conference committee is excited to welcome Dr. John Austin from Ryerson University as this year's keynote. John brings a wealth of experience to the field of Student Affairs and will be addressing how we, as Student Affair's professionals, work to inform, inspire and influence our students and ourselves. 

John holds an M.Ed in Higher Education Administration from the University of North Carolina and an Ed.D in Educational Leadership, Administration and Policy from Fordham University in New York City. His 24-year career in Student Affairs has been at a mix of specialized performing arts schools such as the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, School of American Ballet, and Canada's National Ballet School and large traditional post-secondary institutions such as the University of North Carolina and New York University. John currently serves as the Executive Director, Student Affairs at Ryerson University where he has responsibility for 6 departments: Housing and Residence Life, Student Life, Student Learning Support, Student Health & Wellness, the Ryerson Career Centre, and Special Projects (which houses the award-winning RU Student Life and #RyersonSA Creative). He has great interests in social justice, change management, fundraising, and Student Affairs innovations. The focus of his doctoral research resulted in the dissertation topic, “Leading Learning in the Arts: Skills and Competencies of Performing Arts School Leaders”. You can find him on Twitter at @RyersonJohn.

Too Poor for Post-Secondary, Too Rich for Financial Assistance

Allen Wolfe
Financial Aid & Awards Officer, Saint Mary’s University

Many students are stuck in the middle, too poor for post-secondary, but too rich for full financial assistance, which makes a difficult situation. This problem is plaguing millions of students and families across Canada and is due to a combination of issues; rising tuition costs, smaller pools of financial aid, and difficult financial assistance calculations that put the burden of paying for university on parents that cannot afford it.

In November, the Government of Canada announced that students would now have a fixed contribution towards their Canada Student Loan calculation. The new fixed student contribution, of between $1,500 and $3,000 per academic year based on their family income and family size, will provide students with the predictability of a fixed amount to contribute towards their education costs. The simplified fixed contribution will allow low and middle-income students to better save, budget, and plan for post-secondary. In addition, more students will be able to continue to work and gain valuable job experience without having to worry about a reduction in their level of financial assistance.

The only province in our region to make a student loan related announcement this year was the province of New Brunswick. They recently announced the rollout of Tuition Relief for the Middle Class program. This will help make post-secondary education more affordable and accessible for families with multiple children attending university or community college. The amount of tuition relief will change based on the size of the family to a maximum family size of seven. The amount of tuition relief also decreases as the student’s family income increases, until they reach the maximum income cut-off.

Institutions can do their part to help the students stuck in the middle by encouraging them to apply for financial assistance. There is a historical stigma attached to student loans and even though there have been significant changes that have been taken place and that there are many advantages to the program, many eligible do not apply. We can also direct students to apply for external scholarships using scholarship databases like Yconic, Universities Canada and Scholarships Canada. These databases help students gain access to millions of dollars worth of awards. Sometimes it only takes an hour of work to apply for an award!

 

Collaborating for Student Success

By: Travis Myers

Early in 2016, Student Residences at Memorial University started to envision a way to better support students living on campus. The original question of how to apply better technology upgrades for residence computer labs turned into a great project and partnership between the Student Residences unit, Information Technology Services (ITS), Memorial University Library and Ancillary Services.

In summer 2016, a committee was struck with stakeholders that had a vested interest in developing a space that would provide a desktop computer lab, printing center, campus card support, wireless internet support, tutoring center and food service options.  Memorial University operates several learning commons on campus which provide an array of academic and tech support services.  It was proposed that a space in residence, open to the entire campus would be a great way to support residence students given the proximity to their living space, but would allow the rest of the university community to congregate, work and spend time on a part of campus that they would not normally visit.

Working together with the various units, everyone was able to provide their expertise to what students, faculty, staff and visitors would want in such a space.  Funding was applied for and a grant was issued to get the Hatcher Learning Commons off the ground.  The space would allow for a computer lab, booth type seating for study space, collaborative work areas, as well as a sizable tutoring section.  With Ancillary Operations teaming up on this initiative, the project allowed for the University’s food service provider to open a Jumping Bean Cafe which sells premium coffee products and a lunch menu daily and a Smoke’s Poutinerie which offers late night food operations twice a week.

The Hatcher Learning Commons opened in September 2016 and has been a success with students being able to access the services from 2pm-2am daily.  Staffed by students, it has been a great opportunity have a wide variety of work experience for these student with the clients they support.  Staff at the service desk will provide IT support to those visiting the commons, provide assistance to students who have questions about residence operations, issues campus cards, liaise with academic advising for students who are seeking academic support and any other issues that happen to occur when a client has a question or concern.  There is a strong relationship between the staff of the Library Commons and the Hatcher Learning Commons to ensure regardless of which site you visit, the service level is the same.  Collaboration of the student staff teaching and supporting each other has been a great thing to witness as it has provided them the opportunity to show and strengthen their leadership skills, provided an opportunity for independence in the work setting and in turn the client's experience has been very positive.

One of the greatest student supports offered at the Hatcher Learning Commons is the free tutoring service.  Students who are strong academically and have previous teaching and tutoring experience are hired to provide one on one and group tutoring to any student at Memorial University, with a focus on first year students and first year courses.  The Hatcher Learning Commons offers tutoring in English, chemistry, physics, biology, math and engineering, 7 days a week.  As the semester calendar changes and there is a pressure on tutoring, there is the ability to offer group tutoring sessions and increase frequency to meet those demands if needed.  This space has allowed for a large amount of group study and peer tutoring because of the layout of the space and the atmosphere allows for this to happen naturally.

The committee is very pleased and excited about the response from the university community for this new learning space and is very excited about how students have subscribed and utilized the services.  Moving forward, there are opportunities to bring in more academic support partners and as always, upgrades to learning technology to continuously support the users of the learning commons.  It has been a pleasure having so many hands working together to ensure that the students visiting the Hatcher Learning Commons have the best experience possible to support their academic success.