Human decency in higher education might be missing at VT……

Earlier this month I attended a seminar entitled “Current Issues & Diversity in Higher Education” with Dr. Gasman from UPenn as the headline speaker.  She was absolutely motivating and enthralling in that she reviewed the current system of higher education and challenged all practitioners in the room to take a look at themselves to evaluate how “positively” they encourage and mentor student success.  Dr. Gasman applied for and won a $3 million grant to research why/how some HBCU, Tribal Colleges, and predominantly minority schools have had high success rates.  Her Top 10 Lessons were not life shattering nor rocket science, but, rather boiled down to basic human decency which in my opinion is becoming lost at top tier research institutions such as Virginia Tech.

Top 10 Lessons:

  1. Successful institutions assume success on the part of students rather than seeing students of color from a deficit perspective.
  2. Successful institutions teach in ways that focus on what the student needs to learn rather than what is convenient for the professor.
  3. Successful institutions have faculty members that allow students to bring their full identity to the classroom and capitalize on all aspects of a students identity in the learning process.
  4. Successful institutions have faculty members that come together to co-construct classes and a curriculum that empowers the student.
  5. Successful institutions provide students the opportunity to participate in culturally relevant assignment that speak to the issues in the communities from which they come.
  6. Successful institutions encourage students to live for something larger than themselves.
  7. Successful institutions gather as much data as possible on their students’ learning experiences.
  8. Successful institutions bring the student services and academic services sides of the institution together in order to focus on students rather than operate in silos.
  9. Successful institutions encourage student collaboration over competition and independence.
  10. Successful institutions provide students with peer mentors and peer mentoring opportunities across the curriculum.

Although we didn’t spend much time on each lesson she did review how each one positively correlated with high success in either program graduation rate, continuance of education (moving on from a college to university), and solid GPAs/class attendance.  I would be willing to wager that if VT did an evaluation on these Top 10 Lessons for all PhD students they would be surprised by the low scores received.  Some students like myself are constantly challenged with fitting into a “mold” that a professor wants us to be rather than encouraged to explore and bring individuality to a program.  This in effect stymies the generation of the thought process and reduces our possible impact on the world at large.  Challenge received and accepted……I think I’ve found an interesting research topic!

Thanks!

Cheers, Lehi

7 Comments

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7 Responses to Human decency in higher education might be missing at VT……

  1. eepanty

    Well said Lehi. I think lesson number 10, providing peer mentoring opportunities is a critical factor for success for both students and faculty. The Ph.D. in Public Administration have a Doctoral Mentoring Program (DMP), which I believe is a good example for all other VT Ph.D. programs to follow.

    • Lehi Dowell

      Thank you so much!! Yes, this presentation really spoke to me because #2, #3, #9, and #10 are practically non existent in my department. I mean zilch. I’ve spoken to many other PhD students throughout disciplines and they have expressed the same sentiments which I find shocking. I was expecting an environment of “enlightenment” and this appears to hardly be the case.

      Thanks!

      Cheers, Lehi

  2. jprestegaard

    Great points. As a PhD student in a STEM field though, it is difficult to apply a lot of these in class. How interesting can you make memorizing amino acid structures or intracellular metabolism? How can you make these subjects culturally relevant? I don’t think that many of these STEM undergrad courses are trying to be un-empowering or un-encouraging; for the sake of learning the material quickly enough to move onto post-secondary education, creativity sometimes takes a back seat.
    However, I do believe room for creativity exists in these classes. Peer-mentoring could be very useful. Actually using student feedback on a course should be essential. Too many tenured professors only teach because it is a small part of their appointment at the university, and they do it because they HAVE to, not because they want to.

    • Lehi Dowell

      Heya! Yes, I absolutely agree that this topic would be more applicable to some disciplines more so than others. However, the main focus/point of the study is to understand why these schools had high success in either program graduation rate, continuance of education (moving on from a college to university), and solid GPAs/class attendance; which is applicable to all disciplines and in some universities highly quantified. My main focus/point is on whether or not WE as PhD students would rank our department/advisors highly on these Lessons, and, my assumption is that for many it would result in negative outcomes. You are correct in that many tenured faculty are only teaching because they have to, and, even in the STEM program I’m sure this correlates to a negative skew ono the key indicators rather than positive which is a shame.

      Thanks!

      Cheers, Lehi

  3. martiles

    I appreciated this post – the essence of it is the institution adapts to its student not remediate the students into adapting to the institution. And that is really the bigger problem of higher education. There is only one way to pursue it, and if you try any other way you will fail. Thanks for sharing!

    • nordicgod

      Mayra I couldn’t agree more in that we as students must conform and adopt to the system as it is today, or, as you so politely put it “fail….hahahaha…..I’d like to put in the terms of “shut up and put up”. However, that doesn’t mean we can’t work on changing the system for our tomorrow and future generations. I strongly believe we can do so.

      Thanks!

      Cheers, Lehi

  4. Pingback: Ahhhh….that darn mindfulness thing again in a room full of mindless professors….. | Traveling Norseman: Lehi Dowell

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