And…drum roll please…the results are in!
Just before I turned off my blackberry and turned on the oven in preparation for a marathon session of holiday cooking, I received the email containing the grades of my fall semester students. Just as I predicted, it was a mix of good and bad news. Some students sprinted through the finish line, a couple limped just across, and one, well…one didn’t make it. But let’s get to the good news first!
Rebecca and Tracy: Rebecca and Tracy are the homesick freshmen from my previous blog, and in that post I predicted that both would end up with a bell-curve mix of As, Bs, and Cs. Well, both girls finished strong, ending the semester with GPAs above a 3.0!
In addition to Rebecca and Tracy, both of my other freshmen did beautifully. And while this means that they will most likely not be with me next semester, I plan to keep track of their progress and help them in whatever way I can.
Jay: Jay is the sophomore who came to me on warning status. Math is the subject with which he struggles most, but I predicted that he would pass and make Bs and Cs on everything else. Well, Jay did indeed squeak by with a D in math; however, his grades in the rest of his classes were worse than I had predicted. In addition to the D in math, he received two more Ds, one C, and a B, leaving him with a GPA of 1.8 for the semester. He has worked tremendously hard and is still fighting his way through work that is, for him, exceptionally challenging, but this semester’s efforts probably won’t get him off of academic warning.
Allison: Going into finals, Allison had 2 Bs and 3 Cs, including one in English which she needed to maintain in order to pass the class. I had been so nervous thinking about Allison over the past two weeks that when I received the email containing the fates of all of my students, I made a visual bee-line straight to Allison’s results. And then I saw it, staring at me like the big, fat F that it was. Despite doing well in almost all of her other classes, Allison managed to fail the one class she needed to pass in order to retain full-time enrollment status. My heart sank and my mind raced to think of all of the things that could have possibly gone wrong. Did she not study hard enough for the final? Did she blow it off for some inexplicable reason? Did she buckle under the pressure or psych herself out? I don’t know what Allison’s status will be now. If she’s lucky, she may be allowed to return next semester just to take English. If not, she will probably be dismissed.
Marco: Unfortunately, I saw the writing on the wall with Marco weeks ago. He’d stopped going to class, stopped coming to our meetings, and did not answer texts. It seemed to me as if Marco had just given up. So I wasn’t totally surprised when I read that Marco had flunked out of school, but I was saddened. I know what a particularly tough year this has been personally as well as academically for Marco, and I feel for him. Perhaps he felt so underwater trying to deal with the other setbacks in his life that the idea of writing a paper on the themes of guilt and the social contract in Crime and Punishment simply was unfathomable. Perhaps he used those personal disappointments to complete a self-fulfilling prophesy. Perhaps he’s just making bad choices right now and needs a few years to mature. I don’t know.
In addition to receiving a report of my students’ grades in the last week, I also received their feedback. As I have discussed in previous blogs, our students as well as the professors in whose classes they have been enrolled are asked to fill out surveys at the end of each semester. These surveys become my report card, as it were, and I take their thoughts and comments very seriously. I also look for patterns, and this semester I found that one comment came up in almost every survey. In their own words, almost every one of my students remarked about how much it meant to them that they had someone to whom they could come with any question or issue, big or small. Two of my freshmen are the first in their families to attend college, and these students were especially appreciative that they had a single point person with whom they could meet, who both knew them and could really spend time with them one-on-one, to ask questions about navigating this complicated, exciting, often life-changing thing we call the college experience. Of course, there are myriad resources for students at any university- from RAs to deans to mental health professionals, from orientation workshops to freshman seminars- which help students do just that. However, there is something about having a success coach that, especially for students at risk, can make a huge difference.
One of the comments I am most proud of is from Tracy, who remarked in her survey that she wasn’t sure she would have made it to the end of the semester had it not been for the support of her success coach. To quote Tracy, “she believed in me, so I believed in myself.” Tracy’s success coach just happens to have been me, but each and every one of our coaches has received comments like this one from students this past semester and over the years. That’s what I try to remember when I think about Allison or Marco or, for that matter, the next Allisons and Marcos that might walk through my door in January. As higher education administrators, faculty, and staff, we would all like to see our students graduate from our particular universities; however, first and foremost, we want to see them graduate. If Allison decides to take English at a community college before returning to my university or any other 4-year school, I will count that as a success. If it takes Marco a year or two or ten before he gets his act together, I hope that a seed planted during our time together may give him the determination to try again.
Now the New Year is upon us, and I am reminded that nothing becomes cliché which isn’t fundamentally true. So as we close the book on the old and bring in the new, I think of my students. Some have tasted the fruits of hard work and are ready for more. Some are reveling in the knowledge that they can do far more than they ever thought they could and now, maybe for the first time, see limitless possibilities on the horizon. Some are re-assessing their choices and goals. Some are trying to wipe the slate clean and start anew. As for me, I am waiting to meet another crop of students. Some will be familiar faces and others will be brand new, but to all of them I will say, “Happy New Year. We’re not looking back because you’re not going that way. Now…let’s get crackin’.”
Susan Marion is the Coordinator for Success Coaches at Tiffin University, in Tiffin, Ohio. She was instrumental in starting success coaching at the institution in 2007. The program now has fifteen part-time success coaches and supports almost one hundred students who are at risk academically.