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Professor Brian Meadows working with students at eye-level.

The Adviser in All of Us

Academic Advising – Impeach My Opinion

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

By: Elven Riley

For those of you expecting me to wade into the fray of headline news, I apologize for the head fake. What I want to discuss is the advantage of our university setting with our relentless intellectual review of everything including our students. Many of us have strong beliefs and opinions, me included. At a recent academic conference, one professor embarrassingly lost composure discussing higher education funding by their state legislature. Discourse can become exciting and sometimes threatening. We are all human and work to maintain check on our emotions to freeze, flee, or fight. 

We represent an institution that reconciles our faith in the scientific method and our spiritual faith. Our students are asking difficult civic reconciliation questions, great. Our students are asking our opinions, great. Our students may not be asking how to develop self-awareness of their own biases, not so great. Our students may not be asking why demonstrating self-control enables dialog and community growth, not so great. We can, on days we are not exasperated by todays political news blurb, encourage embracing the freedoms of our democracy. Encourage respecting the beliefs of others. Encourage dialog with others of differing opinions. And celebrating our ability to speak and be heard matched with the skill of listening and observing. Tirelessly seek understanding and empathy for others while verifying hypothesis with fact.  Within our lifetime we have seen the beneficial results and human progress gained by challenging accepted scientific facts with a stronger "revise and resubmit" version.

I have been blessed with the opportunity to change my opinions over time. I like to think it is called growing, not regressing. Please join me in nurturing the inquisitive young minds loudly repeating headlines as facts and help reinforce the grace and the patience of asking they form their own opinion. When I am not making sense, as a public professor serving this institution, I hope my students feel empowered to impeach my opinion. 

Thank you, Go Pirates.

For more click here: Definition of Impeach

Academic Advising – Robo Advisory

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

By: Elven Riley

This blog is written for all faculty, including academic advisors, but is a conversation with all. We are blessed with a stable enrollment. We should all feel proud of the quality education that continues to present a winning value proposition. Many higher education institutions are challenged with declining enrollments. But enrollment is only half of the bargain, matriculation is the real deal. And the number one hands-down greatest impact is establishing student-faculty engagement. 

Our time with students can not be replaced by automation or a well-produced video. Our time can only be augmented with technology to reinforce learning objectives, minimize administrative tasks, enable operational changes, and reduce the relentless "how do I declare my major" question. I am currently working a TLTC innovation grant using a chatbot to answer student questions about the finance program. Modest scope, small steps, right direction, encouraging results. A chatbot is not a substitute for advising, it is advising augmentation. Our team could use more augmentation, not less.

But no automation will prevent a student from dropping out. Our melt is in line with industry norms. Please do not knee jerk and blame others, or bots. This is about teams, augmented teams, engaging with students. We either all win as a team each and every time a student walks to the stage dressed in cap and gown, or we do not win. Students have primary responsibility and must exercise agency, granted. And due to personal life events not all can complete as was anticipated. And yet we are their team. We do make the difference every day. With augmentation we might leverage our contributions.

It is a job. I am paid to do a job. I have agency in how I choose to do my job. Many of us rightly feel unrecognized if not under-appreciated, we need to find a way to celebrate our communal success. I love my job. I admit to being tearful at every graduation. I believe I am on their team. I find joy in the celebration of their success, do you? Or more importantly, will you?

Thank you, Go Pirates.

Click here to access chatbot »
Type in "Feedback" after each answer to get the prompt for whether the answer was useful or not.

Academic Advising – A New President's Priority

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

By: Elven Riley

Welcome our new president and support one of his stated priorities: advising. Yes, the health of our business is based on how our students assess our value proposition. The function of a business model identifies the economic, social, and cultural value we deliver to customers. Current U.S. business leadership is embracing customer value measured on more than just profits. We have always promoted the value of the SHU experience in more than economic terms, so it is good to have affirmation from the larger business community of our core values. You can support our new President.

Faculty, our everyday customer interface, are the key resource with the key activities that actualize the value proposition with our student customers. Yet many of us are illiterate and under resourced to be productive at engaging students beyond our course material. What to do? 

First, use the resources that are currently available by investing 15 minutes in your literacy. Our university public web page, shu.edu, has an "Academics" header and with a mouse over the "Advising" link appears. Unfortunately, most faculty think "I am not an academic advisor, we have some other faculty assigned to pass out PINs." Please stop thinking that way. We are all advisors, we all care about our students, we all are committed to making SHU the best in our industry. Bookmark the page and do not be overwhelmed by the plethora of key function groups available, just be able to find them again when a student asks for help.

Second, in a few days Add/Drop will end, and we will all be asked to provide Compass attendance to comply with regulations and release scholarship funds to eligible students. When you are marking attendance in the Compass application, also now confusingly branded as Navigate, mouse around and get familiar with the augmented data about the students in your class. I am always amazed to discover students that never interact in class and are a 3.9 GPA with a 19-credit load and a dual major, not the slacker I assumed incorrectly. Or the student that turns in most assignments late is also one of the key athletes on a SHU team with heavy travel commitments to "away" games this semester. 
Last, remember the coffee shop worker you saw this morning and the customer service smile they freely shared with you. Find some happiness in your work and share it with a student.

Thank you, Go Pirates.

For more information click here: https://www.shu.edu/freshman-studies/adviser-toolkit.cfm

Academic Advising – Bang, and they are off!

Friday, August 23

By: Elven Riley

My summer was extremely productive, and I hope yours was too. But now is the time to focus on the start of the race, AY2019-2020. Students, not just Freshman, are back at the pursuit of their academic careers and each of us can help with the mountain of questions. Don’t baulk at the pitch. If a student asks a question, please be warm and welcoming while trying to help answer the question. I recently re-watched the Hunger Games and while you may have been a victor in the arena during your college experience a decade+ ago, the higher education experience of today has changed from a question of survival to a question of discernment. 

A smile goes a long way, even if you are annoyed that your research paper is not done, and you are now out of time. Yes, we should all be able to read the campus map and find a classroom building. Yes, we should all know when add/drop is over. Yes, you are dealing with more students registered than there are chairs in the classroom. Don’t feed the annoyance at the start of the race. Our Reading Day finish line is 106 days away and the ride in the classroom will seem longer if you are negative at the starting line.

We have a beautiful campus alive with the excitement of young energy. We have better curriculum than last year; progress can easily be found. We have an opportunity to set a pace of positive challenge or add a negative dead-weight handicap to the learning experience we all desire. I am not asking for coddling, but civility would be a minimum professional response. I hear it is contagious. 

Thank you, Go Pirates.

Academic Advising – Laying Storm Drain Pipes

Wednesday, May 1

By: Elven Riley

It is with the excitement and young boy fascination that I watch our baseball field become littered with car size pipe sections. Clearly there is a lot of water to move someplace other than here. Who knew? A bit of math was applied to identify rate-of-water-arrival and the size-of-pipe required. I wonder, curiosity always one step away from my 9th-life, what that might look like for our thunderstorm student-advising season?

This semester we have roughly 1,500 seniors, 1,200 juniors, 1,300 sophomores, and 1,500 freshmen. Online registration window first opened April 1 for 3 weeks. Let's assume a matching wave of talk-to-me-for-30minutes-I-need-a-PIN students starting 1 week earlier. Let's assume an even distributed over 1 month. I calculate 40 people dedicated to doing nothing but advising for a month. We certainly are not finishing that "revise and resubmit" that month. 40 faculty is about the full staff of most schools. That is a big pipe. Increase the assumption to 2 meetings per student and the pipe gets that much bigger.

Each student is unique and presents complexities that undermine a cookie-cutter academic advising process. We have customized by school our approach to advising. Each school has some controlled chaos it calls their academic advising process, but truth be told, many do not have a standard protocol for advising today. Formal protocols are designed from designed experiments to achieve desired outcomes. Today, I am not sure we can produce more than a log of the students by name. Four grown daughters with 6 degrees from 6 universities tell me we are not the best, nor the worst. But we could be better.

The pipes do not walk themselves into the ground. It takes tools and labor. With this much advising-labor being used we need to look at our tools. Are we willing to lessen the dependency on our beloved hand-shovel in exchange for a back-hoe?

As the recent recipient of a TLTC innovation grant to add a chat bot to the advising process, I welcome input from others in the community on what are your student's frequently-asked-questions. Maybe we can automate some of the simple traffic with self-directed interaction and maybe improve the quality of the remaining questions.

Thank you, Go Pirates.

Visit the FAQ page for more information »

Academic Advising – Financial Literacy

Monday, April 22

By: Elven Riley

April, National Financial Literacy Month, highlights the importance of financial literacy and teaching Americans how to establish and maintain healthy financial habits. We are educators and yet often financial literacy is thought to be someone else's responsibility in the core curriculum. We are also in an industry at the center of a national discussion about the exploding higher education cost and commensurate student loans. And truth be told, many of us would be extremely nervous before taking a financial literacy placement test. 

The good news is that SHU is considered reasonably priced and a good value proposition. But the question is not the return on the investment. The question is time required to repay. The financial services industry is awash with the new derivative, CLO, that is for loans what the Great Recession CMO was for mortgages. Meaning, credit is loose, and indebtedness is at new peaks (Yes, CLOs could be the metric for when the next meltdown happens).

During this month of Financial Literacy, we should show some empathy for all students who are taking a leap of faith into indebtedness with the belief all will work out in the future. For most it will, and yet for some the cost of the loan will handicap their economic lives for decades.

I will close with a shameless plug for my 1 credit general elective course. BFIN 1003 Personal Money Management is 100% online and self-paced. There are typically 125 students enrolled and 70% are outside of the Stillman business school. I like to refer to it as "drivers ed for college students, focused on managing your money."

Thank you, Go Pirates.

Visit www.MyMoney.gov and the US Department of the Treasury website for more information.

Academic Advising – I Am No April Fool

Monday, April 8

By Elven Riley

Over the past 3 weeks I have spent 30 minutes of intense focused individual advising on over 150 students. That is 25 hours per week in what modern society once called a 40-hour work week. Many of us have accepted this seasonal assignment in addition to our other responsibilities, like grading a stack of semester's end term papers for final grade formation. And yet I have no job description for the role. Sure, there are actual full-time professional advisors with defined roles, professional training and performance standards; but I am speaking to those of us that are departmental academic advisors. Many of us rotate in and out of the role as departmental work and teaching workloads and sabbaticals shift the assignments. I have informally polled various deans, chairs, and individual contributors with two general responses.

a. "I seriously don't know why we do it this way. They are college students and they should be able to figure out how to read a train schedule or pick next semester's class schedule."

b. "I think it is important to spend 15 minutes with our {fill in major program name} students once a semester. Shows we care. I ask how their classes are going, provide their PIN, and send them to the Registrar's Office if they have any issues."

The outcomes match the objectives, not surprisingly. The conversations quickly find the least common denominator on how we run a 'degree audit report' and make a few comments on our program nuances and assess if they are 'on track', provide a PIN and "please send in the next student in the queue as you leave."

What a muddle. We can do better.

Before we march off into debates about job definitions and if this should be in the faculty guide, we need to update our goals and agree on the institution's goals. This will be very difficult given academics, myself included, thrive on analysis paralysis and revel in intellectual debate (a good thing most of the time). The goal formation stakeholders are administration (costs), faculty (coach), and students (player). The candidate metrics are retention, matriculation, market viability, and ROI. We all want to be proud of the SHU experience. We just start with our biased perspectives and little dialog, seriously handicapping any possibility of progress. I don't think I am a fool for accepting the increased seasonal work. There are too many students that would have otherwise found a non-working solution to completing their degree programs. Mother Seton would smile.

Thank you, Go Pirates.

Academic Advising – Summer Registration Open Monday 3/25

Monday, March 18

By Elven Riley

Two sides of the coin. Heads, we have an unbelievable amount of space/resource available to run courses in the summer. Weather is great, green is very green, pace is a bit gentler. Tails, the summer tuition per credit is the same with limited relief from scholarships. Adding to future debt servicing requirements post-graduation should be weighed carefully. Suggesting they take advantage of the career center Navigator system to secure a paying summer internship could provide both financial help and build their resume.

We do offer courses in the summer that can make a significant difference in their academic standing and my advising experience leads to five typical summer student & course matches.

  • Student needs 3 or 6 additional credits to total 120. They have the program degree requirements completed but just need a few general electives to total 120. BTW, once they are registered, they can request the registrar for permission to walk in the graduation ceremony in May.

  • Student has a program requirement and has repeatedly been locked out of all the sections that work in their schedule. A few will enroll just to eliminate the risk of a "null solution" problem in their senior year.

  • Student is "off the path" to completing the following May. Often without a multi-semester course plan, the student discovers second semester junior year that they have a 3-course series. And without the summer they have 2 senior semesters to complete, OOOPs, not unusual for the college core capstone type courses or some late declared majors (or especially transfer students). Some appeal the dean for permission to take a pre-requisite course as a co-requisite but a workable outcome is far from assured. 

  • Student toasted a key course and the resultant GPA is blocking acceptance into a college or a specific program or graduate school. Hit-and-miss on availability of the course they are looking to remediate, mostly miss.

  • Student found a course that excites them, and they have the cash to fund a summer course. (I will avoid the issue of how the university revenue is credited to the college for running this exciting course.)

My subjective view is that this list is in frequency order, but I could be wrong. Certainly, the graduate programs behave with far less attention to our undergraduate seasonal cycles. And some certification programs are lock-stepped to completion with the summers designed in. But in general, your offer to help a student looking for a summer course will make a very positive impact as each individual case is complicated and time intensive to sort out.

Thank you, Go Pirates.

Categories: www.shu.edu/advising

Academic Advising – Thank You

Monday, March 11

By Elven Riley

Whew, we made it to spring break. I was not sure given the last blast of arctic cold that the campus would find inner peace, but today it is restful. This is a time when we should be stocking red pens, tackling our grading backlog, updating the approaching lectures to Easter, and hopefully, recharging our personal energy reserves. This dance will absolutely resume in a week with mostly sunny skies and temperatures in the mid 40s.

But in this interlude, I want to thank everyone of you for increasing your engagement with students. It is a very big deal, and with sincere and deepest gratitude, I thank you. The drain on our personal reserves goes unrecognized year after year. We trod next to Sisyphus and unlike the youth who are stronger for the effort, we older adults continue to lose some resilience with each lap. We know grit and fortitude and commitment. We also can foresee the joyful celebration of the graduation procession on the horizon as well as our relief that our job was well done.

We care. Practicing stewardship of our own energy enables us to actualize more. I plan to collect myself in preparation. The approaching challenge is a relentless series of formation engagements with individuals blossoming this spring. The same individuals who may return desperately in need of an extra 10 minutes of our attention and enthusiasm to re-engage with the class material.

Make the most of the quiet time, as the registration PINs are now available and returning students will have many questions for everyone involved. Most will be questions we have heard before but listen carefully for the new thought and encourage the innovative like a budding crocus pushing up through the spring snow.

Thank you, Go Pirates.

Academic Advising – Please

Monday, March 4

By: Elven Riley

Please. Please. Please help.

The Summer/Fall registration PIN numbers are now available, and students are beginning to think about what courses to take when their time slot opens to register. 

First and foremost, promote your class. If you are a snob and think students should just know that your course is the most wonderful experience in the world, I ask you to please think again. Your wonderful class relies on word of mouth from the students you currently see twice a week. Your assignment this week is to give your current class a one sentence statement on what they will do with your pearls after taking the class. Or, you can rely on them finding and falling in love with that exciting course catalog description.

Second, for the next 30 days please practice active listening when a student speaks. When a student walks next to you on campus and says they are not sure what course they should take after yours, a response like "go memorize the course catalog, write a four page referenced paper on what and why you think are the best options, and then wait outside my office door in line during my office hour"” is not what I had in mind. Please ask who they are trying to become and share thoughts on how our broad course offerings, including other departments, might help them achieve their goals.

Third, recognize the planning happens now and the panic happens after spring break as sections fill to over-flowing several days before they are permitted to register. Please offer two or three options when they ask for one recommendation.

Last, a shout out to the ROTC program for requiring every semester a typed multi-semester plan, complete to graduation day. Looking just one semester ahead is like presenting your vacation plans as knowing the date you plan to leave town. It can be exciting or just as easily disappointing.

Thank you, Go Pirates.

Academic Advising – No Valentine Card

Monday, February 18

By: Elven Riley

Not feeling the love in your classroom? No apples on the desk, no valentine cards last week? We are now closing in on the last day, Friday February 22, when a student may "withdraw" from a course without any approvals. Note, they will incur a WD for the course on their transcript and there are consequences, discussed below.

First, as we round the quarter-track post, some students have realized that your course is not what they had expected. We also can guess which are the few students that fall into this category by our realization they are not what we had expected either. Please take a moment in class, preferably as part of your official class activity or a class Blackboard announcement, to remind students that the last exit ramp before entering the express lane to final exam and grade is about to go flying by. Once we pass this last exit ramp, there are hurdles imposed to further discourage leaving the course just to avoid a GPA downdraft.

Second, there are penalties imposed at this point for less-than-ideal consumer behavior. We have committed funding and resources to run the course. If everyone withdrew, we would be unable to redeploy resources productively. It would be a wasteful mess. The student is charged for the course, no partial refund. Also, the WD is recorded on the student transcript permanently. If the student enrolls next semester in the same course and earns an "A," the WD remains on the transcript.

Finally, the student must remain enrolled in 12 credits or more to be classified as full-time. Drop below 12 and the part-time status will change scholarships, school loans, and for international students their student visa status.

We have discussed in past blogs that bad behavior can be beyond the control of a good student. Try not to take it personally and give the student the information needed for an informed decision. It may not be the ideal decision for our business model but could well be the ideal solution to a tough issue the student is grappling with. Follow the link below for more details.

Thank you, Go Pirates.

For more information, visit the Registrar's withdrawal information page.

Academic Advising – Non-Academic Help

Monday, February 11, 2019

By: Elven Riley

Last semester I was co-teaching a course, two sections, with an adjunct. We were working on increasing the participation and interaction in my traditional drone-over-power-point style. Now for starters, I am an enthusiastic presenter. I include current event news in every class. I pace around the room and call out individual students to comment on various details of the topic. But the content is a challenge, technology of finance. My mostly seniors have had little exposure to the topic and are put-off by the amount of terminology to be mastered. I also hate discussion boards. Never understood them and still don't. The adjunct I found had the pied piper gift. From the first day of classes this middle-aged energetic man made effortless repeated engagement that led to class involvement and wonderment with the topic. I did learn and improve.

But the point of this story is not the classroom engagement. It is dealing with death. During the semester my teaching partner unexpectedly died. What to do, what to do? My teaching partner was known to them and they would be as upset as I with the loss. I did have the presence of mind to call the Behavioral Intervention Team (BIT). If you didn’t know SHU had such a team then this blog is a success already. BIT is the go-to office for all non-academic and non-financial problems that a student smacks into with a loud crashing sound. Think drugs, alcohol, rape, suicide, or family death. Just to name a few. All heavy emotional and intellectual lifts and all requiring skills and training that I do not possess.  

BIT sent a councilor to both classes the day I informed the students that the energetic healthy vibrant man that was teaching this course with me had unexpectedly died. The councilor spoke to the sorrow, the anxiety, and the confusion that naturally happened. The councilor also wove in concern for students who may already have been the near-by witness to death. A soft comment on the open door and help that can be found in the center with a call or a visit, no appointment required, was a comfort. Some students cried. We took a moment of silent prayer. I gave a short lecture to reinforce a routine that both the students and I needed to hold on to.

While working in corporate I had direct reports pass away unexpectedly. There was an extensive protocol managed by the corporate human relations department dictating what I should and should not do/say. I got a refresher update from BIT and successfully finished the semester and several students thanked me for promoting the help available on campus, even if it was just a comfort to know it existed. One student had lost a parent six months earlier and shared the story after the final exam with a final "thank you for caring about us" comment.

Thank you, Go Pirates.

For more click here: www.shu.edu/behavioral-intervention-team/

Academic Advising – 120 or BUST

Monday, February 3, 2019

By: Elven Riley

I have been at SHU for a dozen years. Many others have been here far longer. For the student just passing through four years after High School will fly by. By the time they finish enough of the core to take some concentration courses they already have an eye toward the day they will walk out the front gate and never return. So, our subtle credit accounting rules may never really be understood.

This leads a few students to an extended stay at hotel SHU. Today, with the semester courses closed, Superbowl Sunday over, and add/drop long closed, the options to graduation are pretty much limited to a summer course, if the course needed is offered. You can help them get a jump on a fix by making the rules on the redo, or take-over, course clear. The mental hiccup is one that we learned in ancient times and today we just expect everyone to understand. Unfortunately, every Spring the registrar finds a handful of students to send my way that are unaware of their shortfall.

I will paint the scene. They are retaking a course to improve their overall GPA. They scored a "D" in a course the second semester Freshman year and now they would like to fix that mistake. They enrolled in the course again their last semester here and they know they need just 15 more credits to total 120 and walk. But since they earned a passing grade in the course the first time around, the second time yields no additional credits toward the 120 needed for graduation. In this case they are effectively enrolled in 12 new credits, not 15.

If you are working with students deliberately building or repairing their GPA, please take a minute and verbally quiz their understanding of how the take-over can improve a grade and yield no additional credit hours toward graduation.

Thank you, Go Pirates.

For more information: https://www.shu.edu/registrar/registrar-faq.cfm 

Academic Advising – Expectations (they don’t pay me to like students)

Monday, January 28

By: Elven Riley

What makes students think they should have their lives all mapped out at 18 with labels and milestones? We do. My youthful plans were somewhat useful to provide a measure of change over time, but not as a rule book. Life is not a rehearsal (of a plan), life is about the organic unscripted messiness of living.

I often advise students about career goals. What do you want to do with this degree when you graduate in less than 6 months? February 1 is deadline for degree declaration for May 2019 graduation. They look a bit nervous, and then admit they want a job they like. I point out to them that if a company hired us to do something we enjoyed and had fun at every day, that would be called entertainment, and we would have to pay the company. When pressed again, they shoot low and devoid of risk. Is it just success or failure, win or lose, play it safe?

Some do have a 'calling.' Funny word for a strong inner impulse toward a course of action, justification not required. Some have a 'gift,', an unearned skill or knack enabling superior performance compared to others. Some come with 'grit,' the drive and commitment to complete the race. Some, like me, are just plain lucky, standing in the right place at the right time. No matter how the next knock of opportunity finds our door, the student should be tirelessly encouraged to keep answering the door. They say even with the desire and talent you need 10,000 hours to become accomplished. That is not 10,000 of success, it is usually 9,500 of failures and just enough to encourage us to continue. Logging 10,000 hours does not make you brilliant, it makes you experienced.

All of us, faculty and staff, must be 51% cheerleader. The student mindset needs to shift from one of "I can't" to one of "not yet." My relationship with students is complicated as some are in my class, some are academically advised, and some seek a career coach. We will shift from one angle of their life to another as we talk. I am struck by the quick pigeon hole they climb into, the static label more about skills they have than who they could become.

It helps if the students believe that we don’t hate them. Picture being on the pitch and having the cheerleader glare at you when you made a game mistake? Sure, we need to grade (judge) honestly but we also must recognize the most impactful learning can be found in the heart of failure. Telling them they don’t have it yet but keep trying, is not the same as saying you are (lazy, incompetent, ignorant, undisciplined, dull) and are the, failure.

I am paid to be more than an organic text book combined with the course catalog. We all need to receive and to give praise for hard work and choosing to take on things that are challenges, like giving advice to students. You can do this, maybe you are awkward today, but you will be better tomorrow. Keep engaging and encouraging students, a growth experience for everyone.

Thank you, Go Pirates.

YouTube book review of MINDSET by Carol Dweck: https://youtu.be/pAs_rtR9LDM
TED Talk by Rita Pierson: https://youtu.be/SFnMTHhKdkw   

Academic Advising – Save a Student, Save Your Job

Monday, January 23, Martin Luther King

By: Elven Riley

High school students decide their senior year to commit the next 4 years of their lives to earning a college degree, someplace. The question now becoming more and more apparent is: will the institution be there for the next 4 years? SHU is blessed to see rising undergraduate enrollments which is the short-term trend for a static environment. Static is not what we will have. The demographic facts indicate a small rise in students until 2025, 6 years from now, followed by a precipitous drop and steady decline.1

Unless you are suggesting all of us take a pay cut to reduce tuition costs, which some institutions have imposed already, we have little control over tuition. Unless you are suggesting implementing an amazing new program with no new resources or close labor-intensive programs, we have little control over the program course loads. Unless you are advocating the faculty reclaim administrative tasks and reduce administrative support, a ratio that SHU is already comparatively lean, then we have little control over the operational expenses. But I come from Wall Street, and while you can make tactical money cutting costs it is a stronger strategy to protect revenue and existing market share. You can help.

When we interact with a student, albeit respectfully and compassionately, we are also marketing. Yes, the student does not deserve to be let into your class or to be allowed to make up the first progress quiz they skipped. And I am not suggesting soft-dollar negotiating for marketing references. But you know they all network with each other, and with their younger sister, and their younger neighbor. That younger age group will be applying to colleges soon and a good word from an older peer makes a big impression on me, and I am sure the same is true for the wired age group. So where is the win-win?

You can focus on their success when faced with disappointing failure. You can, like the coach after a lost game, expend the extra effort to help the student frame failure and learn how to respond and rise to success. While this is most likely not part of your listed course learning objectives, the extra effort on your part could make a difference in our reputation as a quality institution committed to the development of servant leaders, like MLK.

Thank you, Go Pirates.
For recent New York Times article closing HISTORY program: https://nyti.ms/2HaQ5qd

1For the hard statistics and a good read: Demographics and the Demand for Higher Education, by Nathan Drawe, 2018 Johns Hopkins University Press

Categories: www.shu.edu/advising 

Academic Advising – Fight, Flee, or Freeze

Monday, January 14, 2019

By: Elven Riley

Humans, which on most days includes faculty and students, all react to fears of failure and embarrassment with thoughts of fight, flee, or freeze. We also avoid activity that interfere with our abilities to engage in creativity, critical and innovative thinking, and emotional engagement with others.1

Between today, the first day of classes for the Spring semester, and 9 days from now on Tuesday January 22, your students must choose. The last day of Add/Drop is the first day after Martin Luther King Monday holiday, and each student must decide the relationship they will, or will not, have with you for the next 14 weeks. I have always had my own demons to deal with at the start of every class, flee being my go-to instinct. But over time, empathy for the shared experience of apprehension has allowed more open discussion this first week of classes.

Having slaved on multiple edits of my syllabus, only to have the students openly admit they have not read it once, can give me a panic attack. What am I missing? Other professors don't seem concerned. How am I to set expectations if they don't read? Hmm, I guess I will talk to them about engagement and their responsibilities for this class. Order them to pay attention. Hmm, that has not worked as well as I had hoped either. 

Ask them why they are in your class and wait for the answer. I am terrible at the waiting in silence game but working on improvement. They will nervously, sometimes boldly, respond with the guess at the expected right answer. Work with what you get as an answer and internalize the reality of the shared experience. 

Might also help to remind them: "You have less than a week to change your mind, I don't, and will be here every class committed and excited to work with those that choose to stay." 

Thank you, Go Pirates.

For more 10 minutes on Mindfulness »

1Chris Argyris, "Teaching Smart People How to Learn," Harvard Business Review 69, no. 3 (1991): 99–10.

Jack Mezirow, "Transformative Learning: Theory to Practice," New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education 74 (1997): 5–12.

Abraham H. Maslow, Toward a Psychology of Being (Princeton, NJ: D. Van Nostrand, 1962).

Richard J. Davidson and Sharon Begley, The Emotional Life of Your Brain: How Its Unique Patterns Affect the Way You Think, Feel, and Live—and How You Can Change Them (New York: Plume, 2013).

Hess, Edward D. Humility Is the New Smart: Rethinking Human Excellence in the Smart Machine Age (p. 190). Berrett-Koehler Publishers. Kindle Edition.


Academic Advising – Auld Lang Syne

Wednesday, December 19

By: Elven Riley

My grades are posted. The administrative meetings are done. A few more student advising meetings this week and I will gladly seek a beer and a bowl game to give me distance on the completed effort. Unlike some of us, I am not energized by the social experience of teaching a class. I am somewhat envious of those that naturally belong on the stage. For me, limelight is just too bright and an effort to manage. And yet, or in spite of, I have always found a euphoric joy in the act of group learning. To see the class mentally scramble over the wall to understanding is addicting and habit forming. Add that to the blessing of classes that I am passionate about and life just doesn’t get much better.

However, the close of the fall semester, ending with the close of the calendar year, has always played havoc on my heart strings.

My internal conversations, oh yes we all carry on internal dialog and debate, is about having to judge and close the semester. Am I being too easy a grader? Am I being unreasonable with the final exam? Do I put a butcher’s thumb on this student’s 1% miss of the A? If 1% what about a 4% miss? How can a student claim to have gotten the final exam date/time wrong with a straight face? Should I care if my students think I am unlikable? Did Scrooge defend his blind eye to humanity with the same rationales? And I have not even begun my shopping for the holidays!

Maybe stress makes my emotions more volatile but I suspect the young fragile science that supports our professional actions is more hypothesis than fact. Maybe in another 200 years with more behavioral research and machine augmentation we will have more confidence in our elaborate learning goals/outcomes. But today, we use our intellect and our compassion even-handedly with each Banner post. Then letting go of each, as a dear friend moving away, the acceptance of year’s end and “days gone by”, the students leave us with a nod and a wave.

In four weeks, we get a new year, a fresh start, new faces, and the hope/dream of doing it a little bit better this time. Meanwhile, I'm pulling for Notre Dame.

Happy Holiday and a Very Happy New Year!!!

Thank you, Go Pirates.

Listen to Les Deux Love Orchestra's Classic New Year's Eve Arrangement of Auld Lang Syne »

Academic Advising – Bum’s Rush

Friday, November 30

By: Elven Riley

Yes/No, Right/Wrong, Pass/Fail, True/False, and a rush to judgment.

I am old, and as the 7th decade approaches, my elders' words echo back as I too utter disapproval of young people today: "No discipline," "lack gumption," "rowdy fun seekers," "flagrant cheaters"; frankly, we were just as an eclectic pack of disorganized energy as students today. We all practice revisionist history. Today's cohort includes some good, some bad, most in between, always exploring the limits of their elders' good will as the rightful claim of youth.

We, as faculty, are accountable for judging performance. As agents of an accredited and licensed higher education corporation in the state of New Jersey, we validate credits and grades earned. We, as faculty, are not uniformly transparent and by design, we each use differing moral compasses. We, as faculty, are all uniformly crushed by the end-of-semester rush to judgment.

Humans are often drawn up short by binary decisions, I naturally look for the win-win in compromise. But taking the time to engage with students outside of our contracted-hours, beyond the required office hours, is too often a binary decision. Many in our community do move hours from the personal side of their life ledger to the professional side. Do we or don't we? I am exhausted this week, can I make time for myself? Again, that binary decision.

It is delusional to judge ourselves on the basis of perfection, not to mention it is a seriously demotivating activity to repeatedly fail at being perfect. Better not to try? I have found to embrace a binary world is worse. Give all that is asked, or give only what is required. Just maybe, the decision should be brought into the modern real-time instant decision age. Today, I have no time and am exhausted. Yesterday, I was pressed by deadlines but gave generously and freely to others. Tomorrow, I will exercise my free will and decide again.

Hopefully, you will find the spare moment to hear a student, or just engage. Head bands and macramé belts are not required attire for joining the conversation. Who knows what we will discover in ourselves and our students.

Thank you, Go Pirates.

For more on the topic, an easy read is: "blink" by Malcolm Gladwell

Academic Advising – Handshakes

Saturday, November 17, 2018

By: Elven Riley

Smile, make eye contact, aim for half the distance between you, firm with gentile squeeze grip.

As students enter my office, about half, are expecting a handshake. Gender is not the determinate. They are often the ones that have been coached at home on how to interact respectfully. Ball caps rarely handshake but then I rarely am wearing a ball cap in my office. If I did we might have a better designed experiment. The point is that I have bias. My computer engineering background rankles when a simple task is obviously done carelessly. Why bother if you are not at least trying, my mind exclaims when offered the dead fish hand shake. Are you royalty and trained in the rarified protocols of greeting a prince? No? Then show me that you recognize you are touching another human being … rant, rant, rant. 

But let’s go back to bias as we all could stand some polish on this subject. Careful, if your reaction is ‘not me’, you may want to consider 95% of adults believe they are more aware of their biases than actually turns out. How can this be? Humbly, I found some of my folly with surprisingly simple guidance. 

I am a committed golden rule guy. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Simple rule I was taught by nuns in grade school and one of a few gifts that stood the test of time. I interact with my students with this gambit of mutual respect. But there is the possibility that others find my treatment of them disrespectful. The clinical terms are affinity and difference bias. I assume that students that look like other students are all the same. Leadership specialist Sara Taylor’s Filter Shift posits a platinum rule: treat others as they would like to be treated. Might require some mental effort about others.

I am working on my fist-bump substitute for my comfort zone biased business handshake.

Differences that make a difference are different. DUH

Thank you, Go Pirates.

For more click here: http://knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu/article/how-unconscious-biases-block-effective-interactions/ 

Academic Advising – The Happy Path

Saturday, November 10, 2018

By: Elven Riley

Wow! The academic advising wave is ebbing and I am thankful and bracing for what is next. 

Next is the march of the broken tin soldiers as students come to my office with holds finally lifted, pre-requisites blocking their registration, transfer credits in limbo, the unsuccessful class grade, and the disappointment of closed classes. "Now what do I do Professor Riley?"

The reality is that all of our student information is written for the error free path, the "happy" path. The path where the student does not get mono, does not fail a class, does not lose their scholarship, and certainly does not have a bursar hold on their account. I am an experienced adviser and one of the "keepers of the mystery," the mystery of what options exist. 

Once upon a time I was a computer programmer and a little publicized fact of computer programming is that the overwhelming bulk of the code is written to deal with errors in the processing, not process the "happy path." A well behaved application today displays a warning message and maybe a couple of hints about what is wrong. Programmers talk about the "happy" path and the "sad" path. The sad path requires the programmer think of all the crazy things that could go wrong and what action may help. Advising is like that. Each student requires different options customized for their situation. It is a mystery not by design but by the very nature of the multitude of combinatorial errors and responses.

The time required to help a student regroup, make changes, and move forward is much longer and requires more soft skills than the time it takes to affirm the on-track student. I can affirm a well-organized junior’s detailed three semester plan and discuss their career interests in 20 minutes. I can also spend an hour working on a student with a broken leg finally back from physical therapy and an academic wreck.

You can help by first hearing the student perspective and showing empathy. Next you can approach the questions with a bit of humility when asked stump-the-professor trivia. (Will my sign language class satisfy my foreign language requirement?) You could reach out to a colleague and maybe find some answers. Lastly, breathe, slow down, and accept the interruption. Who knows? You might be part of an army of faculty that improves our retention numbers.

Thank you, Go Pirates.

Registration Hold Codes http://www.shu.edu/registrar/registration-and-transcript-holds.cfm 

Academic Advising – Groundhog Day

Monday, October 29, 2018

By: Elven Riley

It is the 1993 movie classic 'Groundhog Day' experience that challenges me to be a better academic adviser than I was last semester.

The exhilaration of working with a student on the multi-semester plan of a dual major the student had not considered and then enthusiastically embraces. The depression of working with a student focused on doing as little as possible to earn a degree. The fact that I must recalibrate myself anew with each student that enters my office. The emotional drain of empathetically asking for their youthful aspirations with real interest and the physical drain of the time required for their challenged articulations. The speed bumps presented by our fragile administrative application systems and the repeated explanations of cryptically documented compliance rules.

Advising is like any work assignment, long periods of grinding out performance within the registration time constraints. Focusing on my productivity constantly or accept my students grading my lack of performance as the callused response of a bureaucrat. I do care, but I am human, and my biases become a burden on my judgment.

And yet, there is the gift of joy a student will occasionally and casually provide their senior year. "I know I was not the most cooperative student when we first met. Thank you for not giving up on me. Your advice was the difference that helped me find myself."

"If a person could live forever, if a person was immortal, how would they change over time?" screenwriter Danny Rubin.

Thank you, Go Pirates.

In Class 3 Minutes – Help Your Students Travel

Monday, October 22, 2018

By: Elven Riley

Have you ever noticed that when traveling to a new location the trip to the location always seems longer than the return? Our human way of approaching something new and unknown comes with apprehension and an increased drain on energy. Our students experience their academic journey with the same concern for the unknown, and similarly marvel the journey’s end with cap and gown in the commencement line.

One technique for making time pass is to get busy. You see them every week during the semester and you could pile on the extra credit reading and research assignments. Alternatively, you could challenge your students to try just one of the many events on campus to broaden their definition of both skills and relationships. A university campus offers a breadth of events not found in a corporation. Your belief in them and their impressive capacity to learn has great impact on their willingness to explore.

But it is not just a revised version of “I Spy” from the car window.

While employment appears chaotic today, we can predict our graduates will change jobs frequently. The new-normal “careers” have become 3 to 5 year assignments, each ending with the need to discern and start anew. Our students can hone their ability to assimilate new options and consider the-road-not-taken by attending something outside their comfort zone now. Please encourage them to take advantage of the community and mingle with others.

Take 3 minutes in a class to highlight an upcoming event or club meeting. The university weekly list is now a long list and each school has many additional listings. Pick one or two out-of-the-box events to highlight (my favorite for business students is to explore the broadcasting station, WSOU 89.5). Offering extra credit is a nice motivator but not required. Just dedicating 3 minutes of your very valuable class time places an importance on exploration well beyond the points.  

It is the rare exception that did not follow a random-walk career path to success and fulfillment. 

Thank you, Go Pirates.

In Class 4 Minutes – Help Your Students Own Their Advising

Monday, October 9, 2018

By: Elven Riley

The number one impactful advising tool is a report that each of your students can review on their own laptop in your class in 4 minutes today. The narrative starts with a question: Who in this class hopes to finish and earn a degree, ever? How can you tell you are ready to graduate? When can you ask, “May I have my diploma, please”? You could ask your upper-class buddy, but if they steer you wrong you own the error. You could rely on your academic adviser, but if they make a mistake, you are left with the mistake. You could just close your eyes and hope that at the end of 4 years of hard work you did everything correctly, or not. Or you could run a report that lists exactly what you need to complete to finish, really.

First, the many different names we use for the report adds to their confusion. We know it as a “degree audit,” “adviser worksheet,” “registrar’s report,” and “degree requirements report.” There is only one report with all these names and while it is not perfect it is the report we use at SHU. Second, Go to: Portal/Academics/Student Records/Advising Worksheet – Degree Requirements. Work through the questions and choose the “Generate New Evaluation” option on the bottom of the page.

Third, assign them the task of reading the report and deciding if they are going to graduate on time. If they can’t manage to find the report then inform them that they should up their game and share the URL below. Your expectation is that they can retrieve this report and review it in detail before they meet with their academic adviser.

Academic advisers and mentors can help if you can get your students to begin the preparation.

Thank you for making a difference, Go Pirates.

For more information, view this step-by-step guide on how to find degree requirements.


In Class 5 Minutes – Help Your Students Own Their Advising

Friday, October 5, 2018

By: Elven Riley

You may not personally be a career counselor or adviser, but engage them in a short discussion on what enables life after graduation. Encourage their dreams and seeking input from multiple sources. Your clear supportive voice can set them on the road of the seeker we all want them to become. It also helps if you smile while discussing their future.

My rough estimate is that I have academically advised several thousand students at SHU/Stillman and they have taught me how to advise them. First, ignore the cohort labels (Gen-X, Millennial, Gen-Z) as each student is a unique case. Second, faculty remain their most respected and listened to adviser. Third, our entire SHU village can raise each student’s awareness of our processes and steps to success.

An easy 5 minute class room exercise in a single lecture can make the retention difference we all desire. The month of October is about planning their spring schedule. To the student currently focused on class work and exams the preparation for registration may feel very distant.

Start by praising their ability to plan. Affirm they have primary responsibility for their academic careers. Remind them that after fall break they must soon register on-line beginning 10/29, a short 20 days after break. Academic advisers and mentors are one resource but suggest they speak to other professors and professionals. Your small nudge can move them from a reactive to a proactive owner of their academic careers.

Thank you, Go Pirates.

For more information, read "All You Need To Know To Motivate Millenials" on Forbes.

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