Students must display personal responsibility and autonomy in their pursuit of a college education. We do students no favor by pretending otherwise. These character traits are critical to a successful, fulfilling life. And yet many students come to college needing guidance, encouragement, advice, and direct instruction in how to transform their vague notions of career and life goals into concrete, demonstrable skills, knowledge, and credentials. Fortunately, they’ve come to the right place. At San Jacinto College, every decision we make revolves around student success. In formal meetings and around the water cooler, we actually say the words, “But how does this help students?” If it doesn’t, we don’t move forward with that plan. Even if it’s a really good plan. We stick to this litmus test on every level.
This laser focus means we are serious about all-hands-on-deck efforts to help students get to where they hope to go. From faculty on the front lines to technical support magicians who seem to be everywhere at once but with no discernible office space, all members of the college team have to support students wholeheartedly.
We have to own student success as a responsibility and a mission critical part of our job or it too easily becomes a trite marketing ploy—a bait and switch that claims we’ll all help students succeed but leaves actual individual students wandering empty hallways convincing themselves that maybe college was too much for them even before registering for classes. All of this downward spiral because they entered the confusing classroom wing of the admissions building added in 1972 instead of going directly to the advising office in another building and got lost. I wish this were an exaggeration. Just one encouraging word or one bit of directional assistance from someone who officially pushes pencils or pushes brooms could make the difference. And we have to be always at the ready regardless of our titles, degrees, position of importance, and longevity at the College. Otherwise, we aren’t living up to the promise we make when we encourage (cajole, urge, lovingly insist) that students trust us to make their aspirations of a better life true.
Sometimes promoting student success means attending a campus theatrical performance on a Sunday. Or sitting on exasperatingly hard bleachers to cheer the volleyball team on a Tuesday evening. Or traveling to present a professional paper at a conference during spring break. Or recruiting potential students or faculty members in the grocery store checkout line when someone asks about your college T-shirt. Or working four more problems with the student who can’t seem to understand. Or even just making eye contact. It is impossible to know exactly what will help every student, so we have to keep believing, supporting, and challenging them. That’s how we do student success; it’s more an art than a science.
Never has matching the untapped potential of future and current college students with the vast resources of the community college been more important than now. We don’t have to wait for tragedies such as hurricanes or shootings to reveal our best renditions of ourselves. When dedicated faculty and administrators proclaim, “I am student success,” the possibilities are limitless.
Dr. Ann M. Pearson is Assistant Director of the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning at San Jacinto College (TX), where she’s currently working with Accreditation & Assessment. She was an English faculty member for 25 years, with 7 of those at SJC. She occasionally returns to the SJC English Department as an adjunct faculty member.