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Deep thoughts on student retention December 7, 2016

Posted by mareserinitatis in education, engineering, teaching.
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While there are several differences between my new uni and and the previous ones where I’ve taught, I have to admit that the students have been one of the biggest differences.  One of the things that made me nervous (I admit it) is that so many of them are athletes.  Other faculty told me this was a good thing, but my past interactions with athletes have been a very mixed bag.  Some have been fantastic students while others made me want to pull my hair out.  There’s not usually much in between.  I certainly don’t mind the great ones, but knowing I could have a lot more of the not-so-great really scared me.

Here, though, almost all my students are athletes, and the experience has been completely different.  I’ve enjoyed teaching this semester far more than before, and a lot of it has to do with the students, almost all of whom are athletes.

I started wondering about a separate issue, though, and it hit me later that they may be somewhat related.  Coming out of this first semester, it’s looking like we are going to have very high retention in the program.  Even the students who have decided to change majors aren’t doing horribly.  Admittedly, it’s just one semester and they haven’t hit some of the ‘weeder’ classes yet.  I am, however, definitely not seeing the extreme negative end of student behavior that seems to plague the intro classes I taught before.  It occurred to me that the students were definitely far more on top of things than I had run into in the past, and it made me wonder if the athletics have a lot to do with it.

There are two things that I think may have contributed.  First, athletes in college are almost always athletes in high school.  They’ve already had to learn to manage their time and probably have a leg up on lots of kids who never had to put a significant commitment toward an activity while going to school.  The second contribution may have come from the athletics infrastructure: the teams generally have organized study sessions, athletes are required to check on grades throughout the semester, and if there’s a problem, you’re encouraged to let the coach know.  In essence, the athletes have a built in support structure and mentors to help them adjust to the transition into college. They have people to help them manage all of it.

I’m honestly not sure how much of this success is the students themselves or the support structure; I suspect it’s a combination of both.  I’ve also seen that the uni does a lot to support non-athletes, as well, which may skew the results a bit for the better: athletes can take advantage of non-athlete support, as well.

This has been reinforcing my notion that support beyond financial may be a huge factor in one’s ability to get through school.  Students coming out of high school are supposed to be adults, but they’ve very seldom had the ability and latitude to act like one and so have little practice.  In particular, I’ve been thinking back to many of the students I’ve had and “lost” in the past.  If they had a support structure in place like that, would they have decided to leave the major, change schools, or, in the worst scenarios, flunk out of school?  How do you set something like that up for a non-athlete?

I am not sure I have any answers, but obviously I have lots of questions.  It may shake out and our retention won’t be any better after they hit some other classes, but I’m cautiously optimistic that we’re on a good path.  I am going to spend a lot of time watching to see what’s working, though.


Minion migration July 9, 2013

Posted by mareserinitatis in education, engineering.
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Yesterday was a day that many of us were not looking forward to, though we had been anticipating it for many years.  Sadly, our Minion’s last day was yesterday.  While we are thrilled that he is taking off to a wonderful new job (that pays far better than a grad student salary), we’re going to miss having him around.  He was the most unbelievably handy student and continually surprised us with his amazing skills.

To give you an idea of what I mean, this is him with a 3D printer…that he built himself…in his free time:


He started working with us as a freshman, and I often felt bad for him because of all the strange things we threw at him.

Don’t know how to use a network analyzer?  It’s a good time to learn.

Hmm…maybe we need someone who can help take measurements in the antenna chamber.

How about I teach him to use the simulation software since I’ll be leaving in a couple weeks?

This is the kind of stuff we stuck him with as a sophomore, and he was always eager to learn.  By the time he finished with his degrees, he was designing and laying out RF packaging, antennas, and circuits.

The timing of his departure did have one fortunate aspect: Despicable Me 2 came out last week, and since he is the Minion, we decided to take him to see it.  We had a lot of fun.

I’m looking forward to his visits back home in the future and hearing about his work.  It’s wonderful to see someone who was once a confused freshman turn into an amazing engineer in his own right.

Therefore, as Alfred De Musset so aptly put it,

The return makes one love the farewell.

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