On May 19th, Mentor Collective hosted a roundtable discussion with an esteemed panel of thought-leaders and administrators from historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) to learn how they are making their institutions student-ready, while helping participants identify clear steps that they can take to do the same at their schools.
The panelists included:
- Nina Lyon Bennett, Ph.D., Assistant Dean for Academics, School of Agriculture, Fisheries & Human Sciences, University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff
- Braque Talley, Ph.D., Vice-Chancellor of Enrollment Management & Student Success, University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff
- Jacqueline G. Preastly, Ed.D., Vice Chancellor of Enrollment Management & Student Success, Southern University and Agricultural & Mechanical College
- Lanze Thompson, Ph.D., EVP, CFO, & Chief Strategy Officer, Clark Atlantic University
Moderator Dr. George White, inaugural managing director of student access and success (retired) and Professor Emeritus at Lehigh University, moderated the panel, posing thought-provoking questions that sparked a lively discussion and yielded several tangible tactics.
Communication Is at the Core
All of the panelists agreed that students hold the key to unlocking what student-ready means at their respective universities, and that the only way to effectively accomplish their shared goals is to have an ongoing, open dialogue. This is where mentoring programs become invaluable.
“Mentoring helps students to build networks of people who look like them and come from environments similar to theirs and who have their struggles,” said Dr. Nina Lyon Bennett, assistant dean for academics at the School of Agriculture, Fisheries & Human Sciences at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff. “Not only does peer mentoring help to create a sense of connectedness and belonging in students, but it also helps to build leadership and self-management skills and enhances self-awareness and personal growth. Mentorship brings relevance and authenticity to student success.”
It also helps for administration and staff to be open and accessible so students can feel comfortable sharing what they need to succeed or what challenges they may be facing. Communication creates a sense of empowerment. When students feel they are being heard, they will take more ownership in their education.
“Too often we sit down and make decisions for our students without allowing them to be a part of the process,” said Dr. Braque Talley, vice-chancellor of enrollment management and student success at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff. “Including students in the decision-making process helps them develop leadership skills and make the university one they belong to as opposed to one they’re fighting to fit into.”
Look Beyond Enrollment
Another key takeaway from the discussion was that enrollment is no longer the end goal. While in the past, communication between student and administration dropped significantly after enrollment, the panel advised that continuing to grow that relationship is crucial to student success.
“It’s critical to engage, intervene, and connect with students the entire time,” said Jacqueline G. Preastly, Ed.D., vice chancellor of enrollment management and student success at Southern University and Agricultural & Mechanical College. “It’s a collaborative effort.”
“The end goal has to be student success. How well have we prepared our students to leave campus and go out into the world?” echoed Lanze Thompson, Ph.D., EVP, CFO, and chief strategy officer at Clark Atlantic University. “What kinds of assessments do we give them in terms of their strengths, their opportunities, their advisement and mentorships? If we do all of this well, then we give them access to advancements in employment, graduate school, and beyond.”
Adapt to Changing Needs
Preparing students for the college experience and life beyond the walls of the campus means being in-tune with the issues they are facing. “I asked all my students what they need from me to help them be successful on campus,” shared Dr. Bennett. The issues that plagued students 10 years ago are not necessarily the same issues of importance today—especially in the wake of a global pandemic.
During the discussion, these three top areas of concern for students surfaced:
- Academic struggles
- School/life balance
- Mental health struggles
Collectively they agreed that having mentors and open lines of communications can help students access the resources they need and help institutions provide more and better services to address these issues.
From reallocating funds to support students during the pandemic to providing laptops to those who may not otherwise be able to attend online classes, the ideas shared illustrated that hearing from students helped these HBCUs better support their constituents and align them for long-term success.
“Students don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care,” said Dr. Talley. “You have to build a relationship first—figure out places where you can meet your students, get buy-in from your departments and your campus, and intentionally build trust with students to ensure they’re comfortable sharing with you and confiding in you. They need to know that you are looking out for their best interests.”
Mentor Collective roundtables encourage conversation and peer-to-peer interaction. The insights offered were valuable to university leaders as we collectively work to ensure student success. Mentor Collective strives to empower every student to form the relationships they need to build resilience, self-efficacy, and a sense of belonging.