We are happy to welcome guest writer, Polly Goss, Advisor at Mentor Collective.

On Tuesday September 8, 2020, Mentor Collective and Indiana University Bloomington hosted a virtual roundtable bringing together over forty senior higher education leaders to discuss how higher education institutions can fulfill their promise to students during the pandemic and beyond. Here are our key takeaways:

Make student success your mission.

Dr. David B. Johnson, Vice Provost for Enrollment Management at Indiana University Bloomington,  opened the discussion by centering the mission of higher education around student success: “I believe that we as educators have a crucial role in helping to lift up education—in K-12 and higher education—and what it can provide for people: a path for a better and brighter future. But if we don’t really focus on student success and engagement, then inviting students to our campus without supporting them and assisting them will be all for nothing.”

Help students build relationships virtually. 

Frannie Kincaid, a Senior at IU Bloomington, shared how hard it has been to watch her younger sister, a first-year at IU Bloomington, “struggle in social aspects.” She added that “the foundation that so many people get from their freshman year, whether it is relationships or networking with professors, for her has been a real challenge.”  

Mr. Derek Kindle, Vice Provost for Enrollment Management at the University of Wisconsin-Madison urged higher education leaders to listen to students who are often experts in building digital communities. He reminded administrators that fostering connections between students does not always have to be highly formalized. Mr. Kindle shared that UW Madison is trying to “make sure we provide virtual spaces for students to find connection with each other, and that doesn’t have to be in such a regimented way. We have been able to do this through folks like Mentor Collective.”

Ms. Sarah Hansen, Vice President for Student Life at the University of Iowa, highlighted the importance of relationships in student success: “retention is ultimately relational. It is about students’ relationships with each other, with faculty and staff, and with the institution.”

Empower students to act as change-makers within the institution.

Student voice—both in terms of student activism on and off-campus and their input on how to adapt university mechanisms to create an inclusive virtual and in-person environment—was a vital theme of the panel discussions.

Dr. James L. Moore III, Vice Provost for Diversity and Inclusion and Chief Diversity Officer at The Ohio State University, powerfully reminded the group that student activism is the foundation upon which universities’ diversity, equity, and inclusion offices were founded. “My office, anywhere in the ‘Big Ten’ where there are diversity and inclusion offices, was not created because it was the right thing to do, it was created based on student agitation and sit-ins, and that is why we have been around for 50 years.”

The University of Iowa is engaging students as part of a campus-wide committee tasked with reimagining the role and jurisdiction of the university police:“We got a whole variety of students - undergraduate, graduate, professional, students - who have a whole range of positions on these issues, and that is how the real change happens," Ms. Hansen shared. She added, "truly engaging across differences and understanding people’s perspectives on this issue, developing empathy for the users of these systems and how they are affected by these systems is the process we have been using to invite students in and really empower students to use their voices toward change.”

Make it personal.

Panelists discussed how the shift to hybrid or online environments during COVID-19 disrupted students’ typical ways of forming their college-identity and connection to the institution. Dr. Johnson shared how IU Bloomington has moved the Hoosier experience online to help new students develop a personal connection to the institution, learn the university’s history, and engage in meaningful dialogue about the university’s values and ways to be successful on campus. He stressed that for this generation of students, “technology and personalization is key.

Mr. Kindle  heralded the importance of providing students with a personalized experience to drive student success: “at the center of retention is that feeling of belongingness and that the university cares about you.”

To view this roundtable's full recording or to start a conversation about how to best engage and support your students, contact Mentor Collective today.