Early On – Engagement and Empowerment
We know that our students are academically successful when they feel engaged on a personal level with their instructors and in a broad sense, the college as a whole. It only makes sense given that new students often feel “lost” in the institution. College has a new set of expectations, much different from high school. Unfortunately students may not be fully prepared for this transition.
Students in short order realize that their academic performance is now solely dependent on their own personal motivation and desire to succeed. According to student feedback that first year – heck, that first semester – is often a frightening and intimidating experience. Tied to this is an unrealistic expectation by some students entering our program that they will be immersed in the program courses without having to take the required General Studies classes. Unfortunately this feeling of being overwhelmed or frustrated can lead to a withdrawal from classes, and in some cases dropping out of college altogether.
One intervention strategy adopted by the instructors of the NWTC Criminal Justice Program has been to intervene during the most critical time of their academic career – that first semester.
Early on, when our students have identified their program choice, Ian Nishimoto and I make a point of engaging students during their first semester in their General Studies courses. We take the time to make an appearance in these classes and convey to them that they “are our own”. The purpose is to create a feeling of inclusiveness specific to the criminal justice program. We want them to feel like they belong. Ian and I provide them with our contact information and request they meet with us whenever necessary to discuss grades and / or personal issues that may arise during that first year. We make it clear that the student is not alone in this process and we do care about their college experience. Follow up is done on a routine basis during their second semester until they enter our program. By creating that “connection”, we hope to facilitate relationship building with students which we know leads to academic success.
We empower our students by encouraging them to participate – even during the first semester – in our criminal justice program activities. This includes volunteering for service hours (often with local police agencies), connecting with professional mentors, becoming a police cadet, or assisting in public safety training. In the past, many of these activities were left for program students in their final year. By including students early on, we hope to address those feelings of frustration that may lead to dropping classes or withdrawing from school. We seek to create a sense of purpose supporting their academic goals.
I am proud to say this intervention strategy works! A student we will call “Amy” (a pseudonym) and her brother were in in a General Studies class that I made a presentation to back in September. A few weeks later, both Amy and her brother showed up at my office describing feelings of alienation while attending NWTC. They explained having graduated from a small high school in a rural area of the district. Their graduating class was small in size and only a few of their classmates were now attending the college; none were pursuing the criminal justice program. Adding to their frustration was the difficulty Amy was having in her mathematics class. Both advised that they were now considering withdrawing from the program to seek a four year degree at another institution.
We arranged for Amy to get tutoring in math and communication was made with the mathematics instructor about the challenges Amy was facing. Her grade immediately improved, which leads me to believe this had more to do with her inability to ask for help than the actual course work. Further, it was made clear to Amy and her brother how much we wanted both to be in our program. Activities were arranged for them to participate with a professional mentor (a local police officer) who meets with them every few weeks. In turn, I have checked up with them on a frequent basis both at my office and through email. In anticipation of posting this story, I asked both their thoughts regarding NWTC and their studies. Amy and her brother made it clear they are fully committed to continuing their studies at the college and graduating from the criminal justice program!
Success……one student at a time….(or in this case, two)… Flan Man