The Making of NDSU’s Shadow a Student Challenge
Some say that if you go to a conference and pick up just one good idea, the conference was worth it. The idea to shadow students at NDSU began as a small seed of an idea picked up at the Governors Summit on Innovation in Education. An individual in the K-12 arena presented the concept, but Dr. Carrie Anne Platt saw this as a natural fit for higher education.
Being new to her role as associate dean, Platt set out to run a personal student shadow experience in the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences at NDSU. After pitching the idea to her college’s student ambassadors, she was able to find not one but three students willing to participate. Each student volunteer was from one of the three divisions in the college: arts, humanities, and social sciences. At different times throughout the semester, she followed each student around for a full day to experience college life from their perspective, even going so far as to attend late-night classes, campus activities, and work obligations. It is evident Platt deeply cares for students in how she speaks about this experience and the fact that she wanted to learn more about students’ lives.
What Platt hadn’t anticipated from her initial experience was the level of excitement it generated. The Chronicle of Higher Education wrote an article on how faculty learn to understand students better; the article relied heavily on Platt’s account of her experience. You can read that article here. After reading the Chronicle article, Dr. Laura Oster Aaland, vice provost for student affairs, got excited about the idea of expanding this opportunity to others at NDSU. Aaland was particularly interested in having other NDSU administrators share this experience. In addition to seeing campus from the students’ point of view, this challenge helps administrators and staff who are not in the classroom see the amount of work that instructors put into providing educational experiences for our students.
In setting up the NDSU Shadow a Student Challenge, Platt and Oster Aaland anticipated recruitment challenges. “I thought it would be almost impossible to get a large group of high-level administrators to free up a whole day in their schedule, all during the same week,” Platt said. “But the administrators I spoke with were very excited and interested in participating.” While some had scheduling conflicts, the challenge ultimately attracted 35 administrators, faculty, and staff – including the president, interim provost, vice provost for research and creativity activity, and the university registrar.
The task of recruiting the student participants was a slightly more complex task, one that Rebecca Bahe, associate director of Residence Life, handled beautifully. It was important to the organizers that the student participants reflected the broader NDSU student body, so they used student demographics to ensure they were reaching out to a diverse range of students. They would like to include more non-traditional students in the future, given the fact that a large percentage of college students are non-traditional these days, as well as more international and graduate students.
Every participant in the challenge received a meal voucher to one of the NDSU dining centers. This voucher, while a seemingly insignificant part of the day, actually ended up providing the time in which the matches got to know the most about each other. The administrators we spoke with for this series felt they found out more information about their students during lunch (or breakfast in some cases) because they had an extended amount of time to engage in a conversation.
"…a seemingly insignificant part of the day, actually ended up providing the time in which the matches got to know the most about each other.”
This connection was not merely a happy accident; the planning group was intentional about including a meal because Platt knew from her initial shadow experience that this was the time in which she learned the most from the students she shadowed. Sharing a meal was also a way to thank the students for opening up their lives for the day.
After the completion of the NDSU Shadow a Student Challenge, the administrators, faculty, and students got together to discuss their observations and talk about what they could improve in the future. Timely notification of instructors is one thing organizers will work to improve in future years, to make sure everyone is on the same page about the purpose of the challenge.
The students who participated were extremely positive about the experience. Several participants were surprised at the invitation, as it is easy to feel like a number at a large public university. In the end, they viewed the experience as evidence that NDSU does care about what students think, and values their input on how things could be improved.
The shadowers shared a variety of changes they would like to see on campus. It can be difficult to make large-scale changes in a time of budget constraints, but there can be small wins that help students succeed and programs improve. Many of the administrators and faculty, for example, talked about how shadowing students had helped them see the value of getting students more involved with clubs and organizations on campus. Programs could highlight involvement experiences that are a good match for students in their major(s), a modest but helpful aim that is achievable without requiring additional funding.
"…you will hear from a few of the participants in this program and learn the biggest revelations from their student shadowing experiences.”
This experience resonated strongly with some units on campus, who hope to gain insight by conducting their own Shadow a Student Challenge within their college, department, or program. In doing so, they have the power to make changes and better support their students.
In addition to these outcomes, Platt hopes for three things:
- Greater institutional knowledge about students.
- More connections between groups across campus.
- A renewed sense of positive energy for NDSU.
In this blog series, you will hear from a few of the participants in this program and learn the biggest revelations from their student shadowing experiences. The first participant we will highlight is Dr. Scott Pryor, read his experience here. Coming up look for highlights on Dr. Rhonda Kitch, Dr. Carrie Anne Platt, Dr. Jane Schuh, and Dr. Tim O. Peterson. We will link to each of these posts when they are available.
If you are interested in participating in a future Shadow a Student Challenge, contact Dr. Carrie Anne Platt. Also, let us know in the comments below your thoughts on the Shadow a Student Challenge.
About the Author
Connie Jadrny, is the marketing and public relations coordinator for the North Dakota State University (NDSU) Office of Teaching and Learning.
In more than 14 years at NDSU, Jadrny has learned a lot about higher education. She curates this blog to allow all individuals to continue learning about higher education and best practices in teaching.
Let’s learn together!