We Shadowed 35 Students: Here is What We Learned about Student Connections

We Shadowed 35 Students: Here Is What We Learned About Student Connections

After one short day, the Shadow a Student Challenge presented participants with a plethora of new perspectives and ideas. One of the areas that many of the faculty, staff, and administrators that we interviewed reflected on involved how we connect with and relate to students.

The top three tips to come out of the Shadow a Student Challenge are:

Remember that students are facing a lot of demands

Background clock with a person emerging from it with terms written inside of it intensity, urgency, pressure, anxiety, stress, unsure and hectic Students have always faced a lot of demands on their time.  Think back to your days as an undergrad.  You had to worry about classes, social time, and other activities.  Some of you maybe had to worry about work or supporting your family.  Stressors are just as present today as they were in the past. However, with advances in technology and increased demand for immediate response, stress and pressures are mounting

The cost of school has gone up considerably, and those costs have increased almost eight times faster than wages, according to Forbes.2  These changes have led to students sometimes having to choose between class and work or class and sleep.  For more on sleep, see our post on our interview with Scott Pryor.

Along with all of this comes an increase in stress, anxiety, and depression.  In a study conducted at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, one in five students out of 67,000 surveyed reported having had suicidal thoughts, and one in ten had actually attempted suicide.1 Students don’t often talk about these things with us, and even if everything seems fine, it’s likely that some of these concerns are lurking under the surface for many of the students we encounter on a daily basis.

person sitting at a desk with books The real tip that comes here is to remember that just like you, students have a lot of demands and stressors in their life.  When we remind ourselves that students face many demands on their time, we are in position to recognize ways to better assist them. Read more about thoughts on helping students with resources in our interview with Rhonda Kitch. 

Look at students holistically

There are a myriad of elements that may be effecting the lives of students.  Some students do not have enough food to eat.  Others are working several part time jobs to make ends meet (read more in our post on our interview with Scott Pryor).  Others are the first person in their family to go to college, and may not have anyone to turn to outside of the university to help them navigate it.  And some students may have visible or invisible challenges that make certain things more laborious or difficult.  These are only a few of the kinds of additional stressors faced by students.

Burger with fries and soup With the hustle and bustle of classes, meetings, research, reports, and other job duties, it’s easy to forget that the student in front of us might be having trouble understanding because they’re hungry, because they just got off a long shift at a retail job where they were yelled at by customers, or that they don’t fully understand the system they are operating in.

Participants in the Shadow a Student Challenge spoke a lot about keeping in mind that our students are individuals with whole lives outside of school.  Sure, it’s not our job to be their therapist, but remembering this can help us change the course of that student’s day, or maybe even life, by how we treat and assist them.

We can affect student retention

When talking with Dr. Tim Peterson about his experience, he related a story about doing some research during his time in the Air Force to figure out how to keep retention rates high at an U.S. Air Force Academy.  Peterson stated that it came down to one factor; helping the recruits find a niche. Read more about Peterson’s observations in our interview with him.

9 Jets in formation with blue, white, red smoke coming out When a person has a reason to stay somewhere, when they feel a sense of belonging, they are going to stay put.  With higher education facing difficulties with enrollment across the board, keeping the students we attract is more important than ever.  Taking time to mention different activities, learn about our students and their interests, and maybe even participating as an advisor or event attendee can go a long way in contributing to retention efforts.

Some other tips and takeaways to consider when looking at how you relate to and connect with students include:

  • Stressing to students the importance of good sleep
  • Improving the student experience in your own arena
  • Actually listening to students
  • Helping students identify and meet basic needs and/or find resources
  • Helping students understand the “why” of something

When a person has a reason to stay somewhere, when they feel a sense of belonging, they are going to stay put.

A lot of important observations came out of how faculty, staff, and administration can improve and grow in how they relate to students on campus.  Comment below with your thoughts and ideas about relating and connecting with students!


  1. Brown, I. (2018). 3 out of 4 college students say they’re stressed, many report suicidal thoughts: Study. ABC News. Retrieved from https://abcnews.go.com/GMA/college-students-stressed-report-suicidal-thoughts-study/story?id=57646236
  2. Maldonado, C. (2018). Price of college increasing almost 8 times faster than wages. Forbes. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/camilomaldonado/2018/07/24/price-of-college-increasing-almost-8-times-faster-than-wages/#2b14c96b66c1

About the author:

Amy Tichy

Amy Tichy is pursuing her M.Ed. in Clinical Mental Health Counseling at NDSU.  She graduated with a Master of Arts in Theatre with a concentration in Drama Therapy from Kansas State University (2014), where she was a Graduate Teaching Assistant, lecturing 6 credits of Public Speaking per semester, and with a Bachelor of Science in History Education and Theatre Education from Dickinson State University (2010).  Amy is a licensed teacher and a Registered Drama Therapist.  She works in the Office of Teaching and Learning as a Graduate Assistant.

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Created2023-09-25 12:52:28Updated2024-04-01 06:34:23
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