We Shadowed 35 Students: Here is What We Learned – Major Takeaways

We Shadowed 35 Students: Here is What We Learned

Our last two articles revolved primarily around tips, with one focused on connecting with students and the other on the classroom.  This final “Here is What We Learned” post will focus on the major takeaways; the prominent themes that emerged for participants through this experience.

Many students function with subpar resources

Business Man looking at his watch Students are an adaptable group of people.  They have to be with the many demands placed on them daily by instructors, bosses, friends, and family.  Eight out of 10 college students have a job, and 45% of those work at least 30 hours a week in addition to going to class.1  These students struggle to get enough sleep, sometimes afford food or housing, and often don’t have enough money to keep going if they were to face any sort of financial setback.  This means students may be driving older cars (if they have a car at all), relying on food pantries for food, and using credit cards to cover expenses.2 

One of our shadows mentioned riding to class with her student in his car.  It was a very old car, but he said that it gets him from point A to point B, and so long as it keeps running he’ll be ok.  It’s easy to forget the difficulties we faced when we were in college, but it’s important to remember that the students we have right now are working with what they have, and that isn’t always a lot.

The 189 class is missed; those skills are needed

Adult taking notes Not that long ago each department had a 189 class which included topics on the development of skills and techniques for academic success. These courses covered study techniques, time management, test taking, note taking, goal setting, wellness, stress management, and career orientation. They also included an introduction to campus resources and governance.3

While the 189 class maybe wasn’t a favorite to teach among faculty, it did include very important skill development that impacted student success from their freshman year on. These courses, in fact, covered a lot of soft skills that current employers find lacking in college graduates, and are likely skills that college professors would like to see more of in their students, as well.  These skills include critical thinking and problem solving skills, attention to detail, and communication skills.4 While the 189 class isn’t going to skyrocket every student to proficiency in these areas, one professor who shadowed a student noted that since the course was removed, he’s seen a decline in the skills it taught, and was reminded of that during his shadow experience.

The perspective of even one student is valuable; it makes for a clearer picture

Open eye All of the shadows we interviewed agreed that the experience was valuable.  One even noted that you’ll never have all of the answers even though you have a ton of experience, so you can always use more perspective.  Being able to see through the eyes of a student for a day brought forth many reflections, thoughts, ideas, desires, and a bunch of drive for the faculty and staff who participated in the experience.

A meta-analysis conducted in 2018 on perspective-taking and empathy in the workplace found that both have powerful effects on work-related outcomes, and specifically that perspective-taking in the context of a downward perspective (that is to say a faculty or staff member toward a student) “had stronger relational and performance consequences” (p. 907).5

Taking the perspective of those we work to serve and educate is not only good for them, but it’s good for us.  It helps us be better guides as they work to complete their education.  It helps us find more worth in the work we do.  It makes us better at our jobs.

Some additional overarching takeaways from the Challenge include:

  • Active learning is happening at NDSU
  • The whole of NDSU impacts students; students don’t operate in silos, so neither can we
  • Students appreciated the Shadow a Student Challenge
  • Students are distracted by technology
  • This challenge provided a different lens from which to view students
  • It’s important to help others understand the “why” of something
  • Compassion is important
  • We can improve policy when we listen
  • It would be great for faculty to go through freshman orientation to experience what it’s like for a freshman student to come to campus and be exposed to so many new things for the first time
  • It would be great for administration to shadow a faculty or staff member to learn about their jobs and workflow
  • Low self-efficacy and doubt may be a regular part of a student’s experience
  • This challenge helps you understand what makes students pursue high education and NDSU specifically

Comment below with your thoughts and ideas about relating and connecting with students!


  1. CindyPerman. (2019, November 21). Running out of money. Cancer. Divorce. Many college students are facing serious financial crises. Retrieved from https://www.cnbc.com/2019/10/28/many-college-students-find-themselves-in-a-serious-financial-crisis.html
  2. Where Do College Students Spend Their Money? (2016, February 25). Retrieved from http://biggermarkets.com/college-marketing/2016/02/where-do-college-students-spend-their-money/
  3. North Dakota State University. (2019) University Bulletin 2019-20. Retrieved from https://bulletin.ndsu.edu/course-catalog/descriptions/busn/
  4. Karsten Strauss (2016, May 17). These are the skills bosses say new college grads do not have. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/karstenstrauss/2016/05/17/these-are-the-skills-bosses-say-new-college-grads-do-not-have/#7f9752485491
  5. Longmire, N. H., & Harrison, D. A. (2018) Seeing their side versus feeling their pain: Differential consequences of perspective-taking and empathy at work. Journal of Applied Psychology 103(8), 894-915. doi: 1037/apl0000307

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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Created2023-09-27 08:00:54Updated2024-07-09 10:40:24
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