Student Engagement Leads To Success

Sometimes the students who look like they would be the most successful on paper are not the ones who finish their college degree. It’s an interesting paradox that isn’t unique to us here at Dalton State.

In fact, many educators have researched that very topic because this phenomenon is observed across the nation at colleges and universities of all sizes and sectors.

These researchers have identified several key activities associated with students most likely to succeed in college. These essential components include hands-on application of course content and engagement with others.

When these activities are absent, students are more likely to leave college before they graduate. These critical elements are more important than many other factors in determining the fate of an entering college student. You may think financial challenges or personal problems would determine a student’s fate, but some who experience similar struggles persevere while others don’t.

This pandemic has challenged us to provide these elements to our students, but we remain committed to these components of a college experience because we know our students’ successes depend on it.

Have you ever received a fun new gadget and then felt a little overwhelmed trying to learn how to use it? Or do you remember learning to play a new game with a complicated set of rules? Humans are, by nature, impatient. Reading a lengthy set of rules, strategies or instructions can be very daunting. We don’t want all the theory at once. We want to jump in and start doing it and learn as we go. College students are the same. But they will push through challenging course material when they understand how it applies to their career plans.

Classes in which students apply the textbook topics such as science labs and health professions skills labs are essential components of these majors. Field experiences for teacher candidates and social workers are also vital opportunities all students must have prior to graduation. These have been some of the most challenging activities for us to provide our students over the past year, but we have pushed forward with these because we know how critical they are to students both during college and after.

Similarly, we provide our students with as many internships and service-learning opportunities as possible, even through the pandemic. These opportunities to practice concepts studied in class help a student see how the theory is applied in the real world and keeps these students engaged as they push through difficult material and challenging personal situations.

Student engagement is the other significant factor that contributes to a successful college experience. No matter what experiences or characteristics students bring with them to college, there are always challenging times. Some course material can seem impossible to master. Some financial or other personal challenge can overwhelm students. The workload can seem unbearable around midterms and finals. Why do some students persevere despite obstacles and others drop out at the first sign of problems? Engagement is often the answer. Students who have developed relationships with others on campus are much less likely to leave college when problems arise.

Whether it is a professor, a staff member or other students, connections to others on campus can help a student push through the tough times. Haven’t we all felt like giving up on ourselves when attempting to develop a new habit or breaking out of our comfort zone? Have you ever told yourself you just can’t lose weight or can’t hike that next hill on the trail? Students often believe they are the only ones who find the course material difficult. Students often feel their financial challenges or personal life issues are insurmountable. With connections to others on campus, students are more likely to find someone who will encourage them to seek solutions, inspire them to believe in themselves and make introductions to resources for assistance. Our students benefit from support networks. 

Even this past year, we have provided both in-person and virtual services and activities for our students. In recent weeks, the weather has been especially cooperative as we held fun, socially distanced, activities on our quad. Some of our student organizations hosted a band and a social mixer outdoors near our residence hall. Our student-athletes are busy this spring engaging in championship competitions in soccer, cross-country and golf. Several of our students have spent months preparing for our production of “Steel Magnolias.” I was lucky to get one of the appropriately distanced seats Friday evening in our auditorium. I can assure you, these students are engaged college students. They have made connections on campus beyond their classes, and it is serving them well.

Long after graduation, our students will forget the details of the tough weeks and courses, but they will remember the friendships they developed and their favorite professors who went out of their way to help them understand a tough topic or took an interest in them beyond the course content. As our graduates wave their diplomas in the air at commencement, these are the memories that are flowing through their minds.

Students who have endured this pandemic at Dalton State have had opportunities to engage in experiences that will sustain them through these most challenging times. My wish is that every student will make the most of these opportunities. These activities should not be optional even during a pandemic. They are life-changing moments.