I’m in year 15 as a president, and spent a lot of time thinking about new ways to engage students. Part of my rationale is that I watch too many students settle for a transactional relationship at a small school. If you just want that kind of experience you should go to a big school and remain anonymous. But when you come to a place like Dillard, you get your money’s worth by developing deep and meaningful relationships.
To quote our faculty staff institute speaker, Dr. Anthony Abraham Jack, “It’s not just what you know or who you know, but who knows you and how well they do!” This is my mantra for the year.
So I have flipped some long standing practices. Since about 2002 I have done lunch with small groups of freshmen to get to know them. This year I am trying 15 minute, one on one meetings. I am asking the same open ended questions but this way I am able to take some notes as well as ensure everyone gets equal time.
Today was the first day, and I already got some positive feedback from a parent- via twitter! Her daughter, an aspiring filmmaker, told me a lot about the history of her hometown, Hattiesburg MS.
Speaking of parents, I tell them during orientation that they should follow key social media accounts and encourage their student to participate. Another one of my new initiatives is called #PopUpPrez. I am setting up my “office” in various buildings on campus for a few hours. The first week I was in PSB, our main academic building. Last week I was in Williams Hall. Today, I was in DUICEF, another academic building. One of the goals is to encourage people to stop by and just check in. I realized that my office is sort of isolated, and I don’t get the foot traffic I did at Philander Smith. This has been much better.
So when I was in Williams last week, a dad texted his daughter to come by and say hello, and she sent him the picture above. This is always a great way for parents to partner.
I have also started a Presidential Fellows program. I have 14 students that have lots of potential but have not been very involved. So they are getting a special mentor- me. I’ll share more about that as it develops but it should be an interesting experience.