Author Archives: noreks

Monster Response Rates for the NSSE

by Sarah Norek

By the time you read this, OSU’s 2024 running of the NSSE (National Survey on Student Engagement) will have closed. This year, roughly 11,000 students were invited to take the survey (of first-year & senior status) from Corvallis, Ecampus and Cascades campuses. During the months of April and May, you may have spotted the NSSE across campus, as a sticker, a digital sign, or a poster (shout out to MU Creative Studio for designing such a rad NSSE graphic!).

A light blue water dinosaur with dark blue outline next to the text "NSSE National Survey of Student Engagement"

Response Rates

  • OSU-Cascades first-year & senior response rate: 40.8%
  • OSU-Cascades login rate: 50.8%
  • OSU Corvallis & Ecampus combined first-year & senior response rate: 42.3%
  • OSU Corvallis & Ecampus login rate: 50.5%

Getting students to know about the survey so they could take it was a fun multi-campus/cross-unit feat of creativity, intentionality, planning and resources.


Following, you’ll find takeaways from members of this year’s NSSE team reflecting on the experience, what was learned about the running of a survey on this scale, and curiosities that remain. If you have questions or want to talk more about any of this, please reach out!

Collaboration is key

Collaboration can look very different between people and groups. Our approach was to connect early and routinely, think and ideate together, and divvy tasks to bring those thoughts and ideas to fruition. Chris Gasser offered, “I think the collaborative approach made all the difference! We had student-centered people with various expertise working together toward a common goal of improving the response rate. It’s hard to beat that!” Nathan Moses also shared this observation: “I think it’s important to have a conversation around the skillsets that the team members have that might not be apparent in their title.” Sadly, Nathan’s TikTok as NSSE emerging from the river never panned out, but we were there for it! 😊 The team collaborated between campuses, across units, and with students, the NSSE’s target audience. Shared Nathan, “We literally worked with students on the process, assessing what would draw their attention through smaller info groups, and leaning heavily on our MU Creative Studio students to bring to life something that would appeal to them.”

Stay curious

“We started by answering the questions, ‘Should we use this survey?’ and ‘What are the benefits if we get a higher response rate?’” Then, as we thought about how we might be able to increase survey response rates this year, “rather than accepting ‘we can’t do that’ or ‘we’ve never done it that way’ we began asking ‘who needs to be here to help us accomplish that.’ That was a pretty powerful reframing that I think yielded huge benefits!” And the questions kept going: “How can we get students to open their emails?” “Where can we show up for students so they know about the survey if they’re not opening emails?” “Who could the emails come from?” “What incentive language would resonate for folks?” The team approached NSSE as a puzzle rather than a chore, and then kept asking questions.

Maximize modalities & systems

It was important to meet students where they were at, through multiple modalities. Nathan offered, “We ran this process similar to a new branding campaign in that we used email, digital art, giveaways, and promo items to create a uniform experience. It’s great to see those Nessy stickers on the back of laptops!” It is so great! And Canvas was utilized, too. Students received a series of emails (thanks to a Marketing Cloud Journey that connected with Beaver Hub), were assigned a task in Beaver Hub, encountered NSSE survey signage in common areas, and found the NSSE shell when they visited their Canvas platform. Everywhere possible, the NSSE graphic was used to brand communications to the survey and further emphasize the link between what students were seeing and receiving.

Right-size for the survey

This campaign style approach worked for this survey, but it won’t be feasible for all surveys for a number of reasons. However, Chris shared, “NSSE is making me completely rethink how we might do surveys at OSU.” Students express survey fatigue, and resources aren’t always available to support incentives or create an email journey or design graphics and giveaways. Engaging in a thought activity, though, where one imagines what a campaign might be like, could yield new or different approaches that might lead to adaptations in the delivery, which may (or may not – it’s an experiment!) have positive impacts on results. 

Now that the data is collected, there’s so much to learn! Nathan offered that, “because of the power of working between campuses was so evident, I would assume that being intentional with connecting with comparable schools might yield interesting outcomes with the data.” I (Sarah) want to know more about how students ultimately accessed the survey because, while thousands of email recipients opened the survey, and total opens were always about double the amount of unique opens, there were, comparatively, a very low rate of clicks on the survey links from the email. We may not have a way to know exactly where students were accessing the survey from, so that’s an area for further investigation, but it feels like it underscores the opportunity to explore what compels students to go to a survey and where they prefer to access it from. And then there are all the responses to the questions themselves – there’s a great data-set from this year, and much to learn from it.

Finally, this survey and its results wouldn’t be what they are without a number of folks at OSU – the students who took it, and those faculty and staff outside of the NSSE team who helped make this campaign possible. UIT provided an immense amount of support for Beaver Hub and the Marketing Cloud Journey that was built to send emails automatically and also pull folks who’d completed the survey or opted out from subsequent emails, as well as close Beaver Hub tasks. Academic Technology helped build out the Canvas option for students to be able to find and access the NSSE in their course portal – their unique link, which cut down on the number of clicks folks had to make. MU Creative Studio designed the NSSE and made posters for the start, middle, and end of the survey. And everyone who signed the emails (including President Murthy and Benny Beaver!) and the students and staff whose sticker placement on their belongings helped spread the NSSE sightings far and wide – thank you to you all! It will be exciting to share more as responses are explored, meaning is made, and likely more questions are asked.

Belonging in Absence

by Sarah Norek

This past summer, life happened for me. As in, this past summer, an unexpected life event came along and completely derailed what I’d imagined my summer – at work and outside of it – would be. It involved family, and medical stuff, and a lot of not knowing, and time. July was a particularly long-feeling month with a lot of being in the hospital with a family member.

Before the event, I had such grand plans for summer work time! There was going to be meaningful collaboration on a project, momentum and gains on another project, some thinking-ahead to a couple different projects, etc. I had a main list, and a couple secondary lists, and things were going to be crossed. Off. Stuff was going to HAPPEN. When life happened for me, it was a Sunday. By Monday, my old summer structure and plans were obsolete.

As I write this in fall, with two-ish months between then and now, things aren’t completely back to where they were, but they’re in a better place. Lately I’ve been reflecting on the part belonging and community played in my navigation of everything outside of work that unfolded and my absence at work because of it. Being in a less activated head-space, I’ve been able to name some of the choices I made that allowed for my presence elsewhere in July, and to appreciate more fully what was offered by my community:

Choices I made:

  • I said no to things/dropped things off my summer work list – summer is never long enough to do all the things anyway, but I also leaned into summer no longer being what I had imagined, and that being okay. Commitments were adjusted. Projects were dropped or moved back. I created priorities based on bandwidth and needs.
  • I asked for help & accepted it when offered – asking for help is a skill we talk with students a lot about developing, and I fully admit that I’m still in my help-asking journey. It’s hard. I don’t want to add to anyone’s plate. But it’s also their choice to say yes or no, and it was my choice to accept it (another hard thing, not wanting to add to folks’ plates).
  • I let go of what I thought I needed to do to be a good employee – I have a lot of self-judgement around what I’m doing and what I’m not doing and what that means for me and how my colleagues perceive me. Am I unique in this? Nope. But the shape and feel of my insecurities are uniquely mine, and it was hard work to let them go, and imperfect too. Removing that level of expectation allowed me to be where I needed to be completely, and only I could do it.
  • I let myself be where I needed to be – during the work day, that was often at the hospital, but also it was sometimes at work for a break from the hospital, or working while there to give my brain something else to focus on. I didn’t give myself blocks to fill necessarily, I just gave myself places to be and ways to be there and then stepped in as needed – for me and for work and for the people I was supporting outside of work.
  • I accepted summer having kind of blown up – I got to practice what I try to always acknowledge in workshops with folks, which is that life happens sometimes, and what we thought we’d do can’t happen. And that can be really hard, and it’s okay. Stay kind with yourself. Give yourself some grace. And recognize that you’re still doing a lot of hard work, even if it’s not exactly the work you expected it to be.

Things folks offered:

  • Hugs – I’m not always the huggiest person, and hugs aren’t everyone’s thing, and relationships are different. But hugs were grounding and reminded me I wasn’t swirling around in everything all on my own. Thanks folks.
  • Permission to drop things/not be at things – sometimes permission is actually needed, and sometimes it just means a lot to hear from someone else that it’s okay to not be at a place or show up for a thing. Thanks for saying it aloud.
  • Coverage – we already had summer event coverage plans in place, but when I couldn’t show up or needed to be at an appointment, and I reached out, folk stepped in, the community supported me, and I will be endlessly grateful for this. Thank you again.
  • Texts and memes and chats – ways to signal a person isn’t alone. A quick hello, a ping from the world beyond my own, which felt very small and stressful, meant so much. Thanks for those, too.

Life happening can happen in a lot of different ways, in a lot of different forms. Our teams may be very different, our approaches may be very different. My brilliant colleague, William, named what I hadn’t seen before: that I’m speaking both to community and absence, and what community can mean in absence/when absence has to happen. As apart from my team and my previous plans as I was, my choices and options were informed by my community, and my community helped shorten the distance I experienced and supported the choices I could control. That’s a takeaway for me too: that there were still things I could control, even within all that I couldn’t, and the community I’m a part of played a huge role in me getting from point A to whatever point I’m at now, and wherever I’ll get to next.

Taking (& Being Taken By) Time

by Sarah Norek

Last fall, I attended Time Isn’t Neutral, a workshop put on by the folks from Whiteness @ Work. I honestly don’t remember my expectations/curiosities going into it. I coordinate workshops at the ASC, and we facilitate a lot of content that connects to time and how to manage it, plan, schedule, etc. Heading into their workshop I was excited to see other people deliver content on time and looked forward to new perspectives we might be able to bring into our ASC content too.

I learned a lot. My concept of time kind of melted. And now I’m in this gooey space of trying to make sense of my approach to and experience of time, and how that aligns (or doesn’t) to my values.

One concept that Desiree Adaway and Jessica Fish (of Whiteness @ Work) introduced in the workshop was “time famine”: not having enough time to do the things we want to do, because we’re doing the things we need to do. We hear about this experience from students (and colleagues, friends, peers, etc. a lot). In my experience, often my wants are activities that replenish, fill, and ground me, which kind of makes them feel like needs, whether or not I prioritize them as such. How to reconcile that?

Something else Adaway and Fish brought into the conversation was a comparison between monochronic (more linear) and polychronic (more fluid, more attentive to relationships) time. If you haven’t explored these and what makes them distinct from each other, I totally recommend it! As a workshop participant, as drawn as I felt to polychronic time, the fact that I very much operate within a more monochronic, linear system was quite clear. Adaway and Fish also present clock time (monochronic time) as a construct of colonialism and white supremacy, providing a rich set of thought-provoking details and research that I’m still deeply processing and reflecting on.

In my experience, time feels linear, and its linearity feels absolute. This is how I perceive time, and how my work and, well, time, gets allotted. I work within a grid of days and hours and seconds, with tasks and deadlines and commitments that need to fit within the 24-hour day for seven days a week and 365 days a year. I’m not unique in this, I know. My work – my days – tend to begin and end at appointed times, and much of what takes place within those times is informed by the 24/7/365 of it all. But that’s not necessarily how my thinking, my processing, my energy (etc.) works.

As a timely (haha!) example, I’ve been starting and stopping on the draft of this blog post for the last two weeks/three months: work time gets blocked on my calendar but, when I start to draft, I inevitably have to physically move, or put distance between the writing and thinking. These are steps (haha again!) to my process when working through challenging things. And, the approach doesn’t fit neatly within the rectangle the work has been allotted in my day. More planning! I might say. Better awareness of my time and myself! And yes, those both will support the work, sure. But also, the work is inherently impacted by the time structure I operate within, and I would argue that it’s not as simple as those moves. Which is a helpful reminder for myself as I think about my own planning and also as we talk about time with folks in workshops: we encourage tapping into self-awareness, trying different tools for scheduling, and I still think these entry-points work. I also think this recent experience of work and energy and thinking not necessarily puzzling neatly into a linear structure helps too. It’s a process. It might be messy. And there’s nothing wrong with it being messy, or not fitting exactly. Challenging, yes. But not wrong.

I once reflected to a friend that I was a messy thinker, and they generously offered back that it wasn’t messy, it was just non-linear. Kindest game changer ever. And I wonder about this non-linear thinking piece and the more-linear time piece and how they intersect – for me and for others, too. I also wonder about how we support students to thrive and succeed in a more linear system, while also honoring their lived experiences, wisdom, culture and approaches to time. The two don’t necessarily align – system and life – but they’re still unfolding simultaneously. So what?

Since the Time Isn’t Neutral workshop, I’ve made what feel like small shifts in the way I think and talk and write about time; while not monumental, they feel like movement. I find myself leaning away from the “management” wording and more towards planning, scheduling, thinking about what the work is that’s being done, what values are being … valued … in my choices. In workshops and conversations, we try to offer several different options for tools to choose from, and to invite choice. I think, too, I want to be more intentional about asking questions to learn more about how someone conceptualizes time, how they approach planning their days, how they think about their wants and needs and responsibilities and commitments. What do they prioritize? What’s their time narrative? What do they need to do and what do they want to do and how is their whole self being represented in their planning?

This all feels sort of parallel to Marie Kondo saying she’s not as focused on decluttering space anymore – that she’s “sparking joy” in other ways, more interested now in putting her time towards her family, her young children in particular, which also means living in a little more clutter, perhaps a little less linearity – tapping into the polychronic piece of things is my new connection to it. And I love that she’s made her shift in thinking transparent, that she’s sharing about how she thinks about the time she has and the activities she chooses now to fill it with. We’re allowed to change. Time is simultaneously pervasive and unique, which allows for a lot of habits and a lot of opportunities for adjustment and transformation.

Tales from Adventures Emailing First-Year Students in Fall

by Sarah Norek

Part of my role at the Academic Success Center includes drafting and sending the Transition Communication Campaign (TCC) emails to all incoming first year (FY) and new-to-OSU students. It’s one of my very favorite projects to work on and learn from, and offers a lot to consider and explore.

For folks unfamiliar with the TCC, I begin emailing students in their first term at OSU, and continue throughout the entirety of their first academic year (here’s an example from week 2). Content is timely to each week in the term and covers academic support and advising information; resource spotlights; and processes, strategies and tools. Messages are sent via Marketing Cloud using student lists created through Banner, and emails go out each Sunday as well as the Wednesday before add/drop deadlines.

During Academic Year 2022, we wanted to look more closely at the FY engagement with emails throughout fall 2021. To do this, we used reports from Marketing Cloud to determine students who received all 13 messages (a total of 3596 students), we looked at patterns of engagement (opens and clicks), and we also invited folks to participate in focus groups or complete a brief survey. We learned so much! It was so much fun! And a lot of what we learned was counter to what I’d thought to be true, which was delightful and curious and exciting. Here are some of my favorite perception shifts:

  • I thought students weren’t opening emails, but when we looked at reports, it turns out that they were: 69% of students opened 8 or more of the TCC messages in fall, and about 25% of students opened all 13!
  • I didn’t expect students to return to the messages, but the average opens per messages was two; and, on average, 41% of students opened the messages two, three, or four times. Students found reason to revisit the content.
  • I was pretty sure receiving duplicate information would be a total turn-off. In our focus groups, students shared that they’d received similar messaging from other sources (at times ahead of the TCC’s arrival), but also shared they still found value in the campaign, even if it was redundant, especially for students who might not be getting this content elsewhere.
  • I was under the impression that the email’s organizational sections were more for me and my drafting process, but it turns out that students used the sections too, as signposts to focus their content consumption.
  • I was convinced my subject lines were boring (and I don’t think what I learned means they aren’t). I started each subject line with the week in the term, a move that felt uninspiring but also helped with my organization process. Lo and behold, students shared that they appreciated the naming of the week because it helped orient them within the term.
  • I’d had a feeling that the messages were too long, but continued to draft under the (old? outdated? incorrect?) impression that folks were willing to scroll; students said that, no, the messages were too long (especially when accessed via phone), so much so that certain sections were never reached. Noted!
  • Even though I focused most of my energy on the body of the message, the two sections folks went to most were Important Deadlines, at the top of the emails (highlighting deadlines for registration, change of grading basis, course changes, etc.), and Upcoming Opportunities at the end of the email (naming events, engagement opportunities, workshops, etc.).

Are these all the ways I felt surprised and delighted by the data? Nope. Do I wish we could’ve heard from each of the 3596 students who received the 13 total messages? I do. But still, we learned a bunch! And, I think what we learned could contribute to conversations and thinking around how campus communicates with students, how to be effective in our communications, and how to encourage engagement. This fall I’ve made changes to our TCC messages based on last year’s learning; already I’ve noticed higher open and click-through rates, and I’m totally pumped to see how engagement plays out for the rest of the year. More data to consider! More questions to ask! I’m not excited, you are!

Further Reflections on Supporting Yourself in a Support Role

by Carl Conner & Sarah Norek

Back in December, Carl and Sarah (we) engaged in a loosely structured conversation over Zoom with a few other folks who hold formal support roles. We wanted to explore what it meant to support ourselves in support roles (you can read our article about it here).

In this article, we reflect on what it’s meant to continue to meet with, and expand on, this conversation group. We’ve gained much from these meetings and are grateful to those who have shared their stories and their time. Below, in an informal interview style together, we share some planning ideas as well as what we consider to be the benefits of such a group, in case other folks on campus are interested in or thinking about these kinds of conversation groups too.

What have you observed across meetings?

Carl: Going into the first meeting, I did not know what to expect! As someone who often struggles to maintain my energy levels, I was particularly surprised to feel so energized after the group met. It was also surprising to me how universal that feeling was, even throughout different meetings with new voices joining the group. I felt tremendous gratitude for the sense of connection and validation that these conversations offered, and I was doubly grateful to hear other members of the group reciprocate that gratitude. Given the range of backgrounds, roles, and professions we have in the group, to foster such a strong sense of reciprocity felt truly special.

Sarah: We’ve met a few different times now, and I think something I’ve noticed each time is that it feels okay to be quiet, and to engage in messy thinking, and to process out loud or inside or however. I’ve also noticed how folks are getting ideas from each other, or resonating with what someone’s just said. There’s a lot of energy there that feels curious and thoughtful and generous and replenishing.

Carl, you recently referred to the “recipe” for this experience – would you be willing to share a little about that and what you think goes into the creation/facilitation/evolution of a group like this?

Carl: Though I believe that we were very lucky in terms of how incredible our participants were, we did think intentionally about how we could set the group up for success:

Connect for the sake of connection

I cannot emphasize the power and importance of this ingredient enough. Bringing different people together who all want to authentically connect can impact how we show up and engage everywhere else.

Snowball sampling works for this setting

When we wanted to expand the conversation after our first meeting, we employed a “snowball sampling” approach wherein everyone invited another person who they thought would benefit from being in the space. This method was helpful for maintaining a sense of familiarity with each other while still including fresh perspectives and ideas.

Prepare some prompts ahead of time, but largely allow the conversation to flow in whatever direction it needs to

Allowing for a loose structure to the conversation gives the people involved a greater sense of agency and also means that folks do not have to prepare any content beforehand.

Honor contributions

We always invited folks to come as they were and participate as much or as little as they wanted, and we were intentional to share gratitude for folks being there and participating in the ways that they did. This created an unofficial routine of sharing gratitude across all group members, and that process alone created such an authentic sense of community even after one or two meetings.

Any big takeaways to share with folks who might be interested in doing something like this elsewhere on campus?

Carl: Absolutely! First off, do not underestimate the value of connecting as humans. The recognition of each individual as unique, multi-faceted, and nuanced was very important to the structure of our group. Regardless of whether we knew each other well or had any overlapping roles, there was still plenty of connection to be had around our experiences as people coping with the challenges of daily life – life at work and life outside work and how they interact with each other. Second, I would encourage people (especially introverts!) to be bold enough to take the first steps to initiate spaces for connection such as these. I know it can be scary or stressful to be the one to approach others and ask them for some of their valuable time, but it was oh so rewarding to have been gifted that time and make something meaningful of it. As an introvert myself, I would highly encourage anyone who may be thinking about establishing a space for connection with peers/colleagues to take that first step – it’s so worth it!

Sarah: I love what you’re saying, Carl! I think all I might add is that we’ve chatted a bit about how important a sense of safety and trust in these spaces is, and ways to achieve that, or set a space up for that, in such a brief span of time. One thing that’s stuck with me is that everyone knows someone in the space, has a connection to someone in the space. For folks who might be thinking about creating a group like this, I think this element is really important. Because being in this space and community together is incredible! It’s meant so much to share and hold space distinctly for connecting, with no real agenda other than to share and listen and normalize and validate, to be in community together, no need to prepare in any way other than to arrive and bring yourself, as you are in that day and moment(s) in time. It’s been rejuvenating and really impactful mentally and physically.

Wanna talk more? Have ideas? Be in touch! We’d love to chat with you about thoughts you have about this kind of meeting and space.

Supporting Yourself in a Support Role

by Carl Conner & Sarah Norek

Burnout is real, and many people are really feeling it right now, among other things. We’re experiencing a global pandemic, large-scale political unrest, the increased visibility of racialized violence and injustice, and other factors that impact our mental and physical well-being. Many are navigating decision fatigue, screen fatigue, fatigue in general. While we don’t want to discount anyone’s positive experiences over the past several years, we do want to acknowledge that it has been a challenging time, and continues to be so. With this in mind, it’s important to give space to the process of challenge and how we proceed through it. Talking about and connecting through difficult times can help us better support others and find new ways to support ourselves.

At the end of 2021, we (Carl & Sarah) connected remotely with campus colleagues to discuss the question of how folks in support roles support themselves, while also providing support to all who rely on them. We met with Abbey Martin (Program Coordinator, Coast to Forest), Bonnie Hemrick (Assistant Director of Mental Health Promotion & Interim Director of Prevention & Wellness) and Tessie Webster-Henry (Mental Health Promotion Coordinator). Following, we want to share themes that rose to the surface of the discussion.

It can be helpful and self-supportive to adjust (and readjust) our expectations.

Many of us have a long list of tasks and we find our plates heaped full. Abbey spoke about intentionally making her life smaller and appreciating the small wins, like getting up and out of bed, getting to work, taking care of the people in her life who need taking care of, etc.  Tessie resonated with expectation adjustment and mentioned being realistic about what we can do in the moment, as well as not comparing ourselves to our pre-pandemic selves. Abbey shared that part of what she needs in her support system is someone who can tell her that she doesn’t need to accomplish everything all at once; some tasks can happen on a different day.

We’re human, we make mistakes, and we can give ourselves grace.

As we discussed adjusting expectations, Abbey reminded us to have grace for ourselves and others as we make these changes. Bonnie shared the observation that it’s hard to let go of that impulse to make everyone happy, which brought up the topic of perfectionism and failure. As Abbey pointed out, we live in a culture of comparison, bombarded by stories of exceptional people, which can cause us to feel like we’re not doing or being enough. Tessie reflected on the fact that we can’t be great at everything every day, so she likes to ask herself (as inspired by a friend), “What am I going to fail at today?” We can give ourselves the permission to fail and even welcome failure as a way to take care of ourselves too.

Finding and making connection with others matters. A lot.

Tessie spoke to the need for balance. On a college campus, part of our job is to create, innovate, and support. At the same time, building relationships, taking care of each other, and sharing space and time together are such important parts of our work as well. As Tessie said: “Student Affairs is about being present too.” Bonnie talked about how important her support network is; it helps her process what she’s experiencing, how she’s providing support to folks, what’s impacting her, and what she’s carrying. Tessie brought up the concept of always choosing and acting with kindness.  We don’t know what the people in front of us may have been through or what they’re arriving to a meeting having just experienced, so we must center kindness and care as we connect with others.

During closing remarks, Bonnie spoke to how communities are disproportionately impacted throughout all of this. All people – even members of privileged communities – are experiencing hardship. When we factor in identification with one or more marginalized identities on top of that hardship, we see a compounded impact on physical and mental well-being.

The value of connecting, normalizing, and validating each other’s experiences

One of the things that we heard reflected by Abbey, Bonnie and Tessie, and that we both felt too, even as largely silent facilitators, was just how healing and empowering the conversation was. Our three “interviewees” were connecting, normalizing, and validating each other’s experiences.  We were all hearing each other and recognizing similar experiences, while also taking away insights and perspectives from our colleagues. As facilitators, we came away feeling newly grounded and like we’d encountered a breath of fresh air.

A few strategies we wanted to be sure to share:

  • Tessie offered the practice of getting an index card, noting appointments, and then identifying 2 to 3 things that can be accomplished that day, as a way to help with expectations and make manageable workloads for ourselves.
  • Abbey offered the strategy of washing hands between work and home, or work and whatever else, as a way to cue ourselves that we’re leaving this potentially difficult space and entering a new one.
  • Asking ourselves at the start of the day, what can I fail at today?

How do you take care of yourself while in a support role? How are you taking care of yourself so you can continue to support others? We’d love to hear from you!

Staff Picks – Pets and Plants

Hello! As we lean into fall, we wanted to celebrate the pets and plants of the ASC & Writing Center team. These beings have made us laugh, helped ground us, and given us something to look forward to. We hope they delight you, too!

Almond, dog friend of Carl Conner, Assistant Coordinator of Supplemental Instruction

A photograph of Almond the dogMy dog is named Almond or Almo for short! He is such a quirky and goofy boy. He wiggles his entire body every time I walk through the door and he takes long naps in sunny spots like a cat. Almond has been my emotional support animal since 2017, and I’m his support human. He came from a really rough background of neglect and abuse, but he has made enormous progress since he first came into my life. He’s one of the most facially expressive dogs I know, and makes incredibly funny faces all the time, but in this picture his expression is one of pure love and contentment 🙂

Carolina Reapers, plant friends of Anna Bentley, Administrative Program Assistant for the ASC & Writing Center

A photograph of Carolina Reaper chilisI don’t have any pets, but I do love my garden. During the growing season my housemates, family, and I try to make the most of our two raised beds, containers, and the perimeter of our backyard to grow all kinds of produce. Chili peppers have always been my favorite thing to grow, and this year I’m particularly proud of growing Carolina Reapers, the world’s hottest chilies! They require a lot of sunlight, which has been challenging in my shady yard. I’ve given them a lot of love and care and even spent the earlier part of the growing season moving their container all over the yard to chase the sun. Seeing the [literal] fruits of my labor was so rewarding!

Dessa, cat friend of Anika Lautenbach, Coordinator of the ASC Strategist & Academic Coaching programs

A photograph of Dessa the catI have a tabby named Odessa (Dessa or “the Bubs”). She is, as her previous veterinarian said, a sassy redhead. We adopted her from a friend who moved to Germany. I am not responsible for her name, though I know she had two siblings named Osha and Ophelia. She’s an extremely vocal and cuddly companion whose primary interests are eating, sleeping, and jumping on things she’s not supposed to. She brings me great joy, especially when she flops on the carpet and lets out an audible “oof” sound. She’s sweet sixteen and I’m hoping she’ll be around a lot longer.

Gatsby, dog friend of Chris Gasser, Coordinator of Supplemental Instruction

A photograph of Gatsby the dogThis big golden doofus /shedding-machine is Gatsby. We rescued Gatsby about 6 years ago, and he’s the best! Gats loves food, and if you put your food at Gatsby-level (floor to back of the counter-height) you better watch out! He might trick you with the grey face, but the second you look away, you realize it is just a disguise. Gatsby is always calm, always friendly, and always there just when you need him. We could not ask for a better friend.

Lulu & Hazel, rabbit friends of Chris Ervin’s family, Coordinator of the Undergrad Research & Writing Studio & Online Writing Support

A photograph of Lulu the rabbitA photograph of Hazel the rabbitOur kids have two rabbits. Lulu is a bribery rabbit. When we told our daughter Maia that we’d be moving to Oregon, we promised her a rabbit when we arrived, so Lulu was adopted from Safe Haven in early 2019. Hazel, our juvenile male, belongs to our son Noah and was named after Hazel-Rah from Watership Down. We brought Hazel home from Safe Haven when he was the size of a large hamster. And we can’t talk about the rabbits without mentioning the neighborhood Red-tailed Hawks, who hunt above the aforementioned rabbits’ backyard hutches. The hawks would have to work really hard for a meal, as the hutches are very secure, but if crows can pick locks . . .

Mango & Hugo, cat friends of Kelley Calvert, Multilingual Support Coordinator at the Writing Center

A photograph of two cats: Mango and HugoWe have two yellow tabby cats, brother and sister, who look exactly alike except the female is smaller. Their names are Mango and Hugo. We rescued them when they were sickly and abandoned kittens in Thailand, and they made a quick recovery. Today, they put up with all kinds of indignities, such as being carried around in baskets (by kids), slung over shoulders (by kids), and dragged away from sunny naps for rough playtimes (by kids). They lovingly put up with it all.

Pete the Cat, dog friend of Clare Creighton, Director of the ASC & Writing Center

A photograph of Pete the Cat the DogPete the Cat is named after the character from the children’s book series. He’s a mixed-breed rescue from California, and at 105 lbs he’s a sweet oaf that tolerates a lot of snuggling. He’s currently recovering from knee surgery so his hobbies are lying around, trying to get his cone off, spitting out pills, and giving wistful looks from his bed.

Ripley, dog friend of Sarah Norek, Coordinator of Outreach & Education at the ASC

A photograph of Ripley the dogRipley has bird dog in him somewhere, but has a terrible sense of smell, so tends to do his best work tracking squirrels, who he can hear and see. He wears a very wiry beard that gets wet on water breaks, and loves to sunbathe, tiptoe, has recently learned how to sustain a soulful howl, and believes he should be able to fit all 75 pounds of himself into anyone’s lap. Much of the time, we agree.

Finding Failure

by Sarah Norek

Lately, I’ve been digging into failure. It all began with wondering what it meant to be or not be transparent about failure, and then it kind of unspooled from there. Below is my messy process thinking, complete with way more questions than answers. And at the end, if you’re still here, I’ll share some ways you might explore failure too.


As I write this, I’m sitting with my son on the couch, where I’ve been trying to form something coherent about failure for the last forty-five minutes. This alone feels a bit like a failure. When I started reflecting on the topic over a week ago, I could hardly rein it in at a half-hour. But now: all these brief starts and long stops as I try wading in again.

I just asked my son what failure meant to him and he replied, Giving up.

His answer pretty accurately reflects how we’ve raised him and his sister. We’ve been intentional about how we talk about failure, in that we don’t exactly. We talk most about trying, and practicing, and seeing the opportunity in things that are difficult or that don’t go how we’d like them to at first. If I translate his response in relationship to this, failure is the act of not trying.


Facilitating academic success workshops, emailing students through the Transition Communication Campaign, and drafting content for the Learning Corner, I emphasize the opportunity in trying things out. I pitch the OSU years as a sandbox, where folks can practice with strategies, see what works and what doesn’t, and bring that knowledge into their post-graduation space.

And yet, as much as I may write about the opportunity within failure, and growth that can come from failure, I don’t like failure, and I don’t go into things hoping I’ll fail – but what if I did? When did I stop engaging with this idea of having a sandbox of my own, or of being a part of the greater sandbox of experimentation? I love experimenting. I love trying new things. But I also feel a disconnect between my love for innovation and permission to not have it all quite work. Because sometimes – lots of times – new ideas might fail.


The potential for failure, and the feelings failure carries, can consume me. And I see connections between failure and perfectionism. As much as I may be working to undo my dedication to perfectionism, it runs deep; for me, the potential for perfection is never far from the hazard of failure. But what does bringing opportunity into failure do? Could it counter the perfectionism, and could that soften failure’s sting? Could failure be remade into something that feels more like an invitation to experiment and innovate?

Exploring Failure

I don’t think all failure is redeemable. I don’t think all growth from failures inoculates us against any judgement that may be doled. Sometimes, we really fail badly, and the impact expands beyond our individual edges to affect or engulf others.

At the same time, I think normalizing and validating failure is important. I also think it’s important to consider our privileges and identities that afford us to fail more or less easily than others, or to more or less easily share our failures.

I appreciate how the SI Leaders’ reflections in On Failing Forward help me see this gap in my reflection. I’m not insulated from the repercussions of failure, but how has my identity made certain failures safer/less safe for me than for others who identify differently? I know it has.

So now I have even more questions: If we see failure as an opportunity for growth, then is it the failure that we grow from, or is it the recovery – the way we choose to recover – that induces growth? What is it to fail publicly versus privately, or individually versus within a team? How does failure in one sphere of our life shape and inform what we do with failure in the others?

For me, the concept, practice of, and recovery from failure is like a big onion. There are so many layers. After peeling one back I might be shaking my head or crying or walking away to regroup and return or push on to the next layer.

I won’t give up failing. It will always be there. But I like to think that the way I – and we – engage with failure has the potential to become, or remain, or return to malleable.

Curious to explore failure? Here are a few ideas:

  1. Check out the videos Chris mentioned in his article about Failing Forward.
  2. Engage in a thought experiment: When’s the last time you talked with someone about something you failed at? What failure did you choose to share, and who did you share with? How long after the failure did you choose to share about it? What did you share about the failure? How did you feel – when the failure happened, or when you realized it was a failure, or when you spoke about your failure?
  3. Start a conversation with a colleague, friend, or loved one about failure – what does it mean to be transparent about failure? What is it to enter, move through, and exit failure – or do we? When is it failure and when is it learning? How do privilege and identity impact/shape our failure?

The Transit of Transitions; or, Before, Afterward, Sometimes, Simultaneously

by Sarah Norek

At the ASC, I coordinate the Transition Communication Campaign (TCC): a series of weekly emails that are sent over the course of a year to first year (FY) and new-to-OSU transfer (TR) students. The campaign was designed to support students through timely academic support and advising information, as well as other resources and strategies to help them navigate and succeed in the university setting.

Since taking the project on in 2019, I’ve been able to roll-over content relatively easily term-to-term. Beginning last spring, however, and throughout this year, I’ve worked to adapt messaging to reflect the current COVID-19 context and its complex and evolving impacts on student life and experience. I’ve thought a lot about how to use the TCC to support students during this unique time. Here are some key ideas I continually return to:


Nearly all TCC messages invite some kind of reflection, asking students to tap into their incredible knowledge and expertise of themselves. We are all so electric, so full of experiences, our narratives so unique to us. Self-awareness offers the opportunity to ground ourselves in our transition experience—to recognize discomfort, to uncover its roots, to work to address it, or to sit with it and progress through it, and of course, to learn what’s working for us and how. In asking students to reflect, I invite them to recognize the incredible work and energy they’re putting forth; to listen to their experience; and to be open to the potential adaptation in strategies and approaches to study, work, self-care, and more.


I spotlight resources in each TCC for two reasons (and more): 1) to help students become familiar with their many resource options early in their time at OSU, and 2) to impart the value of help help-seeking and asking questions—especially when navigating the transition to university-level learning (and all the subsequent transitions from course to course, discipline to discipline, etc.). As many of this year’s new students transition into OSU remotely, accessing resources can be even more important. Support, connection, and community are especially crucial to well-being these days and when making a remote transition into the university.


Transition can be consuming; it can be a whirlwind. This means sometimes pertinent information—no matter how helpful—might not land after a single introduction. Sometimes we need repetition and the opportunity to encounter and explore information a few times before it sticks. Whether it’s a university process, encouragement to meet with an advisor, or a reminder to be generous with themselves—repetition may help students encounter the important information when they are ready to explore or act on that information. We use repetition not just for important dates or reminders, but also for acknowledging and validating what students are experiencing. I want students to hear and internalize that the OSU community cares about who and how they are.

Looking Ahead

What’s funny to me is that, in all of this transition messaging, the fact that spring term will be our year anniversary of remote operations didn’t really hit me until quite recently. Like, quite. I’ve carved out very little time to consider my own transition(s) over the past year. Adapting the TCC to fit students’ current needs offers, in retrospect, an opportunity for me to reflect on my own experience and needs, too. Just as I hope students will engage in reflection and tap into self-awareness, I too can benefit from contemplating what kind of spring I want to create, what I can offer, how I’ll show up and for whom, and what I can hold onto—in terms of mindset, productivity, strategies—or else cut loose.

In the process of drafting this, it was pointed out to me that repetition is a form of support—a way of allowing ourselves grace as we navigate an ever-changing landscape. It’s okay, and important, to keep repeating the questions, returning to the thinking, listening and trying to make this reflective practice routine. As for resources, I can take the TCC’s advice and actively seek them out, too. These days, my colleagues and teammates are my core resources. It’s surprisingly easy to work in isolation, and surprisingly (for me, an introvert) lonely. I’ve been trying to reimagine and create new shared spaces, while considering boundaries and vulnerability, hungry to feed these connections while not furthering anyone’s fatigue.

Whether you’re contemplating your own experience with transitions, or providing support for others as they navigate transitions, I offer these thoughts not as a prescriptive route through the work but because I hope they present opportunities for our individual experiences to be explored, supported, and validated along the way.

Student Staff Picks: Instructor Support

In fall term, we asked Academic Success Center and Writing Center student staff to contribute their thoughts on this prompt: “What is one thing an instructor did to support you in fall term?” Click the visual below to see the full-size image with responses.

To learn more about the student experience, review the results of the Remote Learning Experience Survey from November 2020 at (Internal to OSU; sign-in required through Box).

Student Staff Picks