Category Archives: Fall 2023 Issue 2

Absolutely Amateur: A Conversation between Anna & Sarah

by Anna Bentley & Sarah Norek

In this conversation, you’ll hear Anna and Sarah discuss what it’s been like to be in learning environments for topics and skills unrelated to their OAS and ASC work, and teasing out how the experience and what they’ve been noticing about themselves in these spaces and this learning undeniably informs their work OAS and ASC work.  

We (Anna and Sarah) decided to try recording our conversation, rather than writing about it. If you prefer to read the transcript, that’s available too, or if you want to speed it all up, you should be able to change your playback settings. In this conversation, we didn’t get into how our learning experiences feel different from something like professional development, but it’s something we started talking about afterwards too (spoiler: we think it’s related to the fact that we’re in low-stakes, ungraded environments and we’re not responsible to bring the learning back or apply it to our roles, it just ends up that we do and we can, still).

Let us know what you think of this format or any questions/things you’re thinking about related to this topic! And thanks for listening 😊.

Letter to Myself – Takeaways from a Student-Led Conference

by Woodrós Wolford

Note from the writer: After our inaugural peer education conference, I thought I’d write myself a letter with some of my core takeaways and share that letter with you! If you’re interested in speaking more about this experience – whether for something you’re planning or to collaborate on our next peer ed conference – feel free to reach out to me on Teams, by email, or by stopping by Waldo 125 or 140!

Dear Woodrós,

            Hi, it’s me. Woodrós. You know, you. Can you remember what October and November were like? No? Well, I do, so let me help you out! Here’s what I want you to remember as you work on the second peer education conference, supporting a new group of student-leaders and alongside Caitlin McVay (Beaver Connect, EOP). First of all, remember that the teams who help lead and plan the conference are the teams that will attend the conference. Plan accordingly as we expand on this first year’s reach! 

            Once those student leaders are identified, do please work with them over Zoom over the summer again (although, if you can also pull off an in-person meet up first, do it!). The collective of student leadership needs to shape the vision, goals, and vibes of the conference. In those meetings, you get to help them collaborate with one another, have a good time while getting things done, and bring their critical thinking so that the answers to the important questions are as nuanced and wise as possible.

            Also over the summer, please move on to the steps you didn’t start until September or so last year, because that wasn’t enough time, you know what works now, and you can be a better project manager now that you’re not also co-authoring a first draft. Specifically, don’t bother with sending multiple surveys collecting folks’ theoretical capacity to work on PECL. It doesn’t matter what the capacity is if they don’t know what to do! Instead, present the roles and teams to the group in a meeting, and connect with folks 1-on-1 if they’re comfortable with that to put the structure together. Those who will be point people for specific teams or for the larger student leadership group need to be able to work with you 1-on-1, so you need to build trust and relationship with one another. Those on teams and taking on specific projects might interface primarily with one of their peers, with Caitlin, or possibly with you if that is their preference.

            We had the energy to do things last year before fall term started; we just didn’t have enough clarity on what we could do ahead. Now, much more can happen during the summer while students aren’t also balancing fall term priorities.

            Now, we know that life is going to happen. Things get messy. I want to remind you that part of what worked was our grace and kindness with each other; our support for self-care and creation of a community of care. It’s important to develop a sense of mutual support and shared        responsibility, with space for that “predictably unpredictable messiness” of being a human. So, make space for the team to establish goals and values and trust around this, and show up in line with these goals. After all, this recognition of humanity was a recurring theme throughout the student-driven development of this conference concept, remember? In the topics suggested and prioritized, in planning a de-stress space and for other human complexities when considering the space and lunch logistics, having peer leaders checking in with other peer leaders’ well being, and in one of the feedback themes. There is magic in peers getting to do something for peers, and seeing one another professionally that way. You get to help establish the way of working that supports that student-centered shine.

            Sure, there are lots of other systems and concrete components that you’ll keep or refine. (QR code on the nametag, for instance, or what kinds of roles our marketing team needs to start strong.) These are important! Build on the intention and the energy we built in the first one, layering in those systems to support the well-being of the student leaders and the reach of the conference.

            Oh, and don’t forget to ask the awesome pro-staff who offered help for that help, now that you know what kind of help people can provide and what you need. 🙂 You need multilayered support as much as the students do. (Notice how that’s the last thing I remembered? Please do better and prioritize this!)

            With hope for a smoother yet totally fabulous 2nd year!


Revising a Survey Question

by Clare Creighton

For the fourth fall in a row, Maureen Cochran, Erin Bird, and I collaborated with campus partners on the questions that make up the Fall Student Experience survey, which goes out to all Corvallis-based undergraduate students to understand their experience and perspective in a few key areas of interest. The survey ran from October 23 – November 6 and I anticipate sharing some findings in a Winter issue of The Success Kitchen. In this post, however, I’m interested in a conversation I had with Nicole Hindes, director of the Basic Needs Center (BNC) as we worked on the wording of some questions in October.

We have a stock question we have asked on all the surveys that asks students to what degree are the listed items are a “Significant Concern,” “Somewhat of a Concern” “Not a Concern” or “Not applicable.” One of the listed items is “Meeting my current financial obligations” and this year, we wanted to understand more about the “Significant Concern” or “Somewhat of a Concern” responses to that question. 

In brainstorming what to ask as a follow-up question, we were considering asking about the financial concerns students were having. Was it concerns with things like paying rent or tuition or groceries? Not being about to save for unexpected expenses or keep up with existing debts? What kinds of things were they having trouble paying for?

That question felt off, but in reaching out to Nicole, she helped us understand why. At best that’s a misleading way to understand degrees of poverty and need, at worst, it’s laden with the assumption that we can make meaning of what they can and can’t afford and what that means for them. Here’s where we landed with the wording instead (it’s not a perfect fit either, but it’s better!)

You indicated a level of concern with meeting your current financial obligations.  Please indicate which of the following are relevant for you:

  • I have utilized resources previously and they helped me improve my financial strategies
  • I am currently using resources where I can go to ask for help to address some of my financial stressors (CAFE, BNC, Career Development Center, Financial Aid, Scholarship Office)
  • I intend to utilize resources to address my financial concerns in the next month.
  • I do not know what to do to address my financial concerns
  • I do not believe I can improve my financial stressors.
  • I am confident I will utilize resources to address my financial concerns if the situation becomes more challenging or serious than my current reality.
  • Other (please specify): ___________________

Nicole offers this as an explanation for the rewrite:

What I like about this reframe we did, was that it brings out more of the student’s agency and capacity into what we’re all understanding about the student’s current situation (including how we’re asking the student to understand their resources). A drill-down into the concerns really only gives us more information about a problem and functionally little information about a student’s experience with help-seeking behaviors. It’s regretfully far too common for students who are low-income to be seen by what they don’t have or what they lack, a deficit-orientation. Not ignoring the impact of systemic limitations/conditions, I generally operate from the mindset that if students use their resources, they can improve their situation/conditions and that it’s possible to thrive and graduate inside of varying levels of income/financial need.

The rework of this question does a few things. We’ll learn much more useful information from this question like how they are engaging in support resources and to what degree they see an ability to change. Those answers will help us understand where students are confident they can get help to improve their conditions and where they need invitation (from us as administrators) to engage in resources. The places we put our attention or focus create the understanding we have about who someone is or what their lives are like. The reframing of this question also brings in more of a student’s capacity to affect their situation, their ability to ask for help to address their stressors, which is a more empowering framework than drilling down into their concerns.

This conversation was a helpful one as we worked on the wording of the survey, but more broadly, I carry a few lessons forward. This question offered a great example of an instance when the wording of a question and how it’s framed have a ripple effect, on the student as they’re taking the survey and how they see themselves in relationship to their finances, on the folks who read the results and the meaning they’re making from responses. Most importantly for me, I appreciate that I’m already in relationship with Nicole as it was easy to “pick up the phone” and connect both to improve the question itself, but also to learn more about what I didn’t recognize in the original version.

Ways to Show Support for Students at the End of the Term

We have just a few weeks left in fall term. While the post-holiday momentum may carry folks toward the end of term, it can be challenging for students to maintain energy and motivation. Here are a few ways you can show support for students in your course as they navigate these last few weeks of the term:

  1. Acknowledge what students have accomplished. Name specific work that has been done so far so students recognize not just what they need to complete for the term, but how much they’ve already accomplished. Consider noting growth in knowledge, skills, thinking, and other areas you’ve observed throughout the term. Acknowledging the cognitive and emotional labor that goes into learning can demonstrate empathy and support.
  2. Thank students. Appreciate the time and effort students have invested in the course to acknowledge hard work and show understanding that many students may be experiencing a particularly stressful and busy time. Making choices related to your course that can decrease students’ stress and overwhelm can be a great way to pair understanding with action.
  3. Reach out to students. Connect with students who may benefit from completing late work or revising assignments, or who will need to do well on assignments in the last few weeks of the term. And individual invitation to connect can be a good starting point for helping students navigate decisions around the end of term and letting them know you believe they can do well. Here is a resource with sample language for outreach.
  4. Remind students of resources. Share resources in the moment to encourage resource use at the time those resources might be needed. Consider re-introducing course-specific resources (including office hours) and broader campus resources, as well as reminding students of the support they can offer each other. If you’re not sure what resources exist for a particular class or need, check out the OSU Experience website’s Student Resources page or connect with me to brainstorm.
  5. Encourage self-care. Take a few minutes to remind students of the value of self-care and to acknowledge the holistic nature of success. Similar to gratitude, pairing understanding with course actions that decrease overwhelm can be a good way to help reduce stress. Here are a variety of self-care resources to share with students.