Mari Burns essay release

Getting on the same page with your students.

It was 10 days before the start of the school year.  I was in my office taking advantage of silent hallways and quiet dorms to prepare for the upcoming semester when a knock came upon my door.  One of my advisees, a student-athlete, and his wife were on campus meeting with his wrestling coach to make sure he was on track to graduate.  The coach had advised him to get my contact information to touch-base and make sure we were all on the same-page about his final two semesters with us.  This advisee, we’ll call him Hans, popped into my office to “get my number,” as he put it.  I joked about which number he wanted, “social security, Mayo Clinic, or driver’s license.”  Hans had been in one of my classes the previous year and had not been as successful as I know he could’ve been so I encouraged him to sit in my comfy, wing-back chair and tell me about his plans: academic, career, personal, and athletic.

I asked him where he was at with his graduation requirements.  “I think I need about 30 credits,” he replied.  As I pulled up his transcript, I noted he only had 28 credits, which didn’t even put him at sophomore status.  He would need 34 credits to graduate.  Mine wasn’t the only class he had struggled with last year, yet despite his struggles, he never came to see me.  The fact that he was sitting in my office, one-on-one, face-to-face was a huge step forward.   He said his coach had suggested certain classes to take and re-take, most of which I agreed.  I asked him the question I ultimately ask all my advisees, “What’s next?”  Since he had most of his generals done, his elective credits should be an opportunity to experiment with new classes or to get started on classes that would help him toward his major at his transfer college.  “Are you planning to continue wrestling?” I asked.  “Academics comes first,” was his programmed response, “but if I can wrestle too that would be good.”

When I asked him what classes he still needed, he could only recite that he was taking 17 credits in the fall.  It was becoming clear that he didn’t understand what he still needed to graduate.  I pulled out my trusty, hard copy of graduation requirements and went through where all his classes fit: past, present, and future.  Now he could actually see what his coach was suggesting, and from where his final 19 credits needed to come.  Like his coach, I suggested he lighten this load by taking a fast-track during the winter break.  His coach, however, had offered online courses as a possibility, but I disagreed.  Online courses are intense, and in many cases require more, not less, time.  He needed a way to NOT take 19 credits during the semester his sport is in season.  The light bulb was beginning to glimmer above Hans’s head.  The words from his coach, coupled with my visual aids and elaborations, gave Hans a clear idea of what he had in-store over the next nine months

Hans is fortunate.  He has a coach who cares and encourages him to connect with his advisor.  Would Hans have sought me out another day if I hadn’t been in my office?  Possibly.  Does this mean as coaches, advisors, and faculty we must be chained to our offices awaiting the possibility that students will drop by?  We can hold office hours, but if those hours aren’t conducive to a student’s schedule, connections won’t be made.  I gave Hans my number, both my office and cell so he can call or text me any day and at any time, within reason, whether he’s on the bus traveling to a wrestling meet or sitting at home with his wife.  My parting words of advice were for him to not wait so long before asking for help.  Just about anything can be repaired when given enough time to do so.  Sooner is always better than later.

He tucked the graduation requirements sheet that we had gone over into his folder along with my business card.  I’ve noticed Hans is serious and tightly-wound, but as he left my office he smiled and visibly relaxed his shoulders.  Maybe it was just the comfy, wing-back chair.  I don’t think so.  Hans could see the light of his graduation from our two-year college looming in the not-so-distant future.


About the Author:

Mary Burns
Professor, Speech Communication
Iowa Lakes Community College

Mari Burns has a strong background in communication studies and in education. Mari has presented at state, regional, and national conferences on subjects related to communication and technology. Her research focus has been in the area of vicarious immediacy. Mari has a personal passion for health communication issues and am pursuing publication of several children’s stories.

Mari is has extensive experience teaching in face-to-face, online, blended, and fast-track formats. Courses taught: Fundamentals of Oral Communication, Introduction to Theatre, Public Speaking, Interpersonal Communication, Business Communication, and Organizational Communication. Other duties include advising students and sitting on a variety of college committees including Policies and Procedures, Curriculum, Technology, Wellness.

Tracy Gorham

Tracy Gorham

CEO & Founder at ConexED
Tracy Gorham is the founder of Cranium Cafe, a WebRTC EdTech company that democratizes student engagement regardless of ability or location and instantly connects students with their academic support team with one-click. Tracy is a serial entrepreneur, starting her first hi-tech photo simulations company at 24 years old. Tracy has extensive experience in building new technologies and teams that create and inspire innovation. She is an alumni of Westminster College and is inspired everyday by the students who use her software to achieve their academic goals.
Tracy Gorham

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About the author: Tracy Gorham
Tracy Gorham is the founder of Cranium Cafe, a WebRTC EdTech company that democratizes student engagement regardless of ability or location and instantly connects students with their academic support team with one-click. Tracy is a serial entrepreneur, starting her first hi-tech photo simulations company at 24 years old. Tracy has extensive experience in building new technologies and teams that create and inspire innovation. She is an alumni of Westminster College and is inspired everyday by the students who use her software to achieve their academic goals.