Student panel discusses the value of mentorship, holistic supports
May 03, 2022
One of the best things educators have done for me is see who I was off paper.
Student success is about more than enrollment numbers, graduation rates and GPAs—it requires going beyond academics to support the physical, emotional and logistical needs of students.
That was the message a panel of college students delivered to educators gathered for the Council on Postsecondary Education’s Student Success Summit. The annual convening of higher education faculty, staff and administrators from across the Commonwealth featured keynote speakers and hands-on learning workshops.
The student panel, titled Centering Equity in Student Success, featured Raven Reeves of the University of Kentucky, Darryl Parker of Morehead State University and Hazard Community and Technical College, Aliya Cannon of Northern Kentucky University and Alexandrea Shouse of Bluegrass Community and Technical College. It was moderated by artist and educator Michael Thompson.
Student basic needs a top concern
“One of the best things educators have done for me is see who I was off paper,” Reeves told the crowd. “In college, we tend to see people as their statistics—their scholarships, their GPA. But in the moments I felt less than in that aspect, I was reminded of who I was in every other aspect, and that is what pushed me to keep going.”
The students emphasized the importance of wraparound services like food pantries, transportation, health clinics, social supports and formal and informal mentoring relationships to creating an equitable environment for learning.
“If you’re worried about where you are going to sleep tonight, you won’t be worried about your grades,” said Cannon.
Value of higher ed should be a K-12 priority
The panel included traditional and adult learners, students of color and first-generation college students who addressed the barriers to entry in higher education as well as the potholes they faced in completing a degree.
Cannon said seeing her own family members falling through the cracks in the public school system and coming out unprepared for college or career has helped her understand the path to student success, or failure, starts early.
“We need to strengthen our partnership with K-12 because they are the people who are preparing our students for college,” she said. “The partnership starts young. [We need to make] sure we are bringing elementary and middle school students to our colleges. They will remember that for the rest of their life. Seeing the SGA president on campus and thinking ‘I want to go there one day.’ That little piece of hope might help them.”
Diversity, equity and inclusion matter
Once they enter college, students from all backgrounds need to feel a sense of belonging in order to succeed, Cannon added. That requires a continually evaluating whether a college’s current culture, policies and practices serve a diverse population of students.
“It is about creating a space for our students where they feel they can come,” she said. “That means not having microaggressions in the classroom. That means not keeping tenured faculty who constantly disrespect and hurt our BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and people of color) communities, but because they’ve been here so long, we keep them. That goes to the ‘we’ve always done it this way’ [mentality]. Higher education was made for white men, so if we’ve always done it this way, why are we still doing it this way? That’s not what our population is anymore.”
Parker said connecting to other Black members of his college community has been key to feeling a sense of belonging and to developing into a leader on campus. He said diversity is not enough—every student’s unique experience must be valued. He also emphasized the importance of cultural competency training.
“I would love to see more faculty, staff and students that look like me,” he said. “There are a lot of spaces where I’m the only Black person. It is kind of hard when you are somewhere you know you’re supposed to be, but you don’t feel like you belong.
“Having a student of color at the table is not the same thing as having them at the table and letting them eat,” he added. “We have to be intentional—but if I am the only Black person in the room, I am the expert on being Black. I can’t speak about every person’s Black experience.”
Mentorship is one of the most important resources at a college or university. Be mindful of how much you keep students going. They might not have a support system at home, but they have a support system with you. - Aliya Cannon, NKU
Student success tied to faculty engagement
The students also encouraged educators not to underestimate their individual power to help a student succeed by connecting with them beyond the classroom.
“Mentorship is one of the most important resources at a college or university,” said Cannon. “Be mindful of how much you keep students going. They might not have a support system at home, but they have a support system with you.”
Shouse said that Kimberly Ross-Brown, her communications teacher, was part of the support system that helped her discover her passion and kept her motivated, despite returning to school later in life and having six kids at home to care for.
“She brought the class to life, even online,” said Shouse. “I fell in love with it. As an educator that is hard to do when you’re not in the classroom. I’ve got kids running around the house and she’s capturing my attention.”
Shouse said Ross-Brown kept her engaged by telling her to keep her computer camera on and making her feel comfortable and included—even with messy hair and kids in the background.
“She made me feel I was a part of it,” said Shouse.
Watch the full student panel discussion and other Student Success Summit sessions and keynotes here:
- Plenary and Student Panel: Centering Equity in Student Success
- Opening Keynote: Creating a Holistic & Integrated Approach to Student Success
- Plenary Session: How Collaboration Leads to Innovation Through a State of Culture of Systemness
- Workshop Dinner: Higher Education Matters: Finding Your Purpose in and Through Student Success
- Closing Remarks: Summit Reflections, Connections & Closure CLOSING REMARKS: Summit Reflections, Connections, & Closure: A Facilitated Conversation
Last Updated: 5/4/2022