Phase 1 White Paper

In launching this new website, Ally and I were pleased to share our Phase 1 White Paper and results. This paper explores the three major findings from our 24 interviews with students at the University Park campus. What was challenging about this was that we had so much to choose from. If you consider that each interview was about 50 minutes long, we had 1,200 minutes (20 hours) of conversations and ideas to sort through. These were rich interviews, full of successes, challenges, and “aha” moments. Ally and I both felt strongly about finding ways to amplify these experiences and we hope our major findings help to do that. From our 24 students, the following three findings rose to the surface

  1. Recognizing opportunity types: While there is a deep history of Penn State spending time and energy outlining our 10 student engagement opportunity types, what our project showed was the ways our students are interpreting those categories. Some of their interpretations line up with the institution’s, and others take a different direction. Our 24 students mentioned 177 different student engagement experiences and our sample had students participating in an average of 7.5 experiences. Organizational and professional experiences were most commonly named, and Ally and I recommend to the Network to think about ways to promote some of the lesser discussed (but equally meaningful) student engagement opportunity types.
  2. Finding your why: This is a tagline from Penn State’s Student Engagement Network. We heard students articulate their why — the reason they choose to do certain experiences and how those experiences were able to take them down a path of future experiences and perhaps, a career. However, we saw in the interviews that sometimes that “why” was simply because they wanted to make friends, they were encouraged by someone, or they just wanted to try it out. Through these 24 interviews, Ally and I realized that there’s an opportunity to have students reflect on their student engagement experiences more regularly, and perhaps, have the SEN provide some educational pieces around constructing why statements.
  3. Remaining committed, as an institution, to providing student engagement experiences: A crucial part of George Kuh’s work around student engagement focuses on the institution’s commitment (in terms of resources) to providing student engagement experiences. One question we asked our 24 students was why it mattered that Penn State offered these opportunities and we received a range of answers. Many students found these experiences as a way to clarify their career path, a chance to develop close friendships, an opportunity to use their classroom knowledge in an applied setting, or as a way to set themselves apart from peers who didn’t attend Penn State. These answers help remind us that as institutions, we need to stay committed to providing resources and support for our students in these experiences. For all the successes we heard, there were also challenges our 24 students faced. This commitment to student engagement experiences takes on a new meaning in pandemic times as well — how are we helping students receive and pursue opportunities when much of our day-to-day has moved online? What’s interesting about this set of interviews is that 20/24 interviews happened pre-pandemic, and our final four occurred between mid-March and mid-April, before things really set in. It will be curious to see how Phase 2 interviews will go and if those students will shed light on new ways Penn State remains committed to providing meaningful student engagement opportunities.

In addition to our white paper, we also have our Interviewee Guidebook, which shows you the 24 student engagement journey maps. This guidebook contains the student’s original map, our detailed map (see Ally’s post about what that means), and a brief description of the student’s experiences.

Ally and I shared this report with the SEN Leadership Team, colleagues in Library Learning Services (my home department), my research mentors, and now you, our readers. We look forward to feedback and questions you might have about Phase 1. For me personally, this white paper allowed me to reflect on what we’ve done so far, and begin to lay the groundwork for Phase 2. In the upcoming year, I (and my new research assistants) will take this project to the Commonwealth campuses. We’ll continue to prioritize the student voice and find ways to amplify student engagement journeys at Penn State. Stay tuned!

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Head of Education & Outreach Services at Northern Kentucky University. When she's not in the library, Hailley is an avid oatmeal connoisseur, baseball scorekeeper, bike rider, embroidery queen, and reader of memoirs. Check her out on Twitter @hailthefargoats.

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