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In my job as an adviser at Elizabethtown Community and Technical College, I meet with hundreds of students each semester.
Sometimes they just need me to put them in a class because a quirk in the self-service system prevented them from doing so themselves.
Other times they have a question about what’s covered in the Women’s Literature class. Or they want to know which science classes have labs.
But often these advising appointments are more far-ranging.
We talk about their dreams, what they want to be when they grow up, whether they’re 18 or 35 or 50. Many say they want to help others. They want to be nurses or teachers or social workers or counselors. So we talk about a college plan to get them to those goals.
And I’ve found I have to do a lot of listening. That’s tough sometimes. The mom in me comes out and I want to tell them what to do. But I remind myself to really listen. To pay attention to each student’s story, each unique longing for a better future.
Sometimes students have some misconceptions about college or some far-fetched ideas about their career path. One student told me she was interested in coronary arts; I guess she wanted to learn heart-healthy cooking. Another talked to me about being a forensic accountant. I wasn’t sure whether to suggest a business or justice administration route and wasn’t sure if he was even making this career field up until I saw an episode of Law and Order a few months ago. Someone on the police force had been called in to comb through a construction company’s books to track financial improprieties.
I meet with students who are seniors in high school, who often come in with their parents. They’re looking ahead, checking their options, making sure they have a plan in place. I commend them for their foresight, because sometimes students show up barely in time for the semester to begin, when time to counsel is shorter and classes have filled up already.
I meet with laid-off factory workers who want a job that’s more sedentary. I talk with military service members who have been deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan and return with college credits and the discipline it takes to do well in their classes. I chat with moms whose children are now in school and who want to complete a degree they began some time ago.
All are excited and a little nervous about being in college and we talk about how to do well. Show up — if you’ve been told you can skip class and still get a good grade, it’s a lie. Keep up — don’t fall behind in your reading and assignments, it’s tough to catch up. Speak up — ask questions, your instructors want to help.
They leave my office, schedule and student handbook in hand, thanking me for answering questions and helping them feel more comfortable with their next steps. Often I’ve given them an assignment such as meet with our career counselor or contact an advisor at the four-year college they want to transfer to.
Those are the appointments I look forward to.
But other times I meet with students who are more reluctant to come in. Their child is sick and they can’t make it to class for a few weeks. Their boss won’t arrange their work schedule so they can attend college. They failed a math class.
Or they have an issue that might be more far-reaching than the current semester. They’re doing poorly in anatomy, the prerequisite for any health career such as nursing, radiography and dental hygiene. Their childhood dream of being a nurse might be coming to an end.
They’re defeated and despairing.
So we pick up the pieces. I hand over tissues. We talk of Plan B. And of what can happen next.
And those are good appointments, too.
Suzanne Darland teaches journalism classes and is director of the faculty advising center at Elizabethtown Community and Technical College.