Published on July 23, 2020
Give a brief outline of your role at the University of Missouri.
My two primary positions are as coordinator of the Science Tutoring Program and founder-manager of the Study Plan Consultant Program, a new kind of academic coaching program I developed a few years ago that grew quickly and has become one of the hallmarks of my tenure here at the Learning Center. I teach college seminar classes every year that focus on student engagement, academic success and preparation for career and life during the college years and beyond. I also give many presentations on campus throughout the year to a variety of classes and groups on topics related to these issues.
Describe the Missouri College Learning Center Association for those who know nothing about it. What are the organization’s goals, practices and responsibilities, and why is it important?
The National College Learning Center Association (NCLCA) is the primary professional organization for learning center professionals at colleges and universities in the U.S. I’m a member of the NCLCA, as well as of the regional organization, the Missouri College Learning Center Association (MoCLCA). The mission of NCLCA is to support learning assistance professionals as they develop and maintain learning centers, programs and services to enhance student learning at the post-secondary level. MoCLCA seeks to do this at a local level.
There are an infinite number of ways to present academic support to students. One thing we all agree on is that students need academic support at all levels to understand content and retain knowledge. On college campuses everywhere, the learning center is the hub of this academic support. At the University of Missouri, all students are encouraged to visit the Learning Center to discuss concerns relating to their academic success.
What have you gained as a member of MoCLCA?
Professionals in all fields need colleagues with whom they can collaborate, discuss common issues and who can support each other as challenges arise. MoCLCA is the gathering place for learning center professionals in the Missouri regional area. I am inspired and grateful for this important community, and I believe it is in our own selfish interests — as well as ethically responsible — to engage with our colleagues within this organization.
What do you hope to bring to the group as its vice president?
My interest in being the Vice President of MoCLCA is to help bring Missouri learning center professionals together to help all Missouri postsecondary institutions access and provide innovative and successful learning resources to their students. Right now, I am particularly passionate about this mission as we face significant economic and social issues that impact the work of institutions of higher learning across the state. How do we provide state of the art academic support to students and maximize their academic abilities, in the midst of these concerns? My view is that during times of significant change such as this, you either rise to the challenge or you fall out of the discussion entirely. As an important part of Missouri’s flagship university, the MU Learning Center has been delivering exceptional academic leadership and assistance to students since 1976, and my colleagues and I fully plan for the Learning Center to continue leading during this time.
Change brings opportunity, and I promise to do everything humanly possible to take advantage of this opportunity to provide resources for learning centers and Missouri students as they prepare for and move into the future.
I imagine much of MoCLA’s 2020–21 discussion will center around students, staff and faculty adjusting to distance learning. How do you see a learning center’s duties or practices shifting in light of this “emergency pivot”?
In many ways, learning now is not much different than learning 10 or even 100 years ago. As I say in some of my presentations, learning always consists of generating questions, getting answers to those questions using resources and repeating that process until we understand a topic well. That has always been the case and that process can be facilitated effectively in person or online. What we have seen these past few months is that the greatest challenge is engaging students in this process online. There is a pervasive misconception among some folks that college-age adults are so computer literate that they should love taking courses online. The reality is that students today are no less human than students were decades ago, and they want and need human interaction.
I have been involved in discussions with folks recently at Mizzou about how to engage and support students with various types of disabilities: attention-distraction concerns, visual or hearing impairment, anxiety disorders and any number of things that impact a person’s learning strategy. The truth is, all these disorders, concerns, issues, etc. are spectra. Most of us, if not everybody, falls somewhere on the spectrum of a variety of ‘disorders.’ For instance, in my presentations I often discuss how focus interacts with intelligence. If you can’t focus on a project or test, you will not be demonstrating your true intelligence through that assessment. In turn, there are an infinite number of other spectra that impact our ability to focus.
The brains of human beings are complex and as such they need complex assistance. Students continue to need people to interact with them, to view their face and body language, to know that this person cared enough about them to meet with them in person and give them their full attention and time. I was asked after a conference presentation last year, ‘What is it about the Study Plan Consultant program that has made it such a success with administration, faculty and students?’ I said that I have been trying to convince my boss that the SPC program should get T-shirts that say ‘I am a Study Plan Consultant. How can I help you? I give a >beep<.’ The entire room laughed, but then we all proceeded to have a wonderful discussion about how true that is. Each student needs someone to care about their academic success and to care about the overall health and wellbeing of that individual student as they pursue that academic success. It just so happens that the Study Plan Consultant Program provides that at a very economical cost, so the bean counters are happy about it, too!
The question for learning center professionals is now, ‘How will we do that via the internet?’ Fortunately, there are excellent answers for that and I plan to help implement those solutions this fall.
Are the foundational elements of the Study Plan Consultant blueprint still appropriate in an online academic world?
One way the Study Plan Consultant program can be divided is in two parts: The Tools and Plan, and the ongoing academic coaching. Through the first two meetings, a student always receives three study plan tools that address organization, time management, accountability and support; as well as a plan to prepare for a major exam or to write a major paper to the best of their ability. Academic coaching begins during these two sessions and can continue through the rest of the semester as much as the student desires. And all of this is at no additional cost to the student, by the way!
The organization, time management and effective utilization of resources that the SPC program provides are even more important this fall than in previous semesters. The Tools and Plan are completed on a computer the same way via online meetings as they were in person. The difference will be in the additional challenges that the student faces in their plan due to courses and activities taking place online, and helping the student address social, economic, academic and even psychological concerns that arise from living in an online world. With respect to organization, time management and effective utilization of resources, Study Plan Consultants will be helping students find and navigate online resources and methods used in their courses. The Study Plan Consultants are not psychological therapists, although I have sometimes thought of them as ‘academic therapists.’ Therefore, at times we will also refer students to any number of additional resources to help them receive assistance through qualified providers on campus and elsewhere as needed. But as I’ve said before, we are a ‘one-stop shop’ for academic support. I tell students and groups that no matter what their concern is, I will either have a solution for them that I have research and/or anecdotal evidence to support as something that will provide real help, or else I will refer them to such a resource. And if that solution or resource does not provide the help they seek, I want them to come back to me and I will provide them with another solution or resource until they have found something that works for them. The buck stops here. And it also stops with my Study Plan Consultants.
What excites you about the future of college learning centers?
After 12 years working at the MU Learning Center, I am confident that there will never come a time when college learning centers will not be necessary in one form or another. Learning is always a challenge but those of us in academia find it one of the most fulfilling challenges life has to offer. Students at Mizzou love to learn and we love to learn along with them! But until the day comes that we can simply program a human brain to receive and retain and — very importantly — integrate information in a complex way, the process of learning will be complicated, will take time, will involve vastly different factors for different students and will require Learning Center professionals to help guide students through these challenges. Everyone who works with students is a teacher and is important in the life of a learner.
What excites me about the future of college learning centers is that we learning center professionals have devoted our careers to this and can provide state of the art resources and support to students no matter how education changes. We believe in what we and our students are doing and we are in it for the long haul.
What are the MU Learning Center’s strengths and how might it improve?
At MU and in corporate jobs I had prior to working at MU, I have seen firsthand the enormous value of institutional memory. We have staff at the Learning Center who have seen incredible changes in post-secondary education and who have vetted and implemented a wide variety and number of strategies to assist students. From our director to our front office staff, we have folks whom I believe carry so much institutional memory that they are uniquely irreplaceable. I have learned that when you work passionately in a field for many years, so much becomes second nature for you that you are able to do the work of two new staff. We have such wonderful folks at MU’s Learning Center.
And yet MU’s Learning Center is embracing change. MU’s Learning Center has the singularly most caring professionals I have ever had the honor of working with and staff meetings find us talking about options and strategies that we can use to make what we do better and to assist our students in these changing times. Society and higher education are changing rapidly, and we intend to be an effective part of facilitating healthy change for our students. Never did I face an impenetrable obstacle when I developed the Study Plan Consultant program, and it is because the Learning Center’s leadership supports this thinktank-type mentality that the SPC program was able to become what it is today.
Why are you in this line of work? What motivates you?
I cannot emphasize enough how much the staff at the Learning Center loves the students at the University of Missouri. They are our life and quite literally our livelihood. Here’s a little secret: I originally intended to work in this position for three years and then to move on! The reason I haven’t is because I am given the opportunity here at MU to make a significant difference in the lives of thousands of students who come through our doors, real or virtual, every year. A few years ago, I realized a second and equally important reason why I stay in this position. Mizzou, as a major institution of higher learning, is extraordinarily important to the state and people of Missouri. When I take students, parents and other groups around campus or on my ‘virtual tour’ using the campus map and website, I spend an hour talking about a very wide variety of services that the University of Missouri provides for Mizzou students and the citizens of Missouri. And after an hourlong ‘virtual tour’ I haven’t even touched most services. On occasion I think to myself or say to someone ‘Think about what the state of Missouri would be like without Mizzou.’ Just in my direct experience, MU has been mid-Missouri’s sole resource for many medical, social, academic and other resources that various members of my family have utilized. It is clear to me that Mizzou is worth much more as a collective than the sum of its individual parts. It is a great, important institution. And I am proud to be a part of it.