Bret Hirsch and Eddie Bobbitt, University of Louisville
In the year 2016, our campuses are starting to see the arrival of more and more Generation Z students. Gen Z is bringing new energy to our campuses, along with new concerns for those of us working in advising and student services related fields. Some traits of this new generation that are of particular importance in our field are: Gen Z loves to share information, especially on social media, but is hesitant to share personal information; has an average eight second attention span; struggles with establishing boundaries; lives a much more sedentary lifestyle than previous generations; wants “snackable” information; and is projected to work predominantly (65%) in jobs that do not exist today.
Generation Z students certainly pose challenges for the traditional, prescriptive way advising was done in the past, but even pose challenges to the intrusive, developmental way advising is done today. In this article, we highlight Gen Z-friendly methods that we have used in our office to promote student engagement in appointments, on campus, and in the community. While we recognize that not all of these methods will work for everyone, it is our hope that readers can find some of these to be useful in their work with students.
In the Office
Perhaps the most important moment in our practice as advisors is the first time we meet a student. Starting the conversation with a “How can I help you?” does little to build rapport. When cookie cutter questioning is our practice, students can sense that. When we change the conversation and lead off with a question to get to know the student and their experiences, it sets the tone for the relationship. In our office, we often choose a question and ask every student that day the same thing. The question could be as simple as “Tell me about the most exciting moment from your week” or “Tell me about a book that changed your life.” Students feel valued and like an integral partner in the relationship, which is ultimately about them. To maintain that relationship, students need to feel like they are in a partnership. To foster and maintain that partnership, our language needs to reflect that. Our students need to feel as though the best part of me is we. Even just asking the question, “What did you want to discuss today?” puts the ownership back on the student to take the lead on their success.
Having a written advising philosophy, either posted or private, can provide direction, guide interactions, give a sense of purpose, and remind professionals of what we hope students will achieve. As professionals, implementing this philosophy ensures that we have consistent, impactful, and purpose driven practice and allows our students to know why we feel our profession matters.
When our students come to our offices, we look for ways to instantly make a connection, however small. A great way to set the tone for the appointment and ease any nervousness is to have music playing during the day. While the music should be appropriate and at a volume that is not distracting, it is a great way for students to know more about us and our interests as well as humanizing us. Viewing motivational videos, either in the appointment or as a follow up, can be what students need to reflect and find the inner strength to push on when they are struggling. Additionally, some students need to write their goals. An easy way to encourage this is to create a place for students to write them. In our office, we created a chalkboard wall and simply wrote, “What’s your why?” We then left chalk and allowed students to use it as they wished. While some students have written very detailed statements, others chose short answers such as, “Mom.” These statements now serve as both a motivator for other students and advisors; simply a reminder of why we do what we do.
In order to reach a large number of students quickly, we started using an email every Monday with a Tip of the Week. Every Monday morning, we send an email to all students with an academic, co-curricular, or wellness tip. The important thing to remember is that students live in a world of 140 characters, so the message has to remain short and direct. We developed a Blackboard group and were able to post the message as an announcement so it would go out via email and be in Blackboard to be seen. Additionally, we found that our students were much more likely to read a text message than log into their email. Therefore, we created a text message service that students could opt into where they would receive text messages with important information. It is important to remember that these messages cannot be oversaturated and must stay fresh. We found that this was the preferred method for students to receive information.
Currently, college students are using over 150 social media sites. To stay engaged with our students, we have to continue to meet them where they are. Understandably, there are concerns for advisors, but for us, the benefits outweigh the concerns. If used properly, social media can be a great way to learn more about students and their interests, struggles, and successes. We know our students also appreciate being able to ask a quick question via Twitter instead of email. One thing we found is that on our campus, students are inundated with email. Most of these emails are impersonal, generic notes. Sending a student an email that says “Dear Student” is the equivalent of getting mail at our home that says “Dear Current Resident.” For most of us, those envelopes are instantly thrown in the trash. While it certainly takes more time, sending a message to each student that says, “Dear Name,” draws the reader in because it is about them.
In the age of social media and the internet, our students are more connected to pop culture than ever before. As advisors, we have to stay tapped into this ever-evolving world in order to convey messages to our students. One way to use these pop culture references is through memes. Memes can be created using a picture and words to convey a message. Memes can be added to the body of an email to supplement the message or the meme can be message itself. The biggest thing to be remembered with memes is that ridiculous works. One of the advantages of memes is that they can be used to portray a variety of messages with very simple wordage
Resources across Campus
One population that we felt we needed to be more intentional with was our transfer students. For our new transfers to feel more connected, we take time during our appointments to give students a mini tour of campus. We try to use this time to point out campus norms, quick spots to grab coffee, or where their departments are located. We want to ensure that on the first day of the semester, our new transfers are able to blend in and not look like a new student wandering around with a map.
If we expect our students to be engaged in their education, we have to be engaged in our profession. Organizing service learning events or a group trip to a campus sporting event or campus speaker is a great way to engage outside the classroom. Having advisors attend athletic events can be impactful for athletes because they see us there and believe we are invested in each facet of their collegiate journey.
Every semester, we host three or four workshops in our office to help students learn about the impact withdrawing from a class has on their schedule and financial aid. In conjunction with financial aid staff, we have our “To Drop or Not” workshops which teach students about how to critically think about withdrawing from a course and understand how academic degrees, sequencing, and financial aid can be impacted. These one stop seminars are designed to teach students the necessary skills so that they can make informed decisions.
Ensuring that students are engaged in their academic journeys and career exploration is the nature of our profession. Guiding students toward attainment of their goals, realization of the value of themselves, and helping them learn to navigate the complex global world in which we live is at the heart of what advisors do. Letting our students know we are invested in that partnership is essential to ensuring their success as a student, global citizen, and life-long learner.
Academic Counselor, Sr.
College of Arts & Sciences
University of Louisville
Academic Counselor, Sr.
College of Arts & Sciences
University of Louisville
Cite this article using APA style as: Hirsch, B. & Bobbitt, E. (2017, March). From hashtags to high-fives: Ways to promote student engagement. Academic Advising Today, 40(1). Retrieved from [insert url here]