Student Engagement and Engaging with Students

I’ve had a really busy week, but it’s ended on a fun note, even if I did drop a folder full of graded papers into a deep oily rain puddle outside of this coffee shop.

I’m interested in getting students engaged and invested in their classes, and am regularly trying to think of different ways to get them to do more than read and memorize and regurgitate. In general, my Alma College students are fairly good at taking that next step and trying to really grapple with new material and make sense of it themselves.  But engaging students, and engaging WITH students isn’t always easy. So here are two attempts I made this week:

Field Trip! – I can’t take credit for this idea, but I’m really glad we did it. A colleague and I are co-teaching a First Year Seminar entitled ‘Food For Thought’. It is about food, culture and ethics. It is also a place where we help freshman acclimate to college coursework and life on a residential campus away from their families.  So one of our goals is to help them build a cohort of peers they get to know well, and field trips are great for that.  We have an Organic CSA farm a few miles from town, so we piled in the vans (I drove a 15 person van!) and headed out to see the farm.

The Monroes are from Gratiot County, and moved back here two years ago to start their own organic farm. It’s had a ton of support from the community; they have about 130 CSA members, along with several local restaurants they supply with certified organic food. They’ve done this on seven rented acres.  The students got to hear about why they decided to create this farm (and why they did it here), see how a small organic farm operates, learn about some foods they haven’t eaten before (no one had ever tried Swiss Chard) and why the farmers choose the vegetables they do.  We’ll see what they got out of it when we get to class next week.  I do know they had a unique experience together, which built more camaraderie. The students who grew up on farms also got to share some of their knowledge, and I don’t think some people realized they had farmers in their class.  This was a good way to realize that not everyone comes from the same background, not even at the same college.

Farmer Fred tells us about his farm

Farmer Fred Monroe tells us about his family’s organic farm.


Freshman with pigs

Thumbs up for happy organic pigs!


Farmer holding organic blue corn

Farmer Fred shows us his neighbor’s crop of organic blue corn. If you’re eating organic blue corn chips, they might be coming from Gratiot County corn!

My other form of engaging with students this week spins the other way. Over the summer the new football coach sent out an invitation to have ‘honorary coaches’ on the sidelines for the games this fall.  I thought hanging out on the sideline sounded AWESOME and I think Osh Kosh is a GREAT name for a Wisconsin town, so I picked today’s game. Little did I know Osh Kosh would be ranked 20th in the nation for Division III, and we’d get creamed. But it was still a good experience.

Earlier this week I got an e-mail letting me know when all the meetings and practices occur, in case I wanted to go to any of those as well…I really DID try to go to a 7am meeting, but I needed to get ready for class, and couldn’t get myself out of bed early enough to do both.  So on Thursday I cut out of office hours a little early and went to my first practice.  It was there that I realized that I never pay attention to anyone on the football team unless they are holding the ball. So I tried to pay more attention to all the other roles.

This morning I met up with the team for breakfast, then reconvened with them on the sidelines for warmups and the game.  Along the way I spent a lot of time talking to coaches, the Athletic Director, and the Econ professor who also came out to ‘coach’.  We actually spent a lot of time talking about the feedback coaches get from students whenever faculty come to their games (it makes them happy), and about some of the students who came to Alma College as shaky freshman and have gone on to graduate school and successful careers, in large part because they got the chance to participate in athletics and go to a small liberal arts school.  Obviously that’s not everyone (we talked about that too), but we’ve got a lot of great alums out there.  Sometimes it can seem like a lot of effort to get to student events on campus, but it’s clear that it means a lot to them when faculty show up to support them in their non-academic interests.  I have a freshman on the football team, and he came up to say hello to me during breakfast.  Other students said hello at the game (and I’m sure many others spotted me but never said hello). I saw my students on the field, in the band, on the cheer squad, and selling hot dogs.  So this was my chance to engage them on their turf (ha! literally.). Hopefully this builds a feeling of mutual respect and trust, and will encourage them to engage more when they’re in the classroom, and maybe stop by my office when they’re worried about a homework problem or have questions about careers.  Not every student has the chutzpah to do that with a faculty member if they don’t feel like they know the faculty very well. We can only wait and see.


football players sitting on bench

Alma College Students taking a breather.

Coach talking to player on bench

Some one-on-one mentoring

band members

Kiltie Band performing the Alma Mater post-game



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