Our colleague, Liza Long, is manager of the Student Success Center at our Boise, ID, campus. But do a Google search and you’ll discover that, in addition to her “day job” with us, Liza is also a mental health advocate, a published author, and a prominent blogger. You can read more about that part of her life in part two of this interview, but in part one we focus on the good work she does for our students.
Thanks for your time Liza, tell us more about the Student Success Center.
A Student Success Center (SSC) is what you might initially think of as a library at a more traditional campus, but for us at Carrington College it’s really so much more. Yes, we do house physical collections of books and we do oversee and administer the campus research databases, but that’s just a very small part of our role. Calling it a Student Success Center is so much more 21st Century than calling it a library, because much of our collection these days is online, it’s a virtual collection.
So what would you say is your main role?
To be a support for student academic success. That’s what I’m so passionate about, and that’s why I love my job. I’m involved on the academic side, helping students with everything from research projects, to math tutoring, to study skills, to connecting them with resources in the community if they have some life challenges. The ASPIRE program is an excellent resource for that by the way.
What kind of support do you offer?
It’s not hand-holding; it’s partnering with students to ensure they have every opportunity to be successful. I tutor on an individual basis, I work in groups and I also teach Student Success Workshops. Workshops cover things like test anxiety to help students give their best in tests; we cover study skills so students can learn how to take better notes, or how to read a text book. Reading a text book isn’t like reading for fun, it’s a different way of reading. I do pretty much anything that’s going to help a student succeed. I’ll even just run flash cards with someone if that’s what we need to do!
Do you have a team to help you, and is there an SSC on every campus?
I have “manager” in my title, so I think I’m going to get more support in time, but as my role is fairly new on the Boise campus, I’m it for now. Every campus has a student success manager, and all their roles are similar to what I’m describing. We also help online students; we provide on-ground support for them.
What’s one of the biggest challenges students face from your perspective?
Information literacy. When I was a kid I’d go to the library to look up information in a card catalogue; it was harder to get information, but once you got it you could be reasonably sure that it was correct. The challenge for students today is the opposite. They’re flooded with information, but how do they know if it’s accurate? Who are the gatekeepers to that information?
That’s why information literacy is a big part of the challenge for all students today, but especially so for health care students. It’s so important to have the correct information when you work in health care. Helping students navigate online databases, teaching them how to research, how to look at statistics, or how to read a study and say “Is this reliable?” is a big part of what I do.
When I teach a critical thinking workshop, I point my students to the Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus. I bring up the page and watch their jaws drop; “Oh my, there’s an octopus that lives in trees!” and then it registers that it isn’t real. That’s why we have to train them to think critically.
It’s obvious that there isn’t an octopus that lives in trees, but it might be less obvious when someone writes something like “vaccines cause autism” on the internet.
When does a student first encounter the SSC?
During new student orientation. I show them how to check out books and give them brief information on our online databases. Later I hold workshops to introduce the more robust things we do in the center.
So it sounds like your time is in demand?
It makes for a fun day! I’m interested in a lot of things academically so this is a very stimulating job for me because I love helping students. I love seeing them succeed and graduate. Of course it helps me keep my brain busy too, because I get to hop around on a few different topics.
How do find time to be a mother of four, write a book, go on TV, and do your day job?
You don’t get to ask that question. I don’t ask myself that question!
But you missed one – I’m also in my last class for my doctorate. That wasn’t in the mix! Honestly time management is really critical, and I teach workshops on that too.
What will your doctorate be in?
Organizational Leadership. I wish I had my doctorate before becoming a mom. It’s so applicable to time management and home management, especially when you have four kids between 9 and 17.
Does being so busy help you identify with students?
I think the fact that I am a working mother, and that I’m in school myself, helps me identify with what many of our students are going through. I totally understand the types of trade-offs and choices they’re having to make, so I might be able to creatively brainstorm ways to help them. Like involving your kids in your studies for example.
Our pre-dinner routine is that everyone sits at the table and jams through their homework, me included, before dinner. And we have weekly scheduling meetings! We work out who has to be where, when, and how that is going to happen. I run my house like a small company, everybody has accountability and they have expectations to meet!
What services do students come to you for the most would you say?
Research projects and math tutoring without question. Some students come to me individually for study skills too because I have a lot of great resources for study skills. Some of our students may have been out of school for a while, so just the thought of opening a text book can be scary. Reading a text book isn’t like reading for fun, it’s a different way of reading. So having someone to help you navigate that experience really helps.
Our students typically study hard anyway, but I encourage them to study smarter, not harder. Some are referred to me; I partner with the Academics team so students are pointed in my direction when they’re struggling academically.
Do you monitor the students’ academic progress?
I do. I look for students on the C/D borderline and will actively reach out if they haven’t come to me. A lot of students can be afraid to ask for help, so I just open the door to say “Hey I’m here to help, let’s meet.” Sometimes that’s all it takes. It can be as simple as me finding out how the student learns best, and helping them master that. Sometimes I can really make a difference, and that’s very gratifying.
How does the SSC impact a student’s school experience do you think?
Knowing you have a partner who is there for your success, a partner who wants to see you succeed, can make a difference. That’s what I love about Carrington College; one of the reasons I work here is the faculty. They are so student-centered. A lot of the techniques we use are different from what you’d encounter in a traditional college. We’re accelerated, we’re very hands-on, we’re very student focused and we all get that. We do a lot of training to make sure we’re equipped to serve our students.
Read part two of my conversation with Liza to learn more about her other job – the world of CNN, People Magazine and mental health advocacy.