Best Practices for Creating Community in a Graduate Program

By Niki Messmore

If student affairs graduate programs were to be depicted in a painting, they would most likely be said to resemble one of Bob Ross’ “happy trees”. In reality, graduate school is often more of a ‘whomping willow’ than a happy tree. Grad school can be difficult in many ways (class/work/life balance) but it can be an especially isolating experience. I’ve written about the 4 types of #sagrad loneliness before in my personal blog and was surprised to hear from the number of people who identified with those experiences.

Community is key to supporting student success and I would like to discuss best practices for creating a community within a student affairs graduate program; particularly through social media.

I’ve taken on several roles, both official and unofficial, to help create, build, and sustain community in Indiana University’s Higher Education & Student Affairs (HESA) program through social media.  We’ve experienced success in building community through Twitter and Facebook during recruitment, orientation, and ongoing experiences, and I’d love to share some practices that have worked for our program.

Overall

1. Explore a deeper understanding of social media, both as a philosophy and the technical aspects. Social media works when there is engagement; i.e. capture people’s emotions, ask questions, interact, post interesting news about the program, etc.

2. Create a social media guide. Identify the purpose that social media will play in building community within the cohorts and the strategies that will help to engage students. For example, the guide I created is 5 pages and identifies our philosophy on social media and how we will be engaging students, alumni, faculty, and friends via Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr. Intentionality is the key to success.

3. Create a ‘how-to’ guide. The term ‘digital native’ is unrealistic and we can’t expect all grad students to understand how to use the different social media platforms (Twitter, Facebook, etc). Consider writing a manual if you don’t have one already. For example, I’ve written a 13-page document (Professional Social Networking for the #SAgrad) outlining how to technically use social media (create and manage accounts), how to professionally use social media (live tweets, student affairs hashtags and connections), and best practices.

Twitter

Twitter usage is increasing in the student affairs world thanks to excellent live tweeting sessions and hashtags that connect us across institutions. Therefore Twitter is not only a tool to engage students within a grad program but good professional development.

1. Create a Twitter account for your program. For example, the IU HESA program has a Twitter account for the HESA student organization that I currently manage (IUSPA_HESA). This will give you an official voice in sending out news, interacting with students, and reaching out to alumni, faculty, and staff. Several other great programs out there tweeting with their students include BGSU BGSDA, UT HEASPA, Northeastern CSDA, Baylor HESA, and FSU HESA.

2. Create a program hashtag. Make sure it is unique (check Twitter to see if it gets used by unaffiliated people), captures your program brand, links the reader back to your program (i.e., that it makes sense), and is easy to remember. For example, for IU’s HESA program uses #IUHESA. It was first used by alum Sean Ryan Johnson in 2011 but has been sporadically used since then; I revived it as part of our branding in July. Since then there have been almost 200 tweets using the hashtag. It’s helped masters, doctoral, faculty, and alumni connect to one another over Twitter and has been great in building relationships with one another; adoption of the hashtag by the IU School of Education has been beneficial as well.

Other examples actively used by SA programs include #IUPSAHE and #HESAnation; my search did not demonstrate that there are many grad programs actively using hashtags to connect with one another.

3. Create lists. On your Twitter profile you can follow people and add them to lists that can be made public. Create separate lists for alumni, institutional student affairs staff, and faculty. This will allow people to use the program Twitter account to find one another and interact.

Facebook

1. Create a Facebook group for your interview weekends. One current first-year student informed me that IU’s Facebook group for the outreach experience was a strong factor in selecting IU. Why? Because she really cared for the community that was built in the Facebook group.  Current HESA students posted in the Facebook group, encouraged questions in group, interacted with prospective students, and during the weekend experience many group photos were uploaded – effectively building a welcoming community for students.

2. Create a Facebook group for your admitted cohorts (one for each cohort and then one combined group has been effective for us). This increases opportunities for interactions in both a fun and academic capacity. For example, our Facebook groups are a combination of social plans, updating on events, and sharing articles to help create discussion on issues of social justice and other areas of higher education.

 

This is a brief outline of some of the best practices in creating community via social media during my time at Indiana University’s HESA program. Based on personal observation, I can see a distinct difference in the HESA community, especially among first-year grad students. I believe that social media, coupled with creating social events in July and August, helped to build a stronger community within the program.

How does your program use social media to build community? Do you think social media engagement relates to overall program engagement? Leave a comment or tweet me at @NikiMessmore.

 

 

Best Practices for Creating Community in a Graduate Program

The New Professional Life – Finding Balance (And Keeping It)

By Lauren Creamer

Not a single one of my graduate classes or experiences truly prepared me for life as a new professional.

… Okay. That’s only partially true. You just don’t know what it’s like until you live it.

This past July I began a my job in Residence Life at an elite institution that is approximately 13 hours away from my home in Rhode Island and 15 hours away from my graduate life in Boston.  I’m down here with a very limited support system and in full swing with my new job. As you can imagine (or potentially remember from your own experience), I’ve been a tad bit overwhelmed. And it wasn’t until this month began, that I finally started to get myself grounded.

Let me start by saying, that I have some of the world’s greatest frolleagues (you know, friend-colleagues). They have been incredibly supportive and great mentors throughout my transition. Without them, I would be completely lost.  

While I once would have liked to believe that I was the captain of my own ship, I’ve recently learned the following: you cannot do it alone. You cannot do it all. And you cannot forget that.

I typically work a 50+ hour work-week. It’s never less and sometimes it’s more. I answer emails all day, every day. I let my staff members text me with questions. I live where I work. I work where I live.  I continue to talk about work with anyone who will listen at any point in any day. And I’ve recently discovered just how stupid I am being. That is a great way to burn myself out in year one. So, what have I done (and what can you do) to bring back the balance?

  • Leave the office at dinner time. Yes, we all stay later. And that’s fine. But not at the expense of your own health. For the love of Pete, there will always be more work to do. Leave it and eat a sandwich.
  • Stop checking your email all night. Oh, hello iPhone, you devil, you. While it truly is wonderful to check email on-the-go, those nights where I let it charge and ignore the buzz are the ones where I am the least anxious and most relaxed. If there is an emergency, someone will call you.
  • Go off the grid on the weekends. It isn’t until I leave town that I truly feel free. No laptop. No “homework”. No nothin’.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help.  I think I spent eight straight weeks avoiding asking more questions than I thought were appropriate. That was dumb. It’s better to know than to assume.  Plus, everyone wants you to do a good job anyway.
  • Call your friends and family. Do you remember that wonderful invention called the telephone? Use it. Friends and family keep us sane. At the end of a long, hard day, it helps to hear the voice of someone you love.

The moral of my story? Unplug when you need to and don’t be afraid to ask for help. Since I’ve recognized the need to change in me, my mood has improved, my overall happiness has increased, and I feel more confident in my position. (And it’s a good thing I didn’t agree to write more blog posts this season, otherwise there would have been more on my plate and less in my outbox).

The New Professional Life – Finding Balance (And Keeping It)

Making your life easier: The Digital Purge

By Valerie Heruska

I don’t know about you, but I love a good purge of things.  About twice a year, I get the itch to purge items in my life: clothes, books, appliances, and things that I have no idea how they came into my possession. It’s easy to get rid of things that are laying around are homes and offices, but how often do you think of the digital purge?

Here are some ways that I like to make my life easier by doing a digital purge:

1.  Start with the email.  This article, The Digital Purger: How to Nuke your Email Inbox, explains several things you can do to make your email life easier.  Here are a few Highlights:

  • Plenty of sites and services that are no doubt bombarding your inbox right now. They need to be zapped. Is Facebook telling you every time somebody likes your vacation photos? Does Twitter fill you in every time anyone does anything anywhere near one of your tweets? Don’t you constantly check these services anyway? Wait, a random high school acquaintance joined Pinterest?? I wonder what kind of cupcakes they’re pinning. Yep… take the 15 minutes to unsubscribe from those emails. I find myself deleting them anyway and I’m too broke to buy any Living Social Escape.
  • Limit your email intake. If you’re habitually checking your email dozens of times per day, stop it.  For most of us, the amount of attention we pay our inboxes each day vastly outweighs the value we realistically derive from it.

2.  Social Media Purge

  • Facebook: I’ve purged a lot of people off my friends list because they add no value to my life. Yep, that’s the harsh truth, but really, why do I need someone in my life who adds nothing? That’s just silly. I think a good way (and I know many people who do this) to purge FB “friends” is to look at who has a birthday – if you write “Happy Birthday” on their wall – keep them. If you’re like “meh…” unfriend them. Simple.
  • Twitter: I know a lot of people who I’ve cut from my followers list because they simply don’t add value and clog up my feed.  I also get tired of people retweeting and preaching the same stuff. So, adios twitter user, I’m just not that into you.

3. Documents and pictures

  • I have two external harddrives filled with stuff from 2001 – today. Why am I keeping all of this nonsense: drafts of old papers, pictures of people who I unfriended awhile ago,so on and so forth. Purge the things you don’t use.

I use the same mantra when purging things in my apartment: if I haven’t used/worn it in a year… out it goes. What advice do you have for the digital purge?

Making your life easier: The Digital Purge

Best Practices: The Myth of Being Busy

By Kathryn Magura

It’s September, and I work at a quarter school. Over the next month I will be training staff and getting 4600+ students moved onto campus. I will certainly be busy, and justifiably so. This is the busiest month of the year for me, and I expected as much when I got into this work.

That said, I think there’s a degree to which we find a certain satisfaction in being busy. Busyness equates to self-worth and job security in a way that is often more smug than accurate. As I watched most of my colleagues around the country go through their busy season in August (yay semester schools always being ahead of the curve), I took mental notes of things I’d like to try on my own campus, or lessons I could learn from others. I never questioned the fact that when someone mentioned they were busy that it was true, because I know what they were going through.

Busy starting (or ending) an academic year is one thing, but at what point are we always busy? I see a lot of posts on Facebook from friends who seem to always be working, and always be looking to be told how great they were for always working. What’s the point? When do you stop working and start living?

A couple of friends posted this article on Facebook over the weekend that articulates very well how we seem to equate how busy we are with our importance – like some sick status indicator. I work 14 hours a day, which means I’m more important than you! Ridiculous. So how do we keep from perpetuating this busy culture?

  1. Don’t take on more than you can reasonably accomplish. Seems like a no-brainer, but it seems that we’ve created a culture where people feel they have to always take on more tasks or they will replace you with someone who will. Are we really that insecure? I really don’t think our supervisors are that cunning. In my experience, a good supervisor may not know how busy you are unless you tell them. If they try to give you a project, and you have another deadline looming, tell them you can’t take that on and why you can’t.
  2. Schedule your time better. Some of the people who I’ve heard complain the most about being busy seem to have plenty of time to do things like play on social media all day. It’s these same people who get “surprised” by a deadline because they didn’t manage the time they had wisely. Try scheduling time on your work calendar to work on a project to see if this helps you with time management. Also, if you can’t balance the time you spend on social media vs. the time you are working, then I suggest you stay off social media.
  3. Ask for help. This one seems to be the hardest thing for most people to do. For some reason, we seem to have an insane amount of ego wrapped up in being the “go-to” person at work, which results in long hours and eventual burnout. No one expects you to work 15 hours a day in order to get everything accomplished! Who knows, maybe asking for help will result in the addition of staff to assist getting the work done.

 

These are some of my ideas on how to keep from perpetuating the busyness myth. What are yours?

Best Practices: The Myth of Being Busy

Best Practices for Making Life Easier: Presentation Platforms

By Kathryn Magura

I’ve had the opportunity to present on a number of topics over the years, and have tried a variety of presentation platforms and applications. Today I thought I’d discuss some of the platforms I’ve used, and what I like or dislike about each:

  1. Prezi: A few years ago, Prezi was all the rage for presentations. As someone who typically embraces new technology, I was eager to learn Prezi. While I enjoyed the online platform utilized for Prezi, and the ability to edit a presentation with co-presenters, I never felt like the usability became intuitive for me. Sure, I could put together a decent presentation, and knew not to have the path of travel jump around, but I felt like I had to re-learn how to use Prezi each time I created a new presentation. Not exactly what you’re looking for when needing to create a presentation. 
  2. Dropbox: One thing I’ve really found useful, especially when working collaboratively on research projects, is the use of Dropbox. Dropbox allows you to save data on servers that can be accessed anywhere. If someone has permission to access your server repository, they can access the data you have there, and use it for whatever collaboration project you are working on. While there is no specific presentation platform associated with Dropbox, I do think it’s helpful for shared data storage – especially if there is a significant amount of data to share.
  3. Google Drive: Lately I’ve been using the software available via Google Drive for a variety of things, including presentations. Google Drive has an application called “presentation” that resembles PowerPoint, which has made the learning curve very small. Google Drive Presentation also allows you to work on something online, and therefore provides the capability to edit a presentation collaboratively. I have been able to work on a presentation simultaneously with a colleague in Chicago, and see the changes she makes instantaneously. Plus, it helps that Google Drive saves automatically and frequently. The last thing you want is to spend a ton of time on a presentation only to lose it when you don’t save it.

So those are some of the presentation platforms I have used recently. What are your favorites?

Best Practices for Making Life Easier: Presentation Platforms

Blogger’s Choice: Networking IRL and F2F

by Valerie Heruska

I don’t think it comes to anyone as a surprise when they hear that social media and technology changed the way that we interact with one another.  Of course, it bolsters relationship building to a whole new level. I think that networking online is great, but what about when you take the networking offline and network in person?

I’ve been to receptions and  social gatherings where the phrase “Oh hey, I follow you on Twitter” has been said. In fact, if I had a nickel for every time I heard that, I could probably afford to renovate my residence hall and then name the building after myself. I’m not sure if there are best practices to taking the networking from online to offline, but here are a few of  my practices:

1. Do not stalk someone from Twitter. Seriously.. I’ve seen this happen. I’ve heard people say: Oh I must find (insert twitter handle here)… let’s go look for them. Holy stalkeratzi, Batman. Why not set up a time to meet. You can begin by sending them a DM and asking if they have time to meet for coffee. Don’t creep on them at a conference and hover… that’s just weird.

2. When you’re getting coffee with said person do no… I REPEAT DO NOT say… remember that thing you said on twitter. Really? Why just not tweet at them. Talk about something other than Twitter. You’re there to meet the person who could be a potential mentor or supervisor or professor. There needs to be a reason to meet with them and to not just boost their ego.. though… I don’t know anyone who doesn’t like a little ego-stroking every now and then. I digress. Have a reason for meeting with someone. Don’t waste their time, be insightful, and don’t mention twitter.

3. Keep the networking going. Don’t just stop at people who are on social media – meet people whom you’ve never met before. Have your colleagues introduce you to someone new. Go in, be bold, and talk to someone new. Additionally, after any conference, social, gathering is over: keep in contact and keep building that relationship. Just because you are separated geographically, doesn’t mean you can’t talk. Ask them to Skype lunch (Skyping while eating lunch) or something along the same lines.

What are your tips for talking networking offline? Share them here!

Blogger’s Choice: Networking IRL and F2F

Best Practices/Making Life Easier: Summer = Break Time

By Brenda Bethman

In the previous best practices installment, Anitra wrote about summer projects — and I, too, have a list of summer projects that is longer that I can accomplish. For this post, I wanted to talk about the importance of making sure you find time to relax during the summer as well. As we all know, it’s easy to get wrapped up in summer projects and forget to take care of ourselves. So here are some things you can do this summer to refresh you:

  • Install an app like BreakTime on your computer and get out for some fresh air and sunshine every 1-2 hours (BreakTime is for Mac, but there are apps for Windows-based machines as well).IMG_1057
  • Go on vacation (or staycation) and turn off your email. Really. All the way off. It will be okay.
  • Play Dots (or some other addicting game).
  • Read a good beach novel — my favorite author in this genre right now is Elin Hilderbrand. Don’t like beach novels? Try a good detective novel — Yrsa Sigurðardóttir from Iceland is a great writer with a feminist protagonist.
  • Explore your area — is there a museum near by that you’ve never been to? Check it out.
  • Go to the movies.
  • Hit the beach.
  • Do all of these things at least once.

At the end of the day (summer), it doesn’t matter which you choose — the key thing is to remember to take some time to recharge and relax. Student affairs folks are notoriously bad at self care, so be sure to include some break time in your summer. The work and the projects will still be there after you get back. I promise.

How do you recharge and relax in the summer? Tell us in the comments!

 

Best Practices/Making Life Easier: Summer = Break Time