This month we experienced our first official college visit with our daughter who will begin her junior year in high school this fall. During the ROAD programs, I have referenced her and the closing proximity to my role and those of you, parents. Soon, I will be both a dean and a parent of a college student. This is an exciting time but also one that comes with uncertainty, anxiety, and I am sure, exhaustion. But, I look to the energy of the exploration, discernment, and ultimately, decision making to carry me through the next two years. I trust many of you have good advice and wisdom to share from your experiences and I look forward to hearing them.
I had been on a couple of visits in the past decade or so with nieces who visited the campus at which I was working. As an uncle rather than a parent, I know I paid much less attention to what was said, what was seen, and my own internal thoughts and feelings. When we ventured on the tour two weeks ago, I told my daughter that I would refrain from asking all the questions that would naturally come to mind given my 20 plus years of experience working in higher education. I mostly accomplished that goal. Thankfully, I did not embarrass my daughter.
I did find that my interest in what was shared and how the experience was explained was important to me. I love engaging in questions with students about their experiences and since the tour was led by a student, I envisioned a one-to-one conversation about her experience. What was it that brought her to that college, how was her welcome to campus and her orientation experience, how would she describe the student culture, what were things that if she had a magic wand that she would change about her college experience – and what would she want to make sure did not change. I would love to know how her faculty mentor her and teach her to think critically and to make connections across disciplines. I would be interested to know what has challenged her learning and how prepared she was coming from high school. I would ask what she would do differently with respect to her academic responsibilities given her experience thus far. Has she been stretched personally, socially, intellectually?
There would be other questions as well. Questions about services such as health and counseling services, engagement opportunities from student organizations to leadership opportunities to faith exploration and development. Questions about the day-to-day essentials of eating, sleeping, and exercise would be on the docket as well. Essential concerns such as safety and security would rise to the top. I’d like to know about the local community and to what degree the students are part of the community and the community a part of the campus.
Now, some of these questions I did ask while we were walking around the campus and I am thankful my daughter was engaged in the tour and asking questions that were important to her. I trust as we experience more tours her questions will become more sophisticated and precise. When we debriefed the tour, we talked about her experience and what she thought. She was intrigued by several aspects of the experience yet she acknowledged she didn’t quite feel a fit. Granted, this was her first tour and despite all the factors that my wife (who has also worked over 20 years in higher education) and I know, the entire experience come down to a question of fit. Did this feel like a place our daughter could see herself? The answer to that question was unclear.
At the same time I was wanting to explore all of the above questions and more, I also found myself wondering what kind of responses I might receive from our current students. As a result of my experience two weeks ago (and those yet to come), I will be listening differently when engaged in conversation with our students. I have two goals – to ensure our daughter makes a clear and confident decision with respect to her college choice and to ensure Luther students have the opportunity to most fully access and experience a Luther.