SHERIDAN — About 30 people gathered Wednesday at Sheridan College for a full day of training regarding how to better understand and assist under-resourced college students.
Bethanie H. Tucker, an education author and consultant with aha! Process — a training and publishing company focusing on increasing awareness about the contributing factors and effects of poverty — led a presentation on a variety of topics to help college faculty and staff connect with students.
The Sheridan College TRIO program sponsored the event and hosted Tucker in Wyoming after positive response to a similar workshop she led at Gillette College last year. Several Sheridan College employees attended, as did Gillette College employees and members of the TRIO program at Northwest College in Powell.
Tucker is a co-author of the book, “Understanding and Engaging Under-Resourced College Students: A fresh look at the influence of the economic class on teaching and learning in higher education.” Audience members could take the book home with them after the event.
She said most people tend to think of poverty in terms of money. In reality, finances are an important factor but not the only aspect. Other areas related to poverty include the lack of role models, languages, knowledge of hidden rules, motivation, integrity, support systems and sense of purpose.
In general, Tucker said education involves reframing situations and ideas so people can see the world through a different lens. She also made a point near the beginning of the day that her work is based on patterns, all of which have exceptions.
Tucker began with some background information about herself and why she still has challenges with trust and integrity from growing up in a low-income household. Even though she theoretically knows what to do in almost every situation, Tucker still struggles, meaning that personal improvement is an ongoing process for everyone.
“It takes a lifetime to become an overnight success,” Tucker said.
At one point, audience members talked for several minutes with people about hidden rules, including the differences in humor between people from different socioeconomic backgrounds or different countries and different views of higher education.
Tucker gave the example that college is mostly geared toward middle class norms, so a person coming from a lower-income socioeconomic background may struggle to adjust to the unwritten rules and seemingly foreign terminology. If one student comes from a family where college is expected and encouraged, he or she will have a much different viewpoint than a student whose family makes fun of him or her receiving a degree.
Joseph Aguirre, director of the Sheridan College TRiO and College Success Program, said the event ideally will form a better understanding across campus among at-risk students, staff and instructors.
Tucker said potential ways to improve a sense of connectedness include creating clubs or activities that do not require time or effort. Along those lines, attendee Sarah Heuck Sinclair, the Sheridan College chair of the social science, humanities, English and education department, said the campus could start a mandatory first-year orientation experience for every student to meet others.
Tucker has also been working on a book about motivation for the past eight years and concluded that the three major components in motivation are sense of competence, courage and heart.
Tucker gave small, concrete examples to help students with these categories. If a student has low confidence, for example, a support staff member can change his or her computer password to a phrase of positive reinforcement such as “LucyisCompetent” or “LucyisGrowing.”
To develop self-compassion in students, Tucker suggested having them write a letter to themselves from the perspective of a person who cares about them.
Tucker said some students don’t have a concept of the future because they live in “the tyranny of the moment.”
To help mitigate that, she shared an example of students writing down consequences when weighing significant decisions like staying in college or dropping out.
“Retention is not a year at a time,” Tucker said. “Retention is a day at a time or an hour at a time.”
Sheridan College TRIO retention coordinator Ron Winters concurred. Winters mentioned the multitude of variables to consider when a student comes to him with an issue. He said sometimes a student might be on the tipping point about whether to stay in school or not.
In those pivotal moments, Winters said remembering to briefly take a step back could help, rather than trying to immediately fix the problem. Using some of Tucker’s advice, Winters said he could ask questions to the student and they could work out the possibilities together and think through the best plan to move ahead.
Winters hoped the training encouraged small moments of epiphany for teachers and staff to deal with students in different, more productive ways.
Sheridan College interim theatre faculty Aaron Odom appeared to be one of those instructors. Odom attended Tucker’s presentation last year and was interested in learning more about poverty not being strictly limited to financial constraints.
Odom appreciated Tucker’s insight that education constitutes the reframing of perspectives and said there are so many different aspects of students’ lives he hadn’t previously considered.
“Sometimes you’re like, ‘I can’t believe I hadn’t been thinking about that,’” Odom said.
While the training did not provide a panacea for all of the challenges on campus, it potentially resulted in a small step toward improving relationships between under-resourced students and the people in positions to help them along the way.