FT: I also believe there is a distinct difference between over involved and highly involved. Every student is different! #SAchat
Recently, I participated in an #SAchat focused on over-involved students and student leaders. It’s an issue that we, as student affairs professionals, frequently see on our college campuses. Many students come to college wide-eyed, excited, and ready to make a difference, and occasionally they may “bite off more than they can chew.” Although this is a common occurrence, I personally struggle with categorizing students as “over-involved” when the concept of involvement is so individualistic in nature.
Astin (1999) defines involvement as the “amount of physical and psychological energy that a student devotes to the academic experience” (p. 518). Like many of you, I was highly involved in my undergraduate career. Residence Hall Association, Campus Activities Board, Student Ambassadors, Resident Advisor—you name it, I was in it. I loved to lead, and I loved making a difference—I still do. I dedicated large amounts of energy to my own academic experience, and to an outsider looking in, I could have easily been seen as “over-involved.”
I like thinking about the “outsider looking in” concept from this point of view. Imagine that you are walking home from work when you see someone hanging from a cliff. You can’t tell where the bottom is, but it seems pretty high up, so you rush over to help. When you get there, you notice that he is only a few feet above the ground with numerous people waiting to catch him.
I think this scenario sometimes reflects how we see students. We know their schedules, time commitments, and work load, and assume that they are having difficulty juggling it all—but we may not be seeing the whole picture, including the mentors they have, support systems in place, and other things helping this student succeed. In this case, the student would be highly involved, but able to adequately balance everything. However, the opposite is also possible. You may have seen highly involved students and assumed that they are handling everything well when in reality, they’re just hanging on for dear life. I know I have. These students are over-involved and not able to handle the stress and time commitment of their activities. However, each student is different.
Involvement is individualized. Take time to look at the whole picture because if we don’t, we run the risk of being harmful. If we coach a student out of being involved because WE think they’re taking on too much, they may miss out on incredible opportunities. Likewise, if we continually encourage students to become involved when they’re already at their breaking point, we could be adding additional stressors.
As student affairs professionals, it is imperative to understand that every student is different, as are their own experiences, and those individual stories need to be heard. They are unique to each and every student we serve. Chat with students about their experiences and levels of involvement. How much physical energy are they dedicating to their experience? Psychological energy? Is the energy they’re expending rewarding? Is it making them happy? Take a holistic approach to viewing their involvement and gather how these experiences are impacting other areas of their life.
These individual qualities and nuances are what make our jobs so exciting. We work with fantastic students and student leaders, and we will do everything in our power to help them reach their goals; however, it is important to remember that they won’t always succeed. Sometimes, they’ll reach for a new goal and miss the mark. They’ll fall, get up, and learn from that experience. My goal is to be the mentor on the ground—waiting underneath to pick them up, providing encouragement, and helping them learn from their mistakes.
Astin, A. (1999). Student involvement: A developmental theory for higher education. Journal of College Student Development, 40(5), 518-529.
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Podcast With Dean Kenneth Elmore on Student Engagement Efforts