First in a series of reflections on student life at West Texas A&M University.
The core function of any University is to satisfy student aspirations for a rewarding professional and personal life. As University leaders, we recognize there is no substitute for academic excellence in the various disciplines. None.
However, academic preparation and training alone fall short of many students’ expectations. The University experience is widely viewed as preparation for larger, lifelong experiences as engaged citizens. In the coming weeks, we will address many of those experiences and why they are important for all students. Student experiences outside the classroom are sometimes referred to as “the hidden curriculum” or the well-known Texas A&M University moniker for these experiences, “The Other Education.” We value these experiences and recognize that for our students, they are irreplaceable.
New experiences, and exploration of ideas and perspectives, have been and will continue to be part of a University education. Challenge brings growth. We hear that in fitness centers with a simple expression regarding human physiology: “no pain, no gain.”
Engagement is not just a college success strategy; actively engaging in studies improves students. Case after case shows that students involved with campus life perform better academically. Our student-athletes at West Texas A&M University who are busy with academic and athletic pursuits typically have higher GPAs than the general student population. This is not an isolated experience at WT; busy students get more done, and being busy with purpose is at the heart of student engagement.
This engagement also carries into the workplace. Gallup detailed how college engagement predicts successful employment in the workplace. In other words, providing students with skills and attributes will make them successful in the workplace and offer employment opportunities. It must include the opportunity for “the other education” or extracurricular activities to be fully realized.
The University has often been considered monastery-like in its’ separation from daily concerns of life to allow engagement and participation in skills that will make students effective citizens. Students who see themselves as leaders through leadership experiences and roles are likelier to develop as work and citizenship leaders. Engaged students gain opportunities in college to test and hone their leadership skills in a laboratory-like environment. Skills such as communication, adaptability and teamwork are often the most energetically sought skills in hiring new employees.
Such skills are also good for community leaders in industry and commerce. While a particular class in any discipline helps create skills and problem-solving abilities, an overarching perspective on solving problems could be left out of the specific experiences in certain subject matters. Communities are changing dramatically. We must provide students the opportunity to change so they can be responsive to the evolving communities. This does not mean that students should leave basic values behind. This is especially pertinent for WT, where we hold high the Texas Panhandle’s positive values and want to diligently reinforce those values at our University.
Gallup claims that 70% of the variance in team engagement is attributed to leadership. National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) rates college graduates low in leadership among the eight competencies they seek in new hires. At WT, we plan to engage leadership capabilities as a compelling challenge to bring leadership-ready students to the industry. In addition, baby boomers who are currently leaders in non-profit, business and commerce industries and other walks of life are retiring at record rates. As more baby boomers retire and leave leadership positions, changing demographics require that younger people be prepared to enter the work world and readily adapt to leadership responsibilities. They need to be ready to lead organizations at every level.
And lastly, student leadership experiences are good for families. Historically, leadership was naturally developed in the home, according to the Harvard Business Review. Families have a built-in leadership structure, determined in each family uniquely and distinctively. Children learn to follow and grow as leaders. Strong families with strong leaders build strong communities.
In the coming weeks, we will address these issues and others that will help create powerful and productive student life experiences at WT—an institution with concerns and aspirations for the whole human being. Such a commitment leads to engaged citizenship, the ultimate purpose of a public university.
Walter V. Wendler is President of West Texas A&M University. His weekly columns are available at https://walterwendler.com/. Mike Knox is the Vice President for Student Enrollment Engagement and Success at West Texas A&M University.
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