Monday, November 9, 2009

Students in Transition

This is the name of a conference that is being hosted by the University of South Carolina for the 16th time, since 1995. I know because I am the founder of this conference series and I write this as I attend the 16th edition. This is really all about a very simple idea. Sort of like bottled water. Or the roller bag suitcase. Why didn’t someone else think of it? Frankly, I don’t know. I am amazed no one else had. I had been organizing conferences on what came to be called “The First-Year Experience” since 1982, and no one had been doing that before. And there was a need to convene higher educators to talk about new students and how to help them succeed. I needed to learn more about that, which is why I organized these meetings—and even more importantly to help other educators.

In 1989 I met a university President, Betty Siegel, at Kennesaw State University in Georgia, who shared with me her keen interest in college seniors, their transition experiences out of college, and how she had designed a seminar to help them do just that. Also in that same year my older son was a senior at the University of South Carolina. And I was thinking a lot about what he needed as a senior in transition, and what my university was, or was not doing to help him make that transition successfully.

I felt so inspired by Betty Siegel, and my son, that I asked her to co-host a conference with the University of South Carolina on the topic of “The Senior Year Experience.” We did so in 1990 and again in 1991, 93 and 94. The response was good, but not good enough to pay the bills. So I decided to roll this focus on the “senior year experience” into a still broader focus: “students in transition.”

Thus, the “students in transition” concept was born and we held our first conference in Dallas in 1995. The response was enormous. For the first time, educators came together to discuss the transition challenges of: first-year students; those in the “sophomore slump”; the transfer student experience; the senior year experience, and more. The key assumption was that college students are “in transition.” And the key challenge for higher educators to examine was really a dual one: how are our campuses organized to help “students in transition”; and thus, how are we in transition, and not just the students?

And those are still the driving questions today, in 2009!

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