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Project Title:Listening to Students Institution Name:California State University, Sacramento Innovation Category:Student Success Project Director:Donna Knifong, Lecturer, Department of Communication StudiesContact Information:(916) 772-4342, donna.knifong@saclink.csus.eduWebsite:https://www.csus.edu/student-affairs/retention-academic-success/spotlights/listening-to-students.html
Project Description:

Listening to Students is a project that brings the perspectives of students directly to those who serve them in education, using the power of student voices to expand minds, touch hearts, and contribute in profound, meaningful ways to inclusivity, student success, and institutional transformation in the name of diversity.  This work is meant to inform and inspire those in higher education and foster greater awareness and advocacy for those most at risk and in need in academia. 

The project is based on a very simple premise:  One of the best ways to learn about the different types of students that you teach or work with is to just ask.  Accordingly, students were invited to take a survey asking them to share their thoughts and feelings regarding their education at the institution. 

Over 800 student responses were returned at the community college where this project first commenced (Sierra College in Rocklin, California, from 2010 to 2013), and over 1,500 student surveys were returned at the university where this project was undertaken a year later (California State University, Sacramento, from 2014 to 2017).  The students wrote about such things as their trials and tribulations in, hopes and aspirations for, and opinions and beliefs about getting their education. 
The students’ responses were then categorized into sections that include:  New, Transfer, and Reentry Students; Students of All Ages; Students with Physical Disabilities, Learning Disabilities, and Psychological Disabilities; Students from Around the World, Multilingual Students, and Students of Different Cultural Backgrounds; Students of Color and Minority Underrepresented Students; and Students Who Are Athletes, Parents, Veterans, LGBTIQQ, First Generation College Students, Students of Varying Financial Means, Dreamer Students, and more. 

Each of these sections contains:  (1) the stated perspectives of that type of student (from the survey responses), (2) information regarding that type of student group, (3) suggestions for faculty and staff to better work with or teach that type of student, and (4) a list of applicable campus programs and services for that student group.  At both institutions, one section per week was shared with the campus:  At the first institution where this work was done, the sections were e-mailed out directly to all faculty and staff over one semester.  At the second institution, the sections were posted weekly to the university website and announced each week in the employee campus news bulletin e-mailed out over three semesters. 

The project was coordinated by one person, with support from campus leaders, as well as a tech team to administer an online survey and to post the sections to the university website given to the work.  No funding was needed. 

This work is likely the first of its kind ever done at an institution of higher education in the nation.  This is something that I hope to see change—and something that should change.  The more faculty and staff know about the students they serve, the better they can do their jobs. 

Who best to teach us what they need in education than the students themselves?  Student voices can reach us and teach us in ways unlike any other, and they deserve to be heard far more in their higher education. 
This work can be done at any institution of higher education, in a number of different ways and to any extent, great or small, and by just about any person(s), ranging from instructors at any level to staff in a host of campus organizations, programs, and services. 

Given that the project has been done at both the two-year college and four-year university level, the work is entirely scalable to colleges and universities across the country.

  • Enhance diversity awareness on campus and in the classroom.
  • Provide useful information and concrete suggestions for working with and teaching many different types of students.
  • Increase knowledge of the campus resources applicable to different types of student groups.
  • Inspire faculty and staff to appreciate all the more the students they serve and the jobs they do.

While no quantitative assessments have been conducted, below are other indicators of the value of this work:

  • Qualitative Support for the Work:  I have heard from numerous colleagues at different levels and in different areas on both campuses the real value of this work.  At one college, the work was nominated for state Hayward Award for Excellence in Education, and in the letter of nomination, the Academic Senate President wrote, “It would be impossible to measure how many students…impacted” by this work. 
  • Promotion of the Work:  I have been asked to speak to different groups on both campuses on which the work was done to promote the project.  This work also achieved finalist status in the ReinventEd contest for innovative work in education held in Sacramento, California, in September of 2017, and has been accepted for presentation at the Lilly Conference on Active and Engaged Learning in Anaheim, California, in February, 2018.
  • Use of the Work:  I have seen the work used in a number of ways on both campuses where the work was done:  faculty and staff training, institutional reports, campus websites, committee work, reform efforts, and student course readings and assignments.  
Challenges/Problems Encountered:No challenges or problems were encountered.
Evaluation Approach:This project is not a program or service; it is the sharing of student perspectives, as well as information, suggestions, and resources for working more effectively with various student populations.  Accordingly, there was no evaluation process.  However, a quick look at that university website given to the work will show the potential value and use of the work.
Potential for Replication:The work is meant to be campus-specific—tailored to the institution on which it is done, unlike a more general resource.  The perspectives of the students who attend the campus on which the work is conducted would be featured, the specific school’s facts and figures relevant to each student group would be provided, and student resources available on that specific campus highlighted.  Practically speaking, this means that the person(s) doing the work would need to be/make themselves knowledgeable regarding the different student groups on their campus, whom to contact or where to go to find information on these student groups, and the campus resources available for different student groups. 
CEO-to-CEO Contact:Robert S. Nelsen , Presidentuniv-mx-pres@csus.edu
(916) 278-6323
Date Published: Friday, February 2, 2018Date Revised: Friday, February 2, 2018