There are many benefits to working in post-secondary education. The energy of the beginning of a new academic term is filled with possibilities. There’s the passion and commitment that faculty and staff have for students, and the ultimate – watching a student embrace a family member after having just crossed the stage at convocation. Having worked in several colleges and universities, I can certainly say that these sentiments are shared among institutions in Ontario.
In reflecting on my own journey and watching the journeys of many students, I can also say with certainty that the path to success in college or university is both wholly individual and decidedly uncommon. Yes, there are expected milestones along the way, but I believe the road in between, with all of its unexpected turns and surprising opportunities is where students really meet and experience success. Let me explain.
I began my career in post-secondary education advising students with disabilities. I would work with students and faculty members to develop accommodation plans and creatively investigate ways to build inclusive opportunities for students. Working with students with disabilities was amazing learning experience because my students and faculty partners challenged me to think beyond the boundaries of my own beliefs and taught me that the path to success is not linear. We have to accept that there are many different roads that can lead to common or even unexpected outcomes.
“The “aha” moment for me was that in fact every student wants to experience a unique journey and they each bring their own individual goals to the learning experience” – Joe Henry
As I grew in my career and tackled various opportunities in student services, teaching part-time, and going to graduate school, I began to see that it wasn’t just students with disabilities who wanted to follow different paths. The “aha” moment for me was that in fact every student wants to experience a unique journey and they each bring their own individual goals to the learning experience. The success that students identify for themselves isn’t always consistent with common measures that institutions use to define success such as strong grades or graduation rates.
Now, please don’t get me wrong. Strong academic performance, helping students complete their credentials and preparing them for great careers are important because after all, I do have “student success” in my title. However, the notion that success is limited to how institutions define it misses the importance of the experiences in between the time when a student first arrives on campus and convocation. My job as an educator is to empower students to shape their own journeys and help them identify the many small successes that will lead them through their own individual experience at Sheridan. I can honestly say that at Sheridan we do this better than anyone else!
Written by: Joe Henry, Associate Dean of Student Success at Sheridan.