Transitions

student orientation blue shirt

As my quest to learn about Sheridan continues, I’m personally and professionally focused on transitions.

This is an area I’m passionate about; transitions and the first-year experience have been two of my research foci for over twenty years.  There is a lot of great literature on these topics, but I champion Alf Lizzio’s work because I find it straightforward and practical.   In a 2006 paper, he provided a “conceptual summary of ideas and practices that have been shown, directly or indirectly, to contribute to commencing students’ satisfaction, engagement and persistence in higher education”.  In summary, Lizzio proposes five ‘senses’ that drive successful transitions for new students:  a sense of purpose; a sense of connectedness; a sense of resourcefulness; a sense of academic culture; and, a sense of capability.

LIZZIO’S FIVE SENSES MODEL:

Lizzio himself is emphatic that there is no right or wrong way to transition students.  What matters is that you care and are purposeful.  Research tells us that students who are effectively on-boarded to college or university life prove more successful:  they persist at higher rates, have higher Grade Point Averages (GPAs) and are more satisfied.  Over half of our students at Sheridan are in year one.  This reality compels us to focus on transition programming that is evidence-based and theoretically-informed.

Our shared challenge is to think carefully and critically about how we position all of our students for success … starting on day one.  How, for example, do we support the 32% of students who were new to Sheridan this year and speak English as a second language?   Do we employ different strategies to support the 76% of our incoming students who are 22 or younger, versus the balance who are 23+?  What about the 25% of students who are the first in their family to attend a post-secondary institution, the 49% who are not coming straight from high school, those who are attending part-time, or who have dependents?

Retention from first to second year at Sheridan – across our programming – is very strong relative to sector norms.  This tells me that faculty and staff are already heavily invested in best practices.  Student Affairs, for example, focuses on new students who are uncertain about their program or career choice.  This effectively drives a sense of purpose, arguably the most important of Lizzio’s five. Dedicated staff and peer mentors on the Student Affairs first-year experience team help newcomers adjust to post-secondary life at Sheridan and make connections.   Colleagues in the Learning Commons offer programs and services that foster a sense of resourcefulness;  faculty members innovate in first-year classrooms to cultivate capability.

This week, a new cohort of students is joining our learning community. We – faculty, staff and student peers – are collectively accountable for fueling their success. As we move forward to draft our next academic plan, I’m keen to continue learning about how each of the Faculties, individual faculty members, and staff colleagues contribute to this herculean effort.  I want to talk specifically about transitions because – quite frankly – they are foundational to delivering on our unwavering commitment to student success.