Students come to Mines for the recreational opportunities and inviting climate Colorado offers, to be academically challenged, and to have the opportunity to tackle in-demand careers in engineering and applied science. But, although these students want to be challenged, many balk at doing challenging work, primarily because their pre-Mines educational experiences have been easy or devoid of high-quality assignments.
Our student workloads and expectations are high, but not as high as those at other institutions. So why do we have so much student stress? There is “something” here at Mines that is creating negative burdens our students’ shoulders, but no one seems to identify it.
The recent Campus Value Survey indicates that students expect to work hard and be stressed by our academic demands, with the return being a high-paying job when they graduate. What happened to the merit and satisfaction of solving difficult engineering and science problems for society’s benefit? The joy of discovery? The excitement of learning something new?
Mines perpetuates these perceptions because many deliverables are measured by dollars (graduating student salaries, the funds brought in by research grants, etc.). How can we focus on an education that provides benefits other than money?
A student told me today that she was not coming to the Forum because she had to catch-up on her SolidWorks homework. Another student told me that she often skipped classes where there were a lot of discussions going on so she could spend more quality time on her homework. Why do students de-value classroom time?
Quality vs. Quantity
OLD PHILOSOPHY: More is better! Quantity is king! The Mines learning paradigm is based on lots of busy and tedious homework!
NEW PHILOSOPHY: Our teaching and research environments should inspire students, providing them creative learning opportunities, joy in discovery, opportunities to innovate, and recourse mechanisms when mishaps occur.
Homework can be more quality-focused; fewer problems, but richer problems. At the same time, students need to realize that STEM studies are challenging, both in breadth and depth, and need to respect these demands.
Syllabi should better communicate Student Learning Outcomes, instructional activities that nurture these outcomes, student expectations, academic honor, and discipline-specific & campus-wide behavior standards. Clear expectations promote fairness, happiness, tolerance, and understanding.
Faculty across campus need to provide students a more respectful structure on their syllabi so students can better plan and prepare for exams, HWs, presentations, project deadlines, etc. Many student stressors arise due to the unpredictability of workloads.
“Get to know me!” — CSM student
“The movement to more open communication between students and faculty should begin with the faculty.” – CSM student
The Mines academic environment seems to promote a culture of student isolation, with many students not only isolated from faculty/staff mentors, but also from each other. Many students rely on each other, and the help of TAs, to get through the Mines undergraduate curriculum, rather than taking advantage of faculty office hours and getting more expert help.
Students will be “students”, but they have to respect that most Mines faculty and staff choose to work here because they want to be here, not because they have to … how students behave on campus can influence our learning and work environments in many ways.
Respect should be two-way. Students texting in class is disrespectful. Students should not begin emails with “Hey you”.
Faculty stress trickles down to our students. Perhaps CSM101 can help students become more aware of faculty roles and responsibilities so students understand how to better interact with faculty.
Earning a degree in engineering or applied science is challenging for most. Learning, scholarship, and transitioning students into STEM professionals should be nurturing processes, not ones based on fear, paralysis, retribution, or suffering.
Faculty want to see students engage with each other during class to promote active learning, rather than being flippant with each other or tethered to their cell phones.
Recognize collegiality and good behavior as parts of one’s FDR and/or P&T package, or annual staff review.
Support mechanisms where junior and senior faculty can nurture one another in positive ways.
Support mechanisms where research and teaching faculty partner in authentic enterprises … eliminate the perception of two-tier faculty ranks.
Encourage Student Life to broaden opportunities and services to graduate students.
Encourage faculty to hold meetings with their UG and Grad students to promote better faculty-student camaraderie.
Everyone … Excellence in Everything
Mines staff members play valuable roles in nurturing positive student mindsets. They serve many student needs, and can create a warm, open, welcoming environment for our students.
All of us – faculty, staff, and students – need to stop complaining about how hard we work. Particularly faculty, who serve as visible role models for our students. How often do students see Mines faculty and staff having fun, either on-campus or off-campus? The idea of “relaxing” is almost non-existent on the Mines campus.
None of us – faculty, staff, and students – should tolerate unprofessional or unethical behavior. Dishonest practices, students submitting sloppy work, faculty delivering poorly structured lectures, assigning thoughtless work, ignoring deadlines, etc.
Become more efficient – do what needs to be done better, rather than making more work for ourselves.
Place value on faculty-faculty and faculty-student social interactions. Develop a more visible reward system that values service that individual students and faculty provide for the larger Mines community.