We spend much of our time in residential life working with challenging students. Judicial hearings, crisis management, and staff performance issues are just a few of the tasks that can take up much of our time. While our challenging students get much of our “recognition” and time, our successful students often go neglected and unrecognized. We at Fordham University recently developed the Academic Recognition Reception as a way to recognize our top students in the residence halls.
When we first developed this idea we realized that we did not want to interfere with the academic recognition efforts of the academic units. All of our academic units conduct recognition events for students on the Dean’s List. Our intention was not to compete with these traditional recognition programs but to supplement them. As we presented our ideas to academic deans across campus we found that there was overwhelming support for the idea. We were able to discuss timing of the event with academic deans so as not to interfere with their events as well as to create even greater campus wide support for residential life’s event.
The program itself is fairly easy to implement. The first reception was held in the spring semester. There are many ways to determine whom to invite to such a reception. One could choose students above a pre-determined grade point average or one could take a percentage from each class. At Fordham, we decided to invite the top fifty highest grade point averages for the previous semester. The lowest GPA of any student invited was a 3.83. Obviously, we had a bright group of students at our event.
Invitations were sent to students well in advance of the event. Recognizing that student/faculty interaction outside of the classroom is a precursor to student academic success we looked for a way to involve faculty in this event. We decided that the best way to get faculty investment in the event was to have the students be the individuals to invite them. Each invitation sent to students asked them to personally invite a faculty member who inspired or encouraged them to such a high achievement. In a sense, this event became recognition for faculty as well. The greatest form of recognition for many faculty is to have their brightest students tell them they had an impact on their own academic success.
The location of the event was one of the most challenging questions. We desired a space that was large enough to hold up to 100 individuals and one that had a traditional academic atmosphere. While we wanted to host the event in a residence hall space, unfortunately, we did not have the appropriate space in our residence halls. We decided to host the event in a meeting space in our library. This sent a message to students that we recognize the importance of academics in their lives and that much of their success was most likely a result of time spent in the library.
The event was held in the early evening to make it as convenient as possible for faculty to attend. When students and faculty arrived they were greeted by a staff member and given a nametag. Refreshments, hot Hors D’oeuvres, and fruit/cheese platters were available for attendees. Students and faculty were encouraged to mingle and socialize while the remainder of the guests arrived.
The programmed portion of the event was relatively short but symbolic. One of the co-organizers, who was both a residential life staff member and a faculty member, spoke briefly followed by the Dean of Residential Life. We also invited the Dean of the Fordham College (our liberal arts college) and faculty in residence, to speak briefly. Finally, the Office of Residential Life presented students with a certificate of achievement. The program was developed in this manner to not only recognize students but to show that all factions of the University worked together toward their academic success.
We received much positive feedback from students and faculty regarding this event, and faculty and student attendance was high. As with any first-time event there are a few suggestions we would make for the future. We may re-evaluate the method we used to determine the invite list. Inviting the top students from every class may be a more equitable approach. In addition, we are looking into providing a greater reward than a certificate for their achievement. Possibilities include an appropriate book, discount at the bookstore or a plaque. As with any program we are always looking for ways to improve.
I encourage others to develop such an event on their campus. This is a relatively easy and effective way to bridge the gap between the in-classroom and out-of classroom experience. We owe it to our best students!
Submitted by Scott Halstead, Assistant Director of Leadership Development and Training at Fordham University at Rose Hill