Round Table Brownbag Summary: Declaration and Release (December 17, 2009)

Major Declaration and Release Brown Bag
Thursday, December 17  — 12-1, G239 Angell Hall

Summary: Jeffrey Wojcik (jawojcik@umich.edu) presented results of an LSA Student Government survey of its membership about their experiences with declaring their major(s).  Students tended either to have a great experience or a terrible one (sometimes with the same department), but the main point that Jeff emphasized was that when it comes to this major academic decision, students want to take the time at declaration to discuss it in all of its detailed implications for them in terms of opportunities as well as requirements.  They would appreciate being welcomed into an intellectual community and being given a sense of (and actual concrete) connection to their peers, to faculty, and to the full life of the department.  Jeff did not have as detailed a sample of student experience with the Major Release processes, but said that from a student perspective, this could be more of a purely formal/bureaucratic process (perhaps even online) because at that point in their career students wanted to be done and were primarily focused on present enjoyment and/or post-graduation plans.  (This obviously does not mean that departments and advisors should not challenge their students to remain engaged and reflective throughout and beyond their undergraduate career.)

Challenges: Obviously one size does not fit all departments, so in thinking about how Major Declarations and Releases are handled, what resources (departmental and/or social networking websites, peers, faculty, and staff) and how they are utilized (individual appointments, group info sessions or declaration events, etc.) becomes key.

Recommendations:

  • Student wishlist for Major Declaration:
    • Genuine welcome to full life of the department
    • Discussion of:
      • Pathways through the major
      • Faculty recommendations (either those with similar interests or just great teachers)
      • Course recommendations
      • Careers (see Career Resources summary)
      • Opportunities such as study abroad, research, etc.
      • Resources such as student group, peer advisors, Facebook and/or LinkedIn group
    • Concrete symbol or token of entry such as a T-shirt or even just a button
  • Considerations:
    •  Timing/Frequency: rather than just leave it up to random, student scheduled appointments, you could have regular major declaration events, such as a group info session (at which you could include current majors and faculty, and have people sign up for individual declaration appointments).  These could be timed just prior to backpacking for the subsequent semester, for instance.  Many departments offer some sort of info session during Major Week.
    • Involvement: get current students, the student group, and faculty as involved with any events around declaration as possible.  Engaged majors may be willing to volunteer as peer advisors/mentors.  (See Peer Advising summary.)  If you do not already have one, forming a student advisory group could be a great resource for all of your department planning and programming for undergraduates.
    • Requirement: Jeff indicated that he thought that students would not react adversely to making various protocols/events associated with declaration mandatory.
  • Release: This topic was not discussed as extensively as that of declaration, but two recommendations are to make this a point of continued connection (see Alumni Connections summary) and mention specific ways that students can remain connected.  Jeff said that he felt that students would not be averse to filling out a Major exit survey at the point of doing their Release, either right after the appointment physically in the department office somewhere or emailed to them immediately after the appointment.

Other Issues: A few other issues related more closely to Student/Department Community arose: 

  • Physical Space: some departments indicated that lack of an actual physical space in which students might congregate, hold events, etc. was a challenge in building community.  If no space can be created, in an existing departmental lounge or library for instance, resources might be devoted to promoting an active student organization, as well as developing an online community via Facebook or Ning for example.
  • Student-Faculty interaction: Jeff said that he thought that students underestimated the value of this, but that if they were afforded and enticed into having a variety of interactions beyond the classroom, they would most definitely appreciate its value and come back for more.
  • See also: Faculty-Student Interaction Outside the Classroom, Effective Communication with Students, and Building Community for Majors summaries

 


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