Dr. Val Farmer
Rural Mental Health & Family Relationships

Advice for graduates, administrators, and faculty

May 21, 1993

I recently met Ray Landis, dean of technology and engineering at California State University, Los Angeles. He is a prime figure in the effort to help minority students succeed in engineering fields.

His program to help minority students overcome the barriers to success in engineering schools — ethnic isolation, lack of peer support, lack of role models and low faculty expectations — has been replicated by 20 universities.

When the following ideas were put into effect, minority students achieved remarkable academic performance and graduation rates that were on par or exceeded those of non-minority students.

These ideas have great value beyond enhancing minority student success.

Advice for graduates

Become part of a collaborative education team. This means belonging to a group of students who are all taking the same courses, working on the same homework and preparing for the same tests. It is a work group and a socializing group.

Learn that it is OK to move from an individually-centered learning program to a group-centered approach that provides cooperation and mutual support.

Ask yourself this question: ‘‘How much of your time is spent studying alone and how much of it do you do with other students?” Typically, freshmen study alone while successful upperclass students do a significant amount of their studying with other students.

Find support from upperclass role models who care about you and are invested in your success.

Take a freshman orientation course that helps you feel like you are a part of a community, teaches academic survival skills, encourages personal and professional development, and orients you to the college.

An orientation course is like a new family or community group away from home. Students get to know and support each other. A caring instructor provides team building experiences and important human relations training.

As a group, they help each other succeed. The feeling of belonging and being supported are crucial to a positive college experience.

The academic survival skills portion of the class helps get students to realize the Importance of devoting time and energy to studying, spending time on campus, participating in student organizations, interacting with faculty, and interacting with other students.

Landis stresses this principle: Don’t allow the next class session in a course to come up without having mastered the material presented in the previous session. The trap is studying from test to test rather than from class to class.

The amount of effort you put into ‘‘time on task” is the most important factor in how well you will do. Study time is more important than class time.

Landis recommends two-thirds of the study time be devoted to mastering the material and one-third discussing it with other students. Participate in structured study groups.

Involve yourself in student organizations. This will give you an oportunity to develop leadership, communication and teamwork skills.

Become acquainted with professors and feel at ease in conversing with them.

Advice for administrators

Provide student study centers that are comfortable and pleasant. Access to book lockers will keep students in a good learning environment. It should be open 24 hours a day. It should be always accessible to the students.

The student center is a home base where they can engage in collaborative learning with other students from their orientation course.

Cluster students in common sections of key courses. This will enhance collaborative learning on common assignments Provide a freshman orientation course and structured study groups. Create an environment where students can learn from each other.

Train faculty to be effective in their roles as advisers, teachers and mentors.

Advice for faculty

Not everyone is equally prepared to succeed. Provide transition experiences and be committed to the success of every student.

Instead of finding fault with students, create an ideal learning environment that responds to student needs.

Make sure your faculty/student interactions are supportive, understanding and sympathetic. Be accessible. Avoid stereotyping students and become aware of how your own communication style may be negative and nonsupportive.

If these ideas bring success for minority students in an alien environment, then they may be the keys to quality education for everyone.