An update from Ann Batenburg, Faculty in Residence (FiR) for the Virginia-Snider Residential Commons:
September 7, 2013
My first major program for students was today: Boulevarding with Batenburg, or Boulevarding 101. Students stopped in to get some treats and some mentoring for how to handle the Boulevard. The RA’s made a handout of tips for first years, and my apartment is rather ideally situated as a jumping-off point for the festivities (fortunately or unfortunately). Probably 30 people showed up and filtered in and out. Some just came down to introduce themselves – how lovely is that?
I feel as though my life is very full tonight – in the very-satisfying-yet-perhaps-too-full-but-it-was-all-so-yummy-after-Thanksgiving-dinner kind of full. I definitely need a nap, but I also keep smiling as I remember some of the things these students talked about. They are all so excited to be here at SMU. And every one of them who spoke about their major was terribly excited to be starting a challenging effort. They are excited for things to be difficult and to grow as a result of wrestling with big issues. Many were the hyper-achieving type for whom a quadruple major is not quite enough to satisfy all of their interests. I love people like that. People who are interested and excited to learn, and who take full advantage of this great gift that is a college education.
Our Common Reading author, Wes Moore, spoke the other day, and two things from his talk stayed with me. First was his phrase “avoidable tragedies.” Many people don’t realize how few Americans actually graduate from college. Current Census data show that 57% of Americans have “some college,” yet only 30% earn a Bachelor’s degree. This figure is backed up by the National Center for Education Statistics’ Condition of Education report that finds that only 33% of 25- to 29-year-olds have completed a Bachelor’s degree.* The numbers are very different based on race; that is, minority students have much lower graduation rates. People are shocked by these statistics. I know I was the first time I heard them. SMU’s 4-year graduation rate is better at 67.3%, and its 6-year rate is better still at 79.4%.** Still, most of the students I have spoken with this year are even surprised by that figure. No one expects that anything other than graduating in four years will happen to him or her. Avoidable tragedies are not in the plan. Fingers crossed.
Wes Moore also talked about the opportunities and advantages that he had, and challenged us to think about, “What will you do with your experience here?” I met a bunch of students today who are already into it, grabbing every opportunity they can: combining subjects into fascinating majors, taking hard classes, joining clubs, starting community service projects. Here are students that are already reducing the chance that avoidable tragedies are going to happen to them by jumping right in and getting involved. I will take my nap, calmly reassured that the future is in good hands and the human race will be OK as long as these students are at the helm. And I am delighted that I am here to make the journey a little easier, with some free food and company, cookies on Sunday nights, some mentoring for the Boulevard and some encouragement when needed.
*The government shutdown continues to shut down the reputable online sources for these data: NCES.ed.gov and census.gov. Please forgive this temporary use of Wikipedia.
**SMU Institutional Research Retention and Graduation Rates for First-Year Students Fall 2012.