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Finding a Campus Connection Through Candy, Pretzels, and Coffee?

Candy, Pretzels, and Coffee were the highlight of a conversation I had on a recent campus visit. I often visit college campuses to keep up with the latest trends and was pleasantly surprised to have a delightful conversation with a physics professor. (I'm not going to lie, I was a little nervous about meeting with a physics professor because I know NOTHING about physics.)

Now, you're probably wondering what candy, pretzels, and coffee have to do with anything. Hang with me, I'm getting there. After touring the campus of Monmouth College in rural Illinois, I had questions bubbling up about how such colleges support their students. From what I've learned in recent years is college students are changing. The level of anxiety is growing and students are often lacking resiliency. So when I'm recommending colleges to my students I want to learn how colleges are responding to these needs of the students and what that looks like.

Often times, my students ask me the difference between a larger campus and smaller campus. And often times, my students don't realize small liberal arts campuses have just as many benefits as larger colleges and universities. We just don't hear about them as much because big football or basketball games frequently overshadow the other aspects of campus life. ( academic programs and career development opportunities) So, back to my conversation with the physics professor.....

I asked the professor if he'd noticed an increase of anxiety which he had. I asked:

What do you do when students miss class?

Do you call them?

Email them?

Text them?

Call their parents?!?!?!?

And he said laughing, "Yes, all of those things, I do. Well, I don't call their parents necessarily because the students need to learn how to live independently but I do show them that I am concerned."

Then he continued to explain the importance for the students to have a connection to someone on campus. They need to know someone cares. One way he gets to know students (whether they are in one of his classes or not) is to have jars of candy, pretzels, and fresh coffee available in his office. As students walk by, he said they inevitably stop and ask "Can I have some candy?" It's at that point that he engages in conversation with students. "How's your day?" How's your semester going?" He explained that he learns a lot from students and also what's working and not working for them such as roommate struggles, academic worries, or homesickness. He really gets to know students and begins to build trust with them. This professor is helping build a supportive community for this college campus. (I firmly believe that more campuses and professors need to be taking this approach, by the way. Students need a connection!) My heart could not help but smile during our conversation. I kept thinking to myself, this guy is the real deal. He gets it. He understands that college is more than learning in the classroom but also outside the classroom. This is so important for the social-emotional learning of college students.

So, there is more to small liberal arts school than what one might realize. I'll wrap up this post for now but stay tuned for more information of what I learned from this physics professor in future posts.

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