NOVA’s Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning (CETL) held Friday Conversations, in conjunction with Achieving the Dream, on November 18 at the Loudoun Campus. The highlight was a student panel featuring students from all backgrounds, ages and bringing widely diverse life experiences.
Sixty-five registered to hear the perspectives of 15 students. There were four Man Up students, a formerly homeless female veteran, a student from Croatia, one from Chile, one who served time in prison and others from uniquely disadvantaged backgrounds. Several made repeated attempts at college before they found success at NOVA.
Faculty members Karen Doheney (LO) and Stephen Clarke (LO) moderated; and Dr. Frances Villagran-Glover (AL), CETL’s interim director and Learning and Technology Resources (LTR) dean, introduced the panel.
When asked to tell about a challenge in learning and how they overcame it, one responded that, in an earlier attempt at college, circumstances forced him to drop out and take zeros in all of his classes. When he enrolled at NOVA, he felt so far behind, he thought he would never catch up. His professors encouraged him and taught him how to write papers and the building blocks to succeed in math.
Several highlighted the importance of the Student Development (SDV) course all students must take. SDV teaches college basics, from writing papers, study skills, time management and navigating Blackboard.
“SDV is like broccoli,” said one student. “It is not tasty, but it is good for you.”
Another who experienced domestic abuse said it is a challenge for students to leave their personal lives at the door. While she was learning English, she was dealing with abuse.
“I am in a classroom not just to learn,” she said, “but to make sense of my life.”
When asked to tell about a teacher they connected with and the impact that made, one relayed that one of her professors was new to NOVA when she started.
“He would say, ‘You’re smart. You’re good. You can go on.’ I took five of his classes and got As and Bs. When you have teacher support, it helps you overcome.”
One student grappling with a learning disability said she took American Sign Language (ASL) as her language requirement. She did fine during ASL I, but in ASL II began floundering and the teacher was not helpful.
A veteran student said she started at NOVA homeless and living in her car.
“Because of my situation, I missed the first class where the professor outlined requirements for the rest of the semester,” she said.
When she joined the class on week two, he did not mention these details. She did not have a computer or money to purchase the required textbook.
“Classmates pitched in to loan me the book, but I would have liked more support from the professor.”
The student panel, who were speaking to NOVA faculty, endeavored to help faculty see more deeply into the needs, obstacles and strength of NOVA students.
“Learning is how to integrate into society,” a student said. “For NOVA, the threshold to enter is zero, but the sky’s the limit from there. Everyone on this panel has figured out how to overcome and do well in classes, but it is the strength of our story that gets us through.”