Students are a part of a university campus, but they are also a part of a wider community made up of many other kinds of people. Furthermore, students are a reflection of that community, and therefore have a lot of the same needs as others within it.
GoodCourse (GC) spoke to Brian Mitra, Vice President of Student Affairs & Enrollment Management at Queensborough Community College about creating opportunities for students through community outreach and combining resources with community organizations to help students.
My route is a non-traditional one because I don't have any Higher Education (HE) degrees, per se. My family is in the medical field so in high school I thought I wanted to go into physical therapy, but doing the science and math courses wasn't successful for me so I was faced with some academic challenges and had to go to community college to get my grades up. In my junior year, I changed to a Health Science and Healthcare Administration course and then fell into this line of work. I found a graduate position at Stony Brook in Commuter student affairs without even realizing it was a career, and that’s how I got here.
Being exposed to that so early and having lived on campus, I had my own lived experience, and my role meant that I was aware of another group of students on campus that did not share the same lived experience as me. My role was to provide for those students and still make them feel like they belonged to the university. It’s not always that students don't want to live on campus — many of them have other responsibilities like caring or work — so we implemented a lot of creative thinking to bring programming to the students and not wait for them to ask.
I’ve always worked in community colleges, and that work is all about responding to the needs of the community where you are situated. I began working with community-based organizations through previous institutions and realized that our students had the same needs as those being helped by community organizations. From there, we discussed the specific needs of our students and the outcome that they truly wanted. It allowed me to gain deeper insight into the communities we were serving and the needs of the students in accordance with those needs. These are our pathways to create opportunities for skill development and workplace success.
Understanding who our students are is critical. We know that even before the pandemic, school wasn't a priority for many students who worked or were caregivers, and knowing the complexity of their lives is critical. During the pandemic, we had a lot of transition issues, both for staff and students. We saw a lot more mental health issues; in order to work through that, we had to come up with ways to make that transition smoother. We looked into getting students back to campus earlier so they could make those connections sooner, as well as easing them into the workload at the beginning of the semester. We also looked at how we were working with our staff because they are the ones dealing with students face-to-face and needed support for that.
It’s about figuring out their needs and then finding solutions to address them. Coming out of the pandemic has been about finding out which practices from that time we want to keep in our regular practices. A big part of that was implementing online learning into courses more because that works for a lot of students.
Since we’re part of the University of New York, we do have a lot of policies in place already, so it's about making sure students are aware of what those are. This is more than a piece of paper, students need to understand fully what the policy means, and there are a lot of challenges to that. It also can’t be a tick-box exercise; we have mandatory training and workshops, but we need to find ways of reinforcing that.
One thing we did was change the name of our Student Conduct Judicial Affairs to ‘Community Standards’ — so it's about being more proactive. We set these standards to let students know that there is an expectation of them when they come here and they have responsibilities as adults. What we need to work on is ensuring that this is always visible to students and completely understood.
Find your passion and find a space where you feel you can make a difference. No matter what area it is, find what you are passionate about. That’s when it will become a career rather than a job.
I look at my own institution here, such as our AVP of DEI, Amaris Matos, who is now leading this work, and Kerri-Ann Smith who has worked to develop anti-racist pedagogy for the curriculum. Also, our President, Christine Mangino, for how much she wants to create a culture of care here.
I always go back to The Alchemist — it’s so important to self-reflect, especially in my line of work. It has always had a lot of meaning for me.