Navigating large educational institutions in the wake of a global pandemic is one of the toughest challenges educators have faced to date, and it has become essential to think of new and innovative ways to help students reintegrate into student life after so much time off-campus.
GoodCourse Universities Lead Kitty Hadaway, sat down with Jason Pina, Vice President for University Life and Global Engagement at New York University (NYU), to discuss student engagement and interaction post-Covid, widening career paths and more.
My role has two parts. Firstly, working with colleagues in New York City around traditional student affairs functions such as housing, sports, conduct, activities, career services, and more.
The other part of my time is spent running our global sites, of which we have 12 — predominantly study-away sites for NYU students based in Shanghai, Abu Dhabi, and New York.
I’ve been here for less than 2 years, and have spent the past year doing the work I just described. What brought me here was my previous VP roles at other universities prior to this, which had me looking for a new challenge and unique environment; somewhere that I could both contribute and learn.
We want our students to graduate and think of their student experience in three prongs: academic (the key reason they come here); the New York City experience — our students specifically want to study in this city and we promote that too; and thirdly, their university experience outside the classroom.
This is the ultimate university experience, but the out-of-class experiences are the least talked about, and we want to change that. It comes from students taking advantage of the opportunities here; there are so many options that it can be hard for them to know what’s out there and what they can take advantage of.
We want to start leveraging technology, staff, and faculty in order to create guided pathways that direct students. We want to give them a vision for their path in university, depending on their specific needs, and show them that we can accommodate them.
Seeing students reconnect post-Covid has been the most significant engagement we’ve seen. Our students are learning how important their daily interactions with one another are because they didn’t have them for so long.
I’ve seen a lot of growth in students, and that’s where I see engagement the most. What we needed to do was to curate the atmosphere where that could happen as we opened up again.
Covid regulations were all about what we can’t do. So we wanted to think about what we could do: creating atmospheres for interactions, such as developing spaces for people to find themselves and reconnect with one another. It’s through creating these organic spaces that we can listen to what students need and get back into programming according to those needs.
Anything to do with space in New York City is challenging, but our students wanted it so badly that they were happy to have outdoor spaces to interact in, even in the freezing cold. Our students also pushed us to evolve how we dealt with Covid, to have more open space and informal interactions. We’ve focused on being conscious of the physical spaces that we do have, as well as the outside space and activities in the city.
What concerns me most is student representation via student government; during the pandemic everything was online, but now they have to learn how to represent tens of thousands of students in person. It’s different when meetings are on zoom, without pre- and post-meeting engagement and the conversations that tell you what people are really going through.
We've focused on being conscious of the physical spaces that we do have, as well as the outside space and activities in the city.
This has meant we are seeing less engagement in terms of student government representing all of these people where they’re less visible. This is where we need to work, to find new ways of gaining insights into what students need and how that can go through student government. They need to be as informed as possible so that we can serve our students.
A lot of students come with thoughts of their own about what a career is and what a major means for the rest of their lives — everyone has assumptions about this. What I model is getting them exposed to our career development office as soon as possible, asking what they want from their major and what they hope to gain from it. Then we show them the options they have, have them meet students from different backgrounds and different schools because we also want them to be students of the world. No matter where they go in life, they will live among people from different backgrounds, so in that respect it doesn’t matter what they major in.
Be open. Just a few years ago I never imagined I’d work at NYU, and this has been the case with every job I’ve had. Closing yourself off is never wise; no matter how hard it is for you, you need to stay open. I would also say be a learner; I haven’t always had the right experience for a specific position, but I’ve always wanted to learn.
This is someone who recently retired. Her name is Toni Blackwell — I had her help on a project here, and hearing her speak I realized how much she has taught me about who I am to my core. Twenty years after meeting her I still hold on to all of the things she taught me. Sharing this moment with her was a great experience.
Leading Change by John P. Kotter; I read it every year. I seem to always take jobs that incorporate major changes, and it helps me think through the components of change where I get too invested in some aspects and forget about other aspects. Revisiting this book is a good refresher for me when managing change.