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Eight things: Communicate, collaborate

January 27, 2014

Photo of a mortar board and tassel on a stack of booksEditor’s note: This is the third of a four-part series on student learning outcomes, the focus of NIU’s general education requirements, in advance of the Jan. 29 General Education and Integrative Learning Symposium on campus.

by Michael Kolb

Clear and effective communication, and an ability to work collaboratively in teams are essential to being successful in the work place, and in life. In a continued discussion on Student Learning Outcomes, or SLOs, we will discuss how NIU students are learning these skills.

Communicate clearly and effectively

Communication is at the heart of all careers; indeed, at the heart of our society.

Without clear and effective communications, a scientist would not be able to effectively share the outcomes of their research, a teacher would not adequately explain a concept to their students, and a manager could not effectively lead their team. It truly drives our world.

We want our students to leave here with a firm grasp of how to develop and express ideas, both in writing and in speech. To accomplish this, they must give attention to organization, context, language, delivery, use of sources and supporting materials, all while remaining true to the central message.

Elaine Rodriguez, a junior pre-physical therapy major and University Honors student, chairs the “student engagement” subcommittee for the Northern Lights Ambassadors. Her In her leadership role, she regularly practices the skills of communicating clearly and effectively as she organizes and coordinates meeting presentations for COMS 100, ENGL and UNIV101 classes with the goal to encourage student involvement on campus.

Her ability to effectively communicate not only allows her to reach out and encourage students to engage in campus life, but will serve her as an important career and lifelong skill.

Collaborate with others to achieve specific goals

Students visit the Huskie Service Scholars Community Garden.

Students visit the Huskie Service Scholars Community Garden.

The ability to collaborate with others to achieve specific goals is paramount to success. In fact, the term “teamwork” is used so frequently it has nearly become cliché.

The ability to work not only collaboratively but also efficiently – while remaining focused on the goal or the team’s charge – is a skill all NIU students must have upon graduation.

A shining example of this collaboration is the Huskie Service Scholars program.

Through this program, incoming first-generation or low-income students are paired with upperclassmen mentors and engage in service projects throughout the community. Through their service projects, students learn to work together with the help of their mentor, while making a lasting impact on their community as well.

Kathryn Olson, a 2012-2013 HSS peer mentor, organized the Huskie Service Scholars this past summer to collaboratively plan and tend their own DeKalb County Community Garden. Her goal was to provide locally grown fresh vegetables and herbs for DeKalb community citizens in need.

Her goal meant that she had to not only organize her peers, but also apply and obtain a McCormick Student Civic Engaged Scholar Award and assistance from the Office of Student Engagement and Experiential Learning and ILCC-NIU AmeriCorps VISTA Lucero Martinez.

Communication and collaboration are both extremely important not only in our work lives, but in our personal lives. NIU students should graduate as confident communicators and collaborators.

Michael Kolb is general education coordinator and professor of anthropology at NIU.