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National survey says NIU students engaged with faculty and academics

February 13, 2019

Results from the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) were presented to a mid-sized crowd of NIU faculty, staff and students by Renique Kersh, associate vice provost for student engagement and success, and Brandon Lagana, director of career services planning and assessment, on Thursday, Feb. 7.  

Recognizing the importance of sharing survey data more broadly that highlight student perceptions of their experiences at NIU, their presentation led to encouraging insights into why the NIU campus environment matters. NSSE results from 2018 demonstrated the consistent message from students that their interactions with faculty are valuable to their NIU experience.   

When students were asked about the most significant learning experience they have had at NIU, many identified the role that faculty have played in encouraging, challenging and supporting them toward successful outcomes. 

One particular student’s response illustrated this point, “My professor has really changed my outlook on English. I can tell he really cares about me personally and how I am doing in his class by his feedback and how he speaks to me. He even knows all of his student’s names. It has really driven me to try harder and be more involved.” 

Another student spoke to how much faculty have played a role in supporting positive academic outcomes. The student shared, “My professors are very encouraging and helpful. I have never felt like I am unable to ask them questions or go to them for help. This has helped me tremendously with maintaining and achieving good grades.” 

From the comments, students articulated the immense growth that they have experienced being on a campus that encourages diverse perspectives and with such a diverse student body citing engagement with people from different backgrounds as significant to learning. One student shared, “I sat with several other members of my floor, all from different backgrounds and identities, and we talked about our thoughts about religion, sexuality, politics, etc. It was a space where we could learn and educate each other on different aspects of society. It was significant for us all because we made sure it was a safe space.”

Another student stated, “For me, the most significant experience was learning how to be open minded. I met people with different backgrounds and beliefs and got to see multiple perspectives and viewpoints. It also helped me in finding my passion for medicine. Socializing with various people helped me improve my public speaking skills and also made me a confident person. Coming to NIU helped me in knowing who I am.” 

Such experiences have been thoroughly supported by years of higher education research on students and how they engage in their college environments in meaningful ways. Such work by Alexander Astin, a well-known higher education theorist, explored student affairs work related to student engagement and involvement. Astin developed a framework known as the Campus Ecology which suggests that, (1) students encounter environmental stimuli on college campuses that can lead to the adaptation or reinforcement of traits and behaviors; (2) students can cause adaptions to the campus environment; and (3) student outcomes (such as success, learning, etc.) occur as a result of their interaction with the campus environment (Renn and Reason, 2013).  

NIU responses to the NSSE multiple choice items indicated that discussions with diverse others is an area for growth for NIU in comparison to peer institutions; however, students’ comments are encouraging and further support our institutional efforts to continue to celebrate the diversity of our students. 

“It was one student’s comment that really stuck with me,” Kersh said. “The student stated that ‘NIU was [their] last choice, but after interacting with faculty and advisors, the student started to love the school and became confident in [their] ability to be successful here.’ This is at the heart of why environments matter. Coming to work at NIU every day is more than just coming to a job. Every day we all show up, is an opportunity to influence not just one moment in a student’s life, but to influence a student’s long-term trajectory. We all have the power to create an environment that either supports or discourages student success, and I want to be on the supportive side!” 

Undergraduate student Oriana Flores and Renique Kersh,
associate vice provost for student engagement and success

In addition to Kersh and Lagana’s presentation, Oriana Flores, an undergraduate College of Health and Human Sciences student, presented an engaging exhibit called, “Creating Environments that Matter,” that highlighted student engagement at NIU from the 1900s to present-day. The exhibit will also be available during the Undergraduate Research and Artistry Day and Community Engagement Showcase on Wednesday, April 17.

The presentation and exhibit are just the beginning of an ongoing effort to share results of surveys to the broader NIU campus. Kersh and Lagana outlined next steps, which include developing a web presence that the NIU community can use to access student experience survey data and to further explore some of the questions that came out of the NSSE through focus groups. A report on the NIU student experience will be completed this summer.