January/February 2012

I just did the arithmetic and was staggered by the fact that as Dean of Freshman Studies for the past 11 years I have shepherded about 13,000 freshmen through Mooney Hall! It’s given me a unique perspective into the mindset of an 18-year-old.

Now, I move beyond the freshman class to the concerns of all students as the Vice President of Student Services, a new area that encompasses Student Affairs, Special Academic Programs and Freshman Studies. I will be supervising student activities, student judicial affairs, health, counseling and career services, retention and advising, Greek life, housing and other student concerns. But before I go forward, I decided to pause and reflect on what I know to be true about student life.

When I was a professor teaching News Reporting, I used to make my students reserve a section of their course notebooks for “Tips from Tracy.” By the end of the semester they had accumulated a litany of advice about journalism. When former students come back to visit, “Tips from Tracy” is the one thing they remember (although I am not certain they can recollect any of the scintillating tidbits). Thus, for parents, some “Tips from Tracy” culled from years of observation on what works, and what doesn’t, in trying to shepherd our children toward commencement.

  • Let them make their own mistakes. This is the hardest one for us, myself included, to abide by. For better or worse, this generation of students is closer to their parents than we ever were. And more dependent. When I started in Freshman Studies, I used to beg my students to call home so their parents knew they were alive. I would tell them to call when no one would be home and say, “Hi Mom! Just checking in. Everything is great. I love you and miss you!” Now, when I am advising students, I often see that they are texting their parents the information that I am giving them. Still, it is our job as parents to teach our students how to achieve academic independence. We are hampering their journey to adulthood if we refuse to allow this to happen.
  • Make sure the career they choose is theirs, not the one we want. I must concede that we ask an awful lot of 17- and 18-year-olds by forcing them to declare their life path in high school. If national stats are to be believed (and I think they are pretty much on point), about half of the 13,000 freshmen who trekked through our program changed their major en route to graduation. My intention as a high school senior was to be a math teacher. Ha! That fantasy only lasted one semester, when I was introduced to calculus. Students come to college with majors based on day dreams, on their parents’ hopes and aspirations, on really cool television programs and, in a few cases, reality. Some students really are destined to be doctors and nurses and teachers, but for many, the first year of college is one of exploration. Testing whether they were meant to be biology majors is a part of the mix. And first semester grades, whether they are among the 49 4.0 students or among the students on probation, provide a litmus test for a student’s aptitude for and interest in a major. Students who didn’t do well in their major courses need to assess their plan of action. Students who thrived but were miserable also need to assess.
  • Give your students lots of advice, but then step back. I call it coaching from the sidelines. My suggestions should in no way diminish your role in your children’s lives. My children would chuckle at the very idea —they always know what Mom is thinking.
  • Encourage your students to embrace all of college life. The happiest students are the ones who are engaged in the college. If your student doesn’t seem content or is making noise about wanting to transfer, the best course of action is a heart-to-heart conversation. What went well last semester? When was your son or daughter happiest? And what went wrong? By far, the No. 1 way to assure satisfaction is to be engaged. Was your student involved in an activity? Strategize now and make sure your student promises to get involved. Try a club or organization or extra-curricular activity. As a Comm professor, I always encouraged my students to join The Setonian, our student newspaper, or WSOU-FM, our radio station, or the Theatre Council. All of these extra-curricular activities take solid chunks of idle time away from students, provide a ready-made circle of friends and also provide a line on a resume. But most importantly, the activity helps your student adjust to college. And it provides students with a group of “peeps” who look out for each other. Best of all, it makes them happy, and that’s what all of us really want.

Hope your student has a great semester.

By Tracy Gottlieb, Ph.D.
Vice President of Student Services

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2 Responses to January/February 2012

  1. Paul says:

    Dear Dean Gottlieb and prospective Seton Hall parents,

    It is all good!

    A couple of weeks ago, we received a package in the mail informing us that our Son had been admitted to Seton Hall. As a Rutgers family (both me, my wife and my oldest son went to Rutgers), we were happy but anxious about what it would be like for our youngest son to attend Seton Hall, which was his choice.

    A week or so ago, I was able to swing by Seton Hall to visit the College Bookstore in order to pick up a “souvenir” in order to surprise our son on his Seton Hall admission.

    Something happened on that trip, and today reading this blog, that changed our view of Seton Hall and calmed our nerves as Freshman Parents.

    While riding into the school, a couple of weeks ago, past an impressive building– perhaps a library–I rolled down my window from my little red car to ask directions from a lady who was passing by on the sidewalk. I asked: Can you please direct me towards the College Bookstore? I am looking for a place to park to buy my Son a sweat shirt… He just got accepted to Seton Hall!

    The women on the side walk replied enthusiastically and gave me instructions in a way that made me feel important–that I was welcome on campus and that she was there to support me.

    Fast forward to today, when I was googling the women’s name, Dean Gottlieb, and I happened on a post in this blog dated May 4, 2010. The post included a conversational style approach that made us feel, as nervous parents, that folks at Seton Hall really understood today’s youth and that our family and our kid are “normal!’ Precious!!!

    In today’s hurried and challenging world, making the transition from High School to College, for both child and parents, is difficult and unsettling–especially making the economic commitment in these times of economic uncertainty.

    The post was from the women on the sidewalk (now clearly Dean Gottlieb) and the positive experience on that sidewalk now turned into an amazing realization that Seton Hall is a special place with leaders in charge that understand education from the kitchen table to the campus exam. Kudos to Seton Hall and its visionary leadership that touches parents like us when we needed it most.

    Having been a Rutgers student, husband, uncle and parent, I was used to the larger University experience. But the women standing on the sidewalk seemed personal, in charge and directed me in a way that made me feel that I was not a number and that she was not one of 100 Deans… She said in a welcoming yet authoritative voice: “If you have any concerns just tell them your talked with Dean Gottlieb…” and I sped off feeling that I was a Seton Hall parent and that I, as a soon to be tuition paying parent, owned the place. Wow!

    Of course my post sound a bit overly inspired, blame that inspiring Dean, Gottlieb!

    • Tracy Gottlieb says:

      Wow! What a nice comment. You made my day. I hope that Seton Hall continues to live up to your high expectations. I have to say that I really believe in the mission of our university and that every day I ask the employees I supervise to treat students as individuals and to always remember that our goal is to help every single person succeed. I look forward to meeting you officially at Pirate Adventure in June. Please come up to me and reintroduce yourself (as the man whom I told to park illegally! Oh my!). Tracy

      Tracy Gottlieb, Ph.D.
      Vice President of Student Services
      Seton Hall University
      South Orange, NJ 07079
      (973)761-9786

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