Dr. Tim O. Peterson first learned about the Shadow a Student Challenge by accident, though you could also describe the opportunity as chance, meant-to-be, or fate. This post could easily not have happened. There are so many other directions this story could have gone, if not for this savvy management professor at North Dakota State University (NDSU).
Peterson and Dr. Carrie Anne Platt were at a committee meeting. Platt mentioned she had just come from shadowing a student for the day. Read about Platt’s experience. Most people conducting this kind of small talk would think to ask how it went or why she chose to participate, but not Peterson. Peterson’s first response was to inquire about how he could also participate in this challenge. “I seek out any opportunity to be reminded of what it is like to be a student,” Peterson says.
The conversation could have ended right there. Platt could have said, “maybe next year” or “it’s really too late to participate.” You see, this conversation happened on a Thursday; the very last day of the experience was Friday, the next day. But, because there was another savvy instructor on the other end of the conversation, Platt said, “yes.” Platt jumped to work to find a willing student to match Peterson with and get them connected sometime between the end of her workday and the early hours of the next day. That kind of commitment to this experience is part of what makes it so fascinating.
As it turns out, Platt was able to match Peterson with Kylee Arndt. Arndt is the finance officer for Student Government. She is also an honors-level electrical engineering student. Arndt met up with Peterson about an hour after her day on campus began. Rather than take any risks in accidentally violating the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), the pair agreed to meet after she finished her work in the Office of Registration and Records.
Breaking the Ice
Once the pair met up, Peterson felt like he knew Arndt, but was a little hesitant to suggest they had met before. Little did he know, Arndt was thinking the same thing and decided to break the ice and ask. This little gesture was the first of many takeaways for Peterson. The gesture of breaking the ice and finding common ground is something he teaches his students as it is a personal and professional skill we all must hone. Even faculty who teach this skill in their class can struggle to find ways to break the ice in conversation, a point Peterson believes is important for students to know and understand. Eventually, they figured out that Peterson had previously conducted a leadership lesson for honors program students, and that is how they knew each other.
Crisis of Confidence
Arndt’s first class was about circuits, a subject in which Peterson fully admits knowing nothing about. He jokes he knows so little about the subject that, in his early years, his Air Force recruiter told him point-blank that his area of training would definitely not be in engineering or mechanics. When the course began, the instructor wrote out a formula Peterson recognized but had what he thought was a small error. Peterson started to raise his hand to point out the error but before he got his hand about a quarter of the way up he found himself a little unsure. He then put his hand down again, and a mental battle ensued. He questioned whether or not the formula really was written wrong. After all, this was a subject he knew virtually nothing about. But then again, if the formula was wrong, all those students would write it down wrong. The two sides of his brain battled back and forth for a bit until a student from the back of the class pointed out the error. Peterson tells this story not to point out an instructional error, but to point out something far more important for students; he knew he was right about the formula, but he convinced himself he didn’t know.
Think about the fact that this is an accomplished instructor sitting in a class second guessing himself. Not believing in himself in that moment made Peterson wonder how many students do this on a daily basis. How does this affect their learning? How do we teach our students to have confidence in themselves? Throughout the rest of the class, Peterson’s mind whirled with the revelation of this personal crisis of confidence and what that could mean for his students, as well as how he could help students grappling with this.
Not believing in himself in that moment made Peterson wonder how many students do this on a daily basis. How does this affect their learning?”
After that class, Arndt proclaimed, “Before we go tabling, I have to spend some time in the Student Government office.” Peterson was struck by the language she used. He was unfamiliar with the term “tabling.” To be honest, I couldn’t figure it out either. My mind had assigned it to the category of going to the dining center and spending time moving from table to table talking with students. We will get to the real definition of tabling in a bit.
They spent about an hour in the Student Government office while she signed documents. As the finance officer, she is responsible for approving student organization expenses and reimbursements, so there is a lot to sign.
Now, on to Tabling
The tabling experience was part of Arndt’s sorority. “Tabling” is essentially what many of us call a tradeshow booth. Students rent a table in the Memorial Union to promote events or various ideas. It turns out they had the luck of the draw that day because they had Peterson, a management professor, tabling with them.
Tabling or staffing a tradeshow booth is nerve wracking for most people. The goal is to communicate with a bunch of people you don’t know and convince them why they should attend your event or buy your product/idea. Often, the hardest part is making an initial connection, also known as breaking the ice. Peterson says that he himself is an introvert and sometimes struggles with this personally. But, professionally, he knows how to do this very well.
Ever the instructor, he began modeling the most effective way of reaching people when tabling. He showed them how he connects with people first then tells them about the event. While at this tabling event, Peterson had another instructor come give him a huge hug, and he got President Bresciani to stop and take a moment from his busy schedule. Peterson hopes these students took away a valuable lesson on the importance of building connections.
Later that day, they met with the student body president to discuss upcoming budget cuts. When enrollment is down, the student activities office does not escape budget cuts because their funding is directly tied to student fees. Peterson was extremely impressed by the ability of these students to show compassion, caring, and yet the steely nature that is required of anyone planning budget cuts. It is in that moment when he realized how important these activities are to students. Peterson himself has no experience with student activities in college. Shortly after high school, he enlisted in the U.S. Air Force, and by the time he got back to college, he had a wife and child, which made participating in student activities difficult. Read more about the unique challenges for student veterans.
This experience already has Peterson doing things differently. He has consciously changed the way he grades papers and projects. Now, he writes more on student papers, encouraging the good he sees in a student’s work. He has also begun to recognize when his students are finding the emotion behind diversity in his MGMT 453: Understanding and Managing Diversity in Organizations class and when they are making great observations in class. Students need to know when they are doing the right things and be encouraged to continue doing them.
Peterson plans on being part of the next Shadow a Student Challenge. His hopes are that he could shadow an average student who may not participate in any student activities and may or may not work part-time. If you are interested in participating in a future Shadow a Student Challenge, contact Dr. Carrie Anne Platt. Also, let us know in the comments below if you have any questions for Dr. Peterson regarding his Shadow a Student Challenge experience.
Read the experiences of other participants:
- Dr. Scott Pryor, associate dean for undergraduate programs, College of Engineering.
- Dr. Rhonda Kitch, former NDSU registrar.
- Dr. Carrie Anne Platt, associate dean of the College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences.
About the Author
In more than 14 years at NDSU, Jadrny has learned a lot about higher education. She curates this blog to allow all individuals to continue learning about higher education and best practices in teaching.
Let’s learn together!