Created by: Mikki Hornstein, 2012-2013 Career Advising Fellow
Katie and I have represented the SPDC at a table set up during College Coffee for the past few Tuesdays. We have been speaking with students, handing out information fliers, and mostly promoting next week’s Employer Showcase.
For anyone who doesn’t know, College Coffee is a weekly event in the fall semester that is held on Tuesday mornings. No classes are scheduled during this time. Students, faculty, and staff are invited to partake in coffee and a snack (donuts, bagels, muffins – basically all things delicious). The event encourages socialization, promotion of student groups, and discussion of important issues. It’s a time for building and strengthening the Elon community.
The first college coffee I engaged in a few weeks ago was actually very moving. At the time I had been doing a lot of research on work-life balance for a presentation to the SPDC staff on a less-common career development topic. The idea that Elon University, as an institution, supports a time each week where a purposeful space for interaction among and between students, faculty, and staff is provided, sends such a powerful message. In saying, “Hey, we know you’re busy, but take a break, have a snack and coffee on us, and catch up with one another,” the unspoken message is, “We want you to have work/life balance. We think it’s so important that you take even a short amount of time out of your week to be among the Elon community, balancing both your work/classes with down time, that we support it financially and have integrated this custom into Elon way of life.”
Witnessing and participating in this was also a strong experience because I spent a great deal of time in my graduate classes learning about student retention and attrition, and learning about what factors can influence college student departure. Tinto’s Interactionalist Theory was one that we studied in depth and I can see the implications of this theory playing out at Elon. Briefly, Tinto’s theory explores how the interaction of a specific college student and his or her social and academic environments can be a good indication of that student’s likelihood of departure from college (as cited in Braxton, Hirschy, & McClendon, 2004l). According to Tinto, “the greater the degree of social integration, the greater the level of subsequent commitment to the institution,” and “the greater the level of subsequent commitment to the institution, the greater the likelihood of student persistence in college” (as cited in Braxton, Hirschy, & McClendon, 2004, p.10). Other scholars in higher education have explored Tinto’s theory and proposed certain amendments to it, but the premise remains the same. In fact, one of the additional ideas proposed was this: “The more a student perceives that the institution is committed to the welfare of its students, the greater the student’s level of social integration” (Braxton, Hirschy, McClendon, 2004, p. 23). So institutional commitment to student welfare —> social integration —> student persistence.
College coffee is an important manifestation of Elon’s commitment to the welfare of its students. With a great first to second year retention rate of 90%, Elon is demonstrating that students are liking what they find here. College Coffee may just be one of those things. Not only can students socialize with their peers, they can also interact with their professors and with staff members. I won’t go into it here because I’ve clearly geeked out on theory too much already, but there is research that supports the idea that students gain a lot from interacting with faculty outside of the classroom. College Coffee creates an easy arena for this interaction. It’s been eye-opening seeing the theory come to life.
Braxton, J. M., Hirschy, A. S., & McClendon, S. A. (2004). Understanding and Reducing College Student Departure. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.