Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Extra: The FA Holiday Party

by Sarah Gutowski, Chair, New Member Mentoring Program

We're making up for missing a post two weeks ago -- you felt like something was missing, didn't you? -- by sending out one more blog post that doubles as a reminder.

Hmmm, this looks familiar, doesn't it?
This year’s event will be held on December 6 at 7 p.m. at Villa Lombardi’s in Holbrook (877 Main Street), and because this is your first year here, your ticket to the party will be paid for by the FA. Woohoo! Of course, you are welcome to bring your spouse or significant other or a friend to the Holiday Party with you – and many people do – but that ticket will cost $40. (You are free also to buy additional tickets for more friends if you like – bring your bowling team! Your book club! Your Sunday morning coffee klatsch! – but those cost around $75 per person.)
You can find a reservation form for the Holiday Party on the back of the current copy of The Word, or you could click here. The only catch: The deadline's tomorrow, Wednesday, November 20. If you call the office at x4151 or email Anita at anita (at) fascc.org.
I encourage you to go to the Holiday Party, particularly in your first years here. It’s a great way to get to know your colleagues in a setting outside of work. (I was going to write “in a less formal setting,” but the FA Holiday shindigs can be pretty fancy. Not quite black tie, but a good excuse to wear that special something that’s just a little too shimmery or glittery or velvety for the office or classroom.)
That’s it for today! I promise!

NYSUT, AFT, AFL-CIO, and "On Campus"

by Sarah Gutowski, Chair, New Member Mentoring Program

You may or may not have come to SCCC this year from an institution with a strong union presence (or, sadly, any union presence at all) -- so being a part of a union and what that means may be rather new to you.
Why grade that stack of papers when you could explore AFT?
The Faculty Association of Suffolk County Community College is dedicated to providing good working conditions and salaries for its community of professionals (full-time classroom faculty, librarians, counselors, specialists and professional assistants), as well fostering an environment that "maintain[s] the tradition of excellent public higher education in Suffolk County, New York," as FA President Kevin Peterman writes in his welcome letter on the FA web site.

The FA shares this commitment to excellence in higher education and optimal working conditions for its professionals by being a part of New York State United Teachers (or, NYSUT), a federation of more than 1,200 local unions in New York State. NYSUT is an affiliate of AFT, the American Federation of Teachers -- which is an affiliate of AFL-CIO (American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations), an "umbrella federation for U.S. unions."

Together, these organizations work to promote the best interests of its membership. The FA believes, as Kevin reminds us in his welcome letter, "the working conditions of our members help enhance the learning conditions of our students" -- so promoting the best interests of the membership also promotes the best interest of our students and, because we're a public institution, our community.

You'll notice (if you haven't already) that as a part of the FA you're going to receive a lot of literature via the U.S. Postal Service from AFT and NYSUT. While this can seem overwhelming once in a while, especially around election time, the pros of being "in the loop" far outweigh the cons.

For instance, you probably received an issue of the September/October issue of AFT's periodical "On Campus" at the beginning of the semester.  This magazine addresses a number of issues relevant to those working in higher education, and often gives you a larger sense of whats happening in higher education (the good and the bad) across the nation. Its worth perusing these issues even if you have to wait until classes are over to find the time to keep abreast of important trends that may affect our profession.

The magazine also features articles that offer advice and tips for improving your professional performance. To peruse any back issue of On Campus, visit http://www.aft.org/newspubs/periodicals/oc/issues.cfm.
Also, as members of AFT and NYSUT, you're eligible for benefits. To learn more about these benefits (from car rental, entertainment, and healthclub discounts to legal and financial services), visit www.aft.org and create an online account -- you'll need your AFT member number and your AFT local number.
You should have received an AFT membership card in the mail by this point. But if you've misplaced it (LIKE SOMEONE WHO SHOULD BE MUCH BETTER ABOUT SUCH THINGS BUT ISN'T, AND SHALL REMAIN NAMELESS) you should go to the AFT Members Only page and fill out the form. Explain that you need your number(s), and they'll send you a helpful email in response.
NYSUT also provides benefits to its members (you may have received some indication of this via mail already). To log on to the NYSUT web site and learn more, visit their login page and follow the directions.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Guest Post: Advising

by Joe Napolitano, FA Mentor, New Member Mentoring Program

Editor's Note: Due to technical problems with the listserv last week and this week, we're a little behind on our posts. We apologize for the inconvenience.
Now that we're back, up and running, please welcome FA Mentor Joe Napolitano as our third fabulous guest blogger of the semester. Joe, who teaches Biology on the Eastern Campus, writes in his post about some of his own experiences as a first-year faculty member advising first-year college students, and gives us some relevant advice as we begin this semester's period of Priority Registration at SCCC.

Snow, Shark, and Priority Reg
It’s that time of year, once again.  The birds are flapping off to warmer climes (enviably), the trees are giving up on photosynthesis in one final festival of color (which we get to clean up), and surplus Halloween candy is cheap and plentiful (I’ve had Twizzlers for breakfast every day this week).

You may have also noticed the cool autumn breezes carrying faint whispers of “mid-semester…”, “SAIN report…”, and “priority registration….” - that’s right, it’s advising season.
Although our teaching duties probably occupy the bulk of our time, especially for new faculty, advising and mentoring students is, arguably, an equally important role of Suffolk faculty.  Regardless of rank or discipline, we all have two common goals - to facilitate students’ academic success during their time here, and to prepare them for their academic or professional endeavors to come.  Advising takes many forms and, chances are, you’ve already done plenty this semester.  However, the mid-semester mark is a useful advising cue for two reasons - it’s a good time to appraise students of their progress in your courses thus far, and also to start planning a course schedule for the next semester.

Sometime between the mid-semester mark and priority registration (October 24th and November 11th, respectively, this semester) I require all of my students to sit down individually with me for a brief advising session I call the ‘mid-semester check-in’.  During the check-in, we review their academic progress and attendance, calculate their current grade and estimate what they’ll need to get on upcoming assignments in order to end up with a final grade they’re satisfied with.  For students who are struggling, we talk about study skills and time management and plan additional meetings, if necessary.  I’ve found that, despite transparent grading policies and regular feedback, students don’t always have a clear idea of how they’re doing.  Perhaps it’s just easier to think “if I just keeping showing up it’s somehow going to be ok” instead of “holy crap, if I don’t do get it together in this class I’m completely screwed”.  Regardless, the check-in has been effective at ‘scaring straight’ some at-risk students (and providing a nice ego-stroking to those who are doing well).

The second part of the check-in is about planning ahead - getting students to start thinking about the next semester.  If you are unaware, Priority Registration is a period just after mid-semester when students can begin registering for the next semester’s classes.  In general, the longer a student has been at Suffolk, the earlier the registration date - this gives students with fewer semesters left the first crack at registering for the courses they need.  Students can check this date by logging in to MySCCC, clicking the “My Courses” tab, then “View My Holds”.

I encourage my students to have a schedule ready before their registration date so they can jump on the classes they want.  Wait too long and the class may fill (or be canceled) and there’s no waitlist system for courses at Suffolk so it’s hit or miss as to whether a seat will open up.

Advising can be a little intimidating, especially for new faculty.  After all, how can you guide a student through the intricacies of Suffolk when you just got here yourself?  To you, I have two pieces of advice:

First, fear not.  Advising is actually one of the best ways to learn about courses, requirements and programs at the College that you’re not already familiar with.  There are also plenty of resources available to help faculty with advising - from your FA faculty mentor to the Academic Advising and Mentoring Centers.  Although the AAMCs may seem like another service for students, they’re also very much for faculty.  Check out the brand new AAMC Short Guide - a brief how-to for faculty advising and mentoring.  It’s available at every AAMC, on the Virtual Learning Commons and via the Title III Project home page.  The guide also includes a veritable gold mine of contact info for College programs and offices.  Don’t know the answer?  Just call someone and ask!

My own first advising experience was terrifying (initially).  I volunteered for ‘arena advising’ - students queue up at a computer lab to meet with a counselor or faculty member during priority registration.  I showed up with little knowledge of Suffolk, to a long line of waiting students who knew even less and were expecting me to guide them.  Not only did I survive, but I learned so much from the experience  that I ended up doing it every semester thereafter - not just to help students, but because every advising experience made me a better adviser.

Second, never underestimate your ability to make a positive difference as an adviser.  Even a few minutes spent showing a student how to access their SAIN report or check their registration date can add up to some serious empowerment down the road.  College isn’t high school, and it can be daunting for students when they realize that, to a large degree, they’re expected to be their own guidance counselors, and navigate an unfamiliar educational system while making important life-decisions.

One of my favorite advising moments happened when I checked in with a student to whom I had suggested applying for a new summer research assistantship.   The student was one of the brightest I’d had, and the research experience would look great on her resume and perhaps even open a few doors.  As the deadline loomed, I asked if she had applied.  She replied that it looked interesting but was too expensive.  “Expensive?”  I was baffled - “the program is free”.  “But what about the $3000 stipend?” she asked.  “Uh, ‘stipend’ means *they* pay *you*…”  Needless to say, she applied, was accepted and spent the summer as an assistant researcher.  Crisis averted by a wee bit of advising.
(For more information, log in to MySCCC → click “Virtual Learning Commons” tab → click “For Instructors”.)