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The Story Behind Our Formula

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  • Be informed. Be Engaged. Be Present.

    The Student Success Formula

    Five years ago, I interviewed for the inaugural CEHD Director of Student Success position. As part of my interview process, I was asked to prepare a job talk on current trends in student affairs and a sample welcome message that I would deliver at a new, undergraduate transfer student orientation. I knew that preparing the job talk would take some time since I needed to research current trends and think about a succinct way to deliver the presentation; but, on the other hand, I knew that crafting the welcome message was going to be a cakewalk! 

    Two years prior, I was fresh out of doctoral studies at Illinois and had relocated to Ohio to assume a full-time student success position working with exploratory/undeclared students, new transfer students, and students who were not in good academic standing. Retention and graduation rates were pretty abysmal to be frank, and I was given the tall order to develop approaches and initiatives to improve those rates. Rather than assume that the students were not academically prepared for college or were unmotivated to earn a degree, as too often folks do in their instant analysis, I sought to understand their lived experiences and how they connected (or didn’t connect) to the university, including its structures, policies, resources, services, personnel, and academic programs. I quickly learned that students were not in sync with the university and vice versa. 

    I was lucky to have had my undergraduate experience at a nurturing Historically Black College and University (HBCU) in Louisiana. Though we had limited resources, we had highly supportive and engaged faculty, staff, upperclassmen, and alumni who showed us the way; they synced us to the university. I’ll never forget running into my mathematics department chair, Dr. Meyinsse, on “the strip” in between classes after returning from summer break following completion of my freshman year. He asked, “Berry, what did you do this summer?” I replied with glee, “I went home and got plenty of rest, hung out with my friends, and caught up on my favorite tv shows!” “And what else?” he asked. “That was it! It was great!” I responded. He leaned in towards me with direct eye contact, like only a parent could, and said, “make that your last summer at home just resting and hanging out. Berry, you need to be in a summer program and involved in activities preparing for life after undergrad.” Admittedly, I was a bit confused because as a first-generation college student, I thought taking the right classes was all that I needed to focus on to earn my degree and obtain a job offer or a graduate admissions letter.  

    That’s me as an undergrad at Southern University and A&M College

    He gathered my whole life in an instance! He was the lifeline that I didn’t know I needed. I spent a lot of time with Dr. Meyinsse, and others at the university, who instilled in me the expectation to “stay in the know” and encouraged me to become a Ronald E. McNair Scholar; attend and present at research conferences; go to sporting and social events at the school; serve in leadership roles in various clubs and organizations; get involved in student government; join the honors program; and form study and peer support groups. I even became a student ambassador and led campus tours for prospective students and their families and spoke at admissions events. I probably over did it, but I was fully plugged in to the university, highly engaged, and simply having the time of my life. Oh, and I got admitted to and enrolled in the doctoral program at Illinois immediately following completion of undergraduate studies! 

    Unfortunately, I wasn’t witnessing this motivation, engagement, or sentiment in my students in Ohio. However, I quickly realized that what they needed was a Dr. Meyinsse, so I became him for them.  

    I knew that if I could encourage them to plug in to the university by staying abreast of policies and deadlines; checking and responding to their emails in a timely fashion; and reviewing their degree audits and course syllabi regularly that they would be in a better position for success. So many of them were missing assignments, advising appointments, and opportunities to appeal decisions because they were disconnected. They had no clue what was going on at the university!  

    I knew that if I could get them to see beyond the degree audit and realize what it would take to be a competitive applicant with a diversified portfolio of experiences to land a job in their field or admission to an advanced degree program that they would then see the value in being engaged inside and outside of the classroom.  

    I knew that if I could get them to think about their areas of academic, professional, and personal strength and challenge and identify associated resources to aid in their development then they would want to explore all that the university has to offer to support their matriculation and wellbeing. 

    So, whenever my students would ask, “Dr. B., what I need to do to successfully make it through?” I always channeled my inner Dr. Meyinsse, “Be informed; Be engaged; and Be present—both inside and outside of the classroom; that’s the formula for optimal student success.” Dr. Meyinsse didn’t use those exact words, but it captures the spirit of his words and what I took away from our conversations and ultimately simplified to make shareable and actionable.  

    Fortunately, I didn’t just leave that message with my students in Ohio. I brought it with me in my new transfer student orientation welcome message for my interview at Mason and have shared it countless times with students, faculty, and staff ever since.  

    You’ve seen the student success formula on our swag. You’ve heard it in our presentations. We’ve even plastered it on the main wall in the CEHD Student Success Center. We’ve fully embraced it, and I urge you to do the same…because Dr. Meyinsse said so. 

    Dr. Ivory Berry, also known as “Dr. Get-Your-Life-Together,” is the Assistant Dean for Student Success for the College of Education and Human Development. He shares his no-nonsense wisdom every day in the Office of Student and Academic Affairs, and occasionally, here on the Student Success Blog.

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    Allow Us to Reintroduce Ourselves

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  • The Student Success Team: (L-R) Stephen Vaughan, Chris Creswell, Dr. Ivory Berry, Brianna Alford, and Jocelyn Callister; not pictured: Dr. Ellen Rodgers and Meg Yoder
    The Student Success Team: (L-R) Stephen Vaughan, Chris Creswell, Dr. Ivory Berry, Brianna Alford, and Jocelyn Callister; not pictured: Dr. Ellen Rodgers and Meg Yoder

    Borrowing from the lyrics of iconic American rapper and entrepreneur (and Beyonce’s husband), Jay Z’s hit song “Public Service Announcement,”  ALLOW US TO REINTRODUCE OURSELVES: We are the CEHD Student Success Team, and we are located in the newly designed CEHD Student Success Center in suite 2200 Thompson Hall on the Fairfax campus. 

    For those of you who have been around the college for a while, “Student Success Team” and “Student Success Center” may sound like fairly new concepts. However, if you’re familiar with Student and Academic Affairs, aka SAA, then there’s no breaking news here!  

    Our mission is still the same

    We support the teaching, scholarship, and service missions of the College by onboarding new students, facilitating enrollment and retention, addressing barriers to success, adjudicating appeals and grievances, awarding scholarships, coordinating enrichment activities and celebratory events, such as the student research symposium and graduation, and providing a broad range of informational, advising, professional development, financial, and support resources.   

    We’ve just retooled, rebranded, and relocated.   

    In summer 2019, the Student Success Team accepted the offer from the dean to move down the hall to the suite most recently vacated by our Admissions colleagues in order to make way for the college to stand up the new TEACHERtrack@Mason office in suite 2300 Thompson, our previous home. Though it was bittersweet to depart our old digs and suitemates, we eventually leaned into the possibilities of what could be in our new, collaborative space. But first, the new space needed some major work to fit our needs and personalities! For starters, we needed an additional office space to fit the full team, and we needed more of an open floor concept given the collaborative nature of our team; thus, out with the cubicles and in with a new front desk workstation and a large conference table and a wall-of-whiteboards to give our ideas room to grow. We also needed color and freshness so the space would be inviting to the students who are at the heart of all we do. 

    Don’t get it twisted, the “new stuff” didn’t arrive the next day, or for that matter, the next year! We got played a few times and really learned what it means to have pandemic patience!  

    It took TWO YEARS to finally get the space right and we are ready to share it with our CEHD community, including students, faculty, and staff!  

    Join us on Monday, August 30 from 1:00 pm – 3:00 pm or Tuesday, August 31 from 9:00 am – 11:00 am for our official CEHD Student Success Center “Open House”. Stop by to grab a treat and some swag; check out the space; and share a few hellos and air hugs.  

    We are still in a pandemic, so all COVID 19 protocols will be in effect in accordance with state, local, and Mason policies.   

    Learn more about the CEHD Student Success Center at https://cehd.gmu.edu/saa/student-success-center/ 

    Dr. Ivory Berry, also known as “Dr. Get-Your-Life-Together,” is the Assistant Dean for Student Success for the College of Education and Human Development. He shares his no-nonsense wisdom every day in the Office of Student and Academic Affairs, and occasionally, here on the Student Success Blog.

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    Dr. Get-Your-Life-Together: Progressing in a Pandemic

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  • As celebrators of the new year, we hadn’t envisioned a 2020 filled with so much trauma, death, aloneness, loss, grief, and disruption. 

    As the clock of 2019 wound down, the ball in New York City began to drop, and celebrators began to sing “Should auld acquaintance be forgot and never brought to mind? Should auld acquaintance be forgot and days of auld lang syne?”. At long last, the year 2020 had arrived! A year that many, including myself, had proclaimed would be “the year of perfect 20/20 vision!” 

    For many, the start of a new year is a time to reflect, restore, renew, and recommit. And perhaps, you started the year off doing just that. You cracked open that new journal with a dedication to write and self-reflect each day. You made a vision board with your friends while sipping on mimosas and eating chicken and waffles. You finally renewed that gym membership and went to the grocery store and bought the freshest of fruits and veggies and maybe even committed to a new vegan, paleo, or keto lifestyle. You even promised to finally give up your vice, say “yes” to vacation invites with the crew, spend more time loving on your family, and excel in your academic studies, not settling for anything less than an A.  You were set and focused. 

    And then came March.   

    “Wear a mask!” “Hey you, maintain 6 feet social distance!” “Wash your hands!” “Disinfect everything!”  “Cancel your vacations!” “Quarantine!” “Self-isolate!” “Zoom!” “Unemployment.” “Closed.” “Stay at home.” “Essential workers only.” “Furlough.” “Cancel. CANCEL. CANCEL.”  

    COVID-19, a deadly virus, began spreading rapidly throughout the world, fundamentally altering and disrupting everything that we once considered normal and heightening feelings of anxiety, paranoia, and depression.   

    As celebrators of the new year, we hadn’t envisioned a 2020 filled with so much trauma, death, aloneness, loss, grief, and disruption. 

    But alas, here we are. Four months remaining in the year. Slowly, but surely, regaining our vision and walking cautiously into a new normal.  

    If nothing else, this year has (re)taught me the value of: 

    1. The selah (se-lah): A call for a break, a pause [or breath] to restore, reflect, recreate, and revive 
    2. The celebration: An acknowledgment of all of the moments, no matter how big or small, in-person or virtual, for self or for those dearest to me, for I don’t know what tomorrow holds 
    3. The silver lining: Hope in the midst of chaos, confusion, gloom, and, yes, even a pandemic  

    As we continue to put one foot in front of the other, making sense of the new world around usbe encouraged that:  

    • Yes, we are still in a pandemic. But, we can still have purpose.  Go grab that journal, my friend! 
    • Yes, we will experience some disruption. But, we can still dream.  Pull out that vision board, sis! 
    • Yes, we may face some trauma. But, we still have the capacity to thrive.  Tap into your reservoir of resiliencemy brotha!  
    • Yes, we may get weary. But, we can still be restored.  Get some rest and then smash those resolutionsy’all! 

    And finally, 

    • Yes, you may be meeting in-person, online, or hybrid for your classes this semester. But, the university is OPEN(!), and you can still make adequate progress toward a timely degree completion!  So, show up!  Ace those exams!  Write those papers! 

    For one day, you’re going to look back and reflect on how you managed to progress during a pandemic. 

    “We’ll tak a cup o’kindness yet for days of auld lang syne.”  

    Dr. Ivory Berry, also known as “Dr. Get-Your-Life-Together,” is the Assistant Dean for Student Success for the College of Education and Human Development. He shares his no-nonsense wisdom every day in the Office of Student and Academic Affairs, and occasionally, here on the Student Success Blog.

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    I keep thinking about…

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  • I keep thinking about…

    …the student who relies on the computer lab in the JC to be open through the night because they don’t have a computer at home.

    …the international student still living in the residence hall feeling alone and not sure if they can go back to their home country and then be allowed to return to the States when ready to continue their educational journey.

    …the more seasoned student who isn’t as tech savvy and having to unexpectedly shift to remote learning for the very first time.

    …the student who has a child who can no longer go to school or daycare and not quite sure how to balance parenting and being a student right now.

    …the first generation college student who was excited to bask in celebration with their family at graduation.

    …the student living in a small town that folks can hardly point out on a map who doesn’t have access to the internet.

    …the work study student who is now strapped for hours and cash but still needs to cover their living expenses.

    …the student who has had physical and mental health challenges well before coronavirus became an additional threat to their wellbeing. 

    …the student who considers campus the only home and community that they have. 

    I keep thinking about you, and I carry your stories and circumstances with me daily as I participate in response efforts to help loosen bottlenecks and break through barriers, seen and unforeseen, that stand in the way of your success here at Mason and beyond. 

    Thinking of you,

    Dr. Ivory Berry

    Assistant Dean for Student Success

    College of Education and Human Development

    Dr. Ivory Berry
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    New from Dr. Get-Your-Life-Together: The Tragedy of Delayed Kindness

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  • My charge to you, and to myself, is to more frequently and intentionally initiate and reciprocate gratitude and kindness without delay.

    Flowers. Thank you cards. Words of affirmation. Compliments. Uninterrupted time. Showing up for others. These are just some of the ways that we show gratitude and kindness to people who have either performed a service or good deed for us or to those who we simply value, appreciate, respect, admire, and love.

    Sadly though, too often we find ourselves lacking the capacity, willingness, or awareness to initiate or reciprocate everyday, or special occasion, acts of kindness. 

    Recently, I had the opportunity to listen to Dr. Frank A. Thomas, Director of the PhD Program in African American Preaching and Sacred Rhetoric at Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis, Indiana, speak on the topic, “the tragedy of delayed kindness.” He reminded the audience that, “one flower in life is worth more floral wreaths in death” and that “please and thank you will take you further in life than money and degrees.” This message resonated with me, as there are times when I find myself too busy to initiate kindness to let someone know how much I appreciate them or to reciprocate kindness to show my gratitude for what someone has done for me. 

    I can’t begin to count the number of times, this week alone, I’ve been on the receiving end of kindness and gratitude. I’ve received: compliments on my new Mason gear that I recently purchased at the University bookstore during the Flash Sale; a kind and very thoughtful email from my supervisor letting me know how much she appreciates me and values my leadership and perspectives; a thank you note and gift card from a colleague to express her gratitude for how I always support her and answer her questions no matter how trivial or complex; and a student walking up to me in the Johnson Center to tell me that he was officially enrolled for the semester and eligible to receive his VA benefits as a result of my colleagues and I taking the time to meet with him when he showed up to the office unannounced and in a panic and working expeditiously, on his behalf, to resolve his challenges. Indeed, I’m humbled and energized by the varied acts of kindness that have been directed towards me this week. My spirit is lifted, and my kindness cup “runneth over.” 

    Truly, it’s great to be on the receiving end of kindness; but, of course, it works both ways. As such, my charge to you, and to myself, is to more frequently and intentionally initiate and reciprocate gratitude and kindness without delay.

    Therefore, in this blog space, I want to publicly recognize the staff from across the College and the student volunteers who helped make our CEHD Welcome2Mason Block Party this week a huge success! Also, special gratitude to my staff, the CEHD Student Success Team, for successfully planning and flawlessly executing two signature events this week, the Block Party and the PhD and faculty mixer! Lastly, thank you to my new graduate assistant who has been going above and beyond to acclimate herself to our office and the CEHD culture and displaying ultimate team player spirit, as she has willingly dived in to help the office staff in whatever capacity needed. 

    Now it’s your turn. Let someone know today how grateful you are for what they’ve done for you; how they’ve made you feel; or how you appreciate what they are doing in the lives of others. Give them their “flowers” now while they can still see, smell, and/or touch them. 

    Here are a few suggestions to help get you started:

    • Send a kind note to that professor who gave you an IN grade to allow you more time to complete assignments when they weren’t obligated.
    • Offer an appropriate compliment to that classmate who always shows up for class looking fly! It takes time to consistently look fly!
    • Bring a coworker a small token of appreciation for covering your shift or volunteering to help lighten your workload.
    • Call (not text!) your parents or an old friend just to let them know that you’re thinking about them.
    • Leave the server a 20% tip the next time you’re dining in at a restaurant to show appreciation for the quality of service that enhanced your experience. 

    Don’t delay. (Re)Activate your spirit of kindness today, for as Dr. Thomas reminded me, and I share with you, “there’s a tragedy in delayed kindness.”

    Dr. Ivory Berry, also known as “Dr. Get-Your-Life-Together,” is the Assistant Dean for Student Success for the College of Education and Human Development. He shares his no-nonsense wisdom every day in the Office of Student and Academic Affairs, and occasionally, here on the Student Success Blog.