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Student Voices in Student Engagement


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By Kong Her
Program Director, Asian Pacific American Resource Center
University of Minnesota-Twin Cities

Hello, I’m the new kid on the AANAPISI block.  That’s right, the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities finally became an AANAPISI in 2016.  This was a long time coming but it finally happened.  My name is Kong Her and I am the Program Director for the Asian Pacific American Resource Center (APARC) at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities.  Just like nearly everyone else, I’m part of a small team that juggles a crazy amount of work to kick start a slew of AANAPISI programs.  I wanted to chat a bit about one of our biggest challenges this year: developing strong student engagement.

We all know that it’s difficult to create successful student programs without strong student engagement.  So, how do we tackle this issue?  How do we engage students enough that they find our programs worthwhile, and most importantly, they keep coming back for more?  I don’t have a universal answer to this, but I did walk away with some great insights from the 2017 Asian Pacific Americans in Higher Education (APAHE) Conference to help me see what I can do.

The APAHE Conference gave me the opportunity to hear what other AANAPISI partners were thinking about with student engagement.  As you can probably imagine, student engagement was a challenge shared by everyone.  It was a relief for me to hear that I was not the only one thinking about student engagement. We agreed that students do want to engage, but we must figure out the best ways to engage them.  Let’s face it.  Students are not going to engage in our programs no matter how much free pizza we’re offering.  We must find the right idea, place, or time to engage them.  

An interesting concept that caught my attention was “student voices.” The idea is simple, if we want students to engage then we need student voices to help us figure out how to do it.  How do student voices help with engagement?

  • Student voices can help think of ways to best engage other students.  
  • Student voices can lead to student ownership of the programs; giving students more personal value to engage.  

I took this idea and ran with it at APARC.  “Student voices” became one of our value statement.  APARC is guided by student voices and the needs of our APIA student community.  And yes, I get it.  Including student voices in programs is not some new profound discovery in education programming.  I’m pretty sure we’ve all welcomed student voices in our work before.  However, I think it’s important to name it and be intentional in creating opportunities for students to guide our work.  Here are some way’s we’ve already embraced this:

  • We invited students to help us name our center and hone our mission statement.
  • We spoke with students to give us insights on what they expected from an APA center.  
  • We met with student leaders to hear and understand their needs, challenges and ideas.
  • We created Student Coordinator positions that give feedback on program and activity ideas.  
  • We planned a student leader luncheon to collaborate with APA student organizations and stay inform with student activities.  
  • We created a Facebook community where students can easily converse with us and give us feedback.

We plan to keep including student voices and involvement as we continue to develop our AANAPISI programs.  Our hope is that student voices will create meaningful experiences that will compelled more student to engage and stay engaged with us throughout their time in school.  

Despite being an idealist, I’m also a realist.  I know student engagement is a continuous challenge and a work in progress. There is no magic fix all resolution to developing strong student engagement.  APARC just finished its first semester of operation.  Who knows if this “student voice” idea is going to go anywhere in the coming years for us?  However, I do feel confident going forward because I know I am not alone in this challenge.  I know that I can tap the resources of institutional partners, APA colleagues, and of course, students.  I am excited to take on this challenge and look forward to thinking of ways to develop strong student engagement.  And if this doesn’t work, we’ll just put our heads together again at the next APAHE Conference.   


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