Jennifer Allen’s Convocation Message to Students

Today, Monday, September 22nd PSU welcomed new students during our student convocation.  Ten minutes before the event was to start there could not have been more than 100 students in the audience.  But then they came, like an army –hundreds of students filled the ballroom.  The program included a welcome from the president, the vice president for Enrollment Management and Student Affairs, our ASPSU president and an alum.  The featured faculty speaker was Jennifer Allen.  Many of you know Jennifer as the Director for our Institute for Sustainable Solutions.  She is also a public administration tenured faculty member.

Jennifer created a spark of excitement in our students by telling them that “one of the most valuable aspects of a university education is the opportunity for you to challenge your assumptions, to open your mind to new thoughts and new ideas, new perspectives.”  And she wasted no time in challenging one of their assumptions.  The assumption that they were “here to receive knowledge and wisdom from the faculty.  That we faculty have knowledge and wisdom and you don’t and that you’ll be part of a one way transaction where we give you what we have…Sorry, not so much.  While you certainly should gain some knowledge and wisdom while you are here at PSU, what you learn will be largely dependent on the level of engagement and open-minded inquiry that you bring to your classes, your interactions with your fellow students, and with the community. “
What a great welcoming message to send.  It was not about what we will teach them, but about what they will learn–about an education requiring a combination of “curiosity, passion, humility, compassion, courage, accountability, self-discipline and engagement.”
I can only believe students were listening because there were no other sounds in the room except Jennifer’s voice.  After the event ended I asked some students what they thought and one of them told me that was why she had come to PSU—one of her friends had told her that the professors do not spoon feed you here.
As we start the term we all might consider reinforcing Jennifer’s message to our students.  We can help all of our students, not just those new to PSU, by positioning them well to see the responsibilities they have in their own education and learning.  It is good to remind them, as Jennifer put it, that an education requires “a combination of curiosity, passion, humility, compassion, courage, accountability, self-discipline and engagement.”
Thank you Jennifer for representing what so many of our faculty do at PSU—inspire students.

2 thoughts on “Jennifer Allen’s Convocation Message to Students

  1. What a fantastic message! We all know about research that demonstrates a misplaced optimism about what students learn in college (most cited is of course the book “Academically Adrift” which maintains students today aren't learning much at all in college, even at colleges with huge resources and hefty reputations). Of course we need to step it up as faculty and staff every day. However, the notion that this is a two-way experience and students can actively “harvest” the knowledge of an amazing place like PSU, raises the likelihood that students will take away the skills and knowledge needed to face an increasingly complex future. Way to go Jennifer! And for those of us unable to attend convocation, thanks for highlighting this message in this blog.


  2. Jennifer's excellent advice to incoming students also resonates with the keynote presentation given at PSU last week by Randy Bass during Focus on Faculty Day. Bass challenged the audience to envision the university of 2030, as we increasingly find ourselves no longer the only game in town, but part of a new, larger postsecondary “learning ecology.” In her Sept. 21 blog post on the event, Provost Andrews hoped that “the relationship and juxtaposition of formal versus experiential learning, about the use of technology, and about who our students will be in the next 15-20 years will continue.” Meanwhile, as also noted in the blog, faculty are leading the way: challenging students not just to be receivers of knowledge but active co-participants in the construction of their education and of the new learning ecology. Jennifer's message (and Jeanne's response) are wonderful examples. How we invite students as participants in their education right now has a lot to do with who and what higher education becomes in the future. Thanks for sharing these examples in the blog.


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