The Voice: Winter 2001

The Voice

Boersma stresses partnership between student services and academics

Ken Boersma Ken Boersma is Dordt's new vice president for student services. Originally from Palos Heights, Illinois, Boersma earned a master's degree and began a Ph.D. program in political science at Duke University. But while there, he became involved in residence life and eventually had to decide whether to complete a Ph.D. and teach or go into residence life. He decided that his gifts and calling lay in residence life, and he worked in that area for seven years at two different colleges before coming to Dordt this fall.

Boersma supervises the student life staff and its programs. He is responsible for student discipline and serves on the student life committee, the student disciplinary committee for the institution. He oversees campus security and works with the hockey club. He also serves on the president's cabinet and several committees.

What is the role of student services? Student services has its own mission of serving students' needs and providing opportunities for learning outside of the classroom, but it supports and complements the educational mission of the college. I see the role of student services as helping students who are struggling with personal issues, academic issues, faith issues. We should provide a safe environment where students can come with their concerns.

How does student services relate to academics?

Both have responsibility for helping create a vital Christian learning community. I believe student services has a very important role in providing a community setting in which students can learn.

Is there a “curriculum” for student services?

I think we're talking about spiritual formation, critical thinking, responsibility, wisdom development, health, awareness_all of those areas lie under the responsibility of student services.

One of the recent trends in student learning assessment is the idea of the co-curricular transcript, a document that would stand alongside your academic transcript and list the areas of learning and involvement.

Do tensions develop between student life and academics?

Sometimes tensions are more perceived than actual. One of the things that student services provides, which I don't think needs to conflict with the educational program, is entertainment_good fun for students outside of the classroom. Use of time could be an area of tension, although my perception is that this, too, is more perceived than actual. Neverthe-less, how students use their time and how different areas of the college encourage or ask students to use their time could become a matter of disagreement. Students in leadership positions who are active within the college community feel pulled by conflicting responsibilities most strongly. I've heard them say, “I feel caught in the middle,” being asked to do one thing by one side and one thing by another.

Why do you think this tension arises?

In the performance of our everyday responsibilities, everyone becomes focused. That's a good thing. But I might think that my area of responsibility at one point in time is more important than another area of responsibility, and that is where tensions can arise. Sometimes tensions arise if students feel that their voices are not heard. I appreciate Dordt because it has an environment and a process that allows students' voices to be heard. The faculty committee system with student representation built in is a wonderful opportunity for students to be heard. At the same time, it's easy for a student to feel intimidated.

One of the challenges of being in a new position and community is to know which issues have been discussed already and which ones are worth revisiting. At this point I don't have plans to address a particular issue, but I hope to be able to address anything that could be seen as a gulf between the academic side of the student's life and their out-of-classroom experience. Students are going to learn in all aspects of their lives. The question is what are they going to learn, and how do we help them learn what we want them to?

Do you have specific goals or programs you'd like to see implemented?

I'm very interested in trying to figure out how to integrate student services with academics. I've had some initial conversations with people about the development of intentional living and learning communities, particularly as the college is developing its cross-cultural program. A living and learning community for students who are in a course that has a cross- cultural focus would enhance their experience in learning.

How might that happen?

Possibly, some of the units in college-owned homes that are near the main campus might be renovated to allow for living and learning community space. Some living and learning settings could be set up in the residence wings_for example, a multi-cultural wing in the residence halls or a community service-oriented group. Something like that was established a couple years ago, but it might take a bigger role for staff and faculty if it is to work. Some colleges have been very successful in that kind of program.

Do you have other goals for your first year?

I consider my first year as my freshman year. I'm here to learn and ask questions, probe, see how things work, aren't working. I'm not someone who jumps in saying, “I've got a boatload of ideas we need to start implementing.” In the second part of the year, as planning begins for the following year, we may begin talking about how we might do things differently.

What part of your job do you enjoy the most?

I enjoy interacting with students. I'm enjoying my work as advisor to student forum. I meet regularly with the student forum president, Brandie Ochsner. Sometimes I can answer her questions, sometimes I can tell her where to find some answers. At times, I serve the students as an advocate in working through an issue. Interestingly, I am the third advisor in three years. We're all feeling out my role.

How would you like to be seen by students?

I'll answer in roundabout way. One of the toughest things is finding time to interact with students. The busyness of each work week can sometimes result in my saying at the end of the week, “Boy, I want to just spend time talking to students.” I think that's particularly important in my first year at Dordt. I want students to see me as their advocate, someone who wants to understand them and their point of view and work with them as they understand their role at the college. There are times when I simply make time to go out to meet new students. I remember when I interviewed for this position, students said they would like the vice president to interact with students as much as possible. I want to do that but it can be difficult at times. It's easy to say my door is always open, and that is true. But sometimes there's already somebody in there, or I have a meeting.

What do you mean by being a student advocate?

Listening to student concerns and responding as appropriate, but also being seen as someone who understands students and advocates for them at the administrative level_whether that be about a residence hall room that is too cold or people feeling that the college is not treating them fairly. Sometimes I may be able to help a student find the appropriate person to deal with the issue. Sometimes I may be able to help the student understand why things are the way they are.

What kind of interaction would you like to see between faculty and students?

I've heard students say, “I sometimes feel that I'm not seen as more than a student in the classroom.” I don't think faculty members should be asked to be cognizant of every student that comes to class struggling with personal issues, but I also hope the faculty member would have the ability and willingness to see when students are hurting, respond appropriately, and provide support to them. We each need to understand the roles that we play. I think we also need to address the question of how and where students learn.

We ought to think about how students are learning outside of the classroom. I think that faculty can and ought to play a huge role in that.

Do you look forward to coming to work?

I do. I enjoy coming to work every day. As I said, I have felt very blessed to be working with my colleagues in student services and the administrative cabinet, as well as with the faculty. I have had good interaction with all the members of the college community. I believe student services is blessed with a hard- working and professional staff.

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