I love the spring semester in Student Affairs. Some of you are probably looking at me with eyes about ready to pop out of your head thinking “Is he crazy?” or “My God, he’s finally lost it” but let me explain why. Despite how chaotic spring semester is in SA, it is also a time where our organizations get some new life. New SGA officers are assuming their new responsibilities and are bringing new issues to the table for debate and discussion. New programming board officers are (hopefully) saying “Why CAN’T we try this new program?” And, in my office, we are gearing up for RA and (possibly) RD Selection.
There is something reinvigorating about starting to plan for the next academic year. Seeing so many new candidates exploring ways to become involved on campus and further develop their leadership opportunities is extremely reaffirming to me, especially as an ever-growing part of my role is dealing with student conduct issues and a small group of students who continuously fail to recognize the impacts that their actions have on themselves and their fellow students.
This year is a year of significant student staff turnover for us, as we are losing more than 30 of our 61 RAs. The Class of 2012 saw some phenomenal student leaders serving as RAs and the leadership void they will leave will be significant, but NOT insurmountable. Having the conversations with rising juniors and seniors has helped to identify those staff members who are ready for the next step and can become next year’s RA leaders. I’m curious to hear some responses to some general questions regarding students stepping up to new leadership opportunities.
How do you coach rising juniors and seniors to fill the leadership “gap” left by graduating and non-returning students?
What are creative ways to reach out to untapped populations of students who are still looking to make their mark at the college/university?
What programs/trainings do you offer to ensure that applicants are well-versed in the expectations of your leadership positions?
Despite my level of enthusiasm for the spring semester, there is one area that always makes me cringe: e-mail etiquette. Despite all of our best efforts in my office to identify potential RA candidates (RA and RD nominations of candidates, soliciting faculty and staff for names of outstanding students, attending student club and organization meetings, and word of mouth), we still rely heavily on self-nominations from students who see a campus-wide e-mail from me or their RD and decide to apply.
Given that our entire process is done electronically through BlackBoard (application, submission of resume/cover letter, reference forms, etc), candidates need to be enrolled in our Selection course, which means an e-mail to me asking to be enrolled. Now, I want to put a disclaimer that I do not expect to receive a multiple paragraph e-mail for a simple request to be enrolled in our online selection course. However, I do believe that there are some simple rules that can and should be followed by students who are drafting professional correspondence that is their first formal introduction to a hiring manager. Receiving more than 10 e-mails with some variation of “hey, i saw ur e-mail about being an RA and want to apply. how do i do it?” is, in my opinion, an open invitation for a “teachable” moment with my students about e-mail etiquette. Fortunately, my saving grace for all things etiquette, Emily Post online features some simple and straightforward tips for e-mail etiquette:
1.) Your subject line is your first impression.
Be sure to include an informative and poignant subject line. Never send an e-mail with “no subject” in the subject line.
2.) Salutations, closing, and signature blocks.
While there is no doubt that e-mail is more informal than a typed letter, salutations and closings are still important. When composing e-mail to senior management always use a more formal greeting. When in doubt, defer to the formal. For example, use Mr. or Ms., hello versus hi, or Elizabeth versus Liz. When communicating with senior management you should also end the e-mail with a formal sign-off as well.
3.) Grammar and word choice matter.
While spell-check is a great tool, always read your e-mails over once or twice for grammar, spelling and word choice. E-mail is not an excuse for misspellings, grammatical errors, or punctual mistakes.
4.) Be conscious of your voice.
Be aware of usage of all caps, emoticons, and text message abbreviation. Using all capital letters tends to convey to the reader that you are shouting at them and tends to be harder to read. Also be aware that in the absence of facial expressions or tone of voice, interpretation defaults to the negative.
How are we teaching our students to be effective communicators through their written correspondence with faculty, staff, and administrators?
Does anyone have any useful tools or tips that they have had success with in teaching students about appropriate e-communications?
Please send me your thoughts/ideas either through the comments section or through twitter @adamcasler. Thanks for reading!