Are We Our Students? 

Lisa Copenhaver

This fall, Lisa Copenhaver completed all requirements for her Ed.D. in Educational Leadership and Management from Capella University. The title of her Capstone Project is “First-Year Student Support: Creating Student Success During the First Semester.” 

A Perspective by Lisa Copenhaver, Ed.D.

When I made the choice to continue my education and pursue my Ed.D., little did I know the roadblocks I would face. I had spent quite a few years helping students pursue their dreams and get past their roadblocks, persist, and reach their goals, but could I really practice what I preach? 

Not long after I made the decision to begin this journey, my mother passed away from ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease). When I thought about dropping out, wondering how I could continue with everything on my plate, I remembered the look in her eyes when I told her my plans and how proud she was. I continued. Not long after my job of 23 years was eliminated, and I found myself unemployed. As dismayed as I was, I knew I had to continue. During this time, I was able to take care of my dear in-laws while we lost one to cancer and took care of the other in our home until she passed later that year. I was so tired, but I continued. After my daughter’s wedding, beginning my new job at Hood, and taking care of my ill husband, I really questioned why I was doing this. How could I continue? Do I really have it in me? There were too many life-changing events. I know many of you have been there. And I continued.

Am I my student? We all know our students have multiple roadblocks they face when pursuing their education. What makes them continue? Why do they persist? What can we learn from them? For me, reflection, vision, and daily motivation were important. Not only did I continue to remind myself of my mother’s proud face, or how having this degree would open new opportunities, but most importantly, I was reminded daily by you…my co-workers, my friends, my colleagues, to continue. You supported me through your kind words of encouragement, your texts, your notes, and your reminders of why I was doing this. This community held me up when I was down, pushed me when I was ready to stop, and listened to me when I needed to talk. You were there for me, and I continued and finally completed. 

We are our students, and if we can continue to do for them what you have done for me, we can make a difference in their lives. Tinto (2016) tells us that students need to feel a sense of belonging to persist, and they need to feel they matter. Through the little things and the small ways of encouragement - daily, we can make a difference for them. We need to continually remind our students why they are here, how much we appreciate them, and how proud we are of them for making this important decision. This Hood community is the community they need, and the community they can count on to support them as they continue through their many difficult roadblocks and finally reach their precious destination of graduation. 

Thank you for all you do. 

Tinto, V. (2016). From retention to persistence. Inside Higher Ed.