Speaker: Bay students need a sense of belonging

Terrell Strayhorn

ESCANABA — Founder and CEO of Do Good Work Educational Consulting, LLC Terrell Strayhorn, PhD spoke at Bay College Tuesday about the importance of fostering a sense of belonging in higher education.

Strayhorn said he has researched the topic of belonging for about a decade.

“Generally, it is the idea that people want to matter … but that’s particularly important when we are in new places or at times when we feel vulnerable,” he said in regards to the key message of his work on belonging.

While working on a book about black college students, Strayhorn found himself thinking about stories, anecdotes, and studies which were related to students in other groups. Because of this, he decided to adjust the book’s focus. The resulting book, “College Students’ Sense of Belonging: A Key to Educational Success for All Students,” was published in 2012.

During his presentation, Strayhorn cited a statistic claiming that, on average, 50 percent of all college students end up dropping out of college — a statistic which is higher for historically underserved and under-represented students. He noted financial and academic difficulties each only account for about 25 percent of the total number of college students who drop out.

“What my research has shown over the years is that sense of belonging also matters,” he said.

Because of this, Strayhorn said it is important schools take steps to promote a sense of belonging among their student populations.

“By creating belonging … we help students succeed,” he said. He also addressed subjects such as students’ levels of confidence, passions, and personal narratives during his presentation, illustrating these points with both statistics and anecdotes from his own life.

After his talk, Strayhorn took questions from the audience. In response to a question on how college employees can help students feel like they belong, he encouraged employees to take steps such as working to learn students’ names and reviewing their course materials with belonging in mind.

Another question focused on the role of belonging in online classes.

“It is undeniably true that belonging matters, and I have seen that belonging matters even in online environments,” he said. He noted strategies that can be used to foster a sense of belonging in online classes include notifying students about things happening at their schools and giving students opportunities to use discussion boards to share information about themselves.

Before his presentation, Strayhorn toured Bay College. He said he was impressed with the college’s recent remodeling projects.

“I think they really have worked to transform the campus,” he said.

Strayhorn also said that, based on his visit, he feels Bay has done well in its efforts to create a place where students can feel that they belong.

“I get the sense that people know each other and people care about each other,” he said.