By Joseph B. Cuseo, Ph.D., Consultant
For me, each holiday season brings with it not only a respite for social recreation but also reason for personal rumination; it’s the time of year that triggers my annual introspection and retrospection about whether I’ve done anything meaningful with my life during the most recent year of my life. This year’s retrospective has left me feeling pretty good, in large measure because of the contributions I’ve been able to make to AVID’s new postsecondary initiative.
A little over a year ago, Marlene Grueber, AVID Director of Special Projects, invited me to attend AVID’s Summer Institute in San Diego. I barely remembered meeting Marlene for very brief moment following a presentation I made at a conference on the first-year college experience six months earlier. I also barely remembered what “AVID” represented because I only heard the term once before (in 2007) when a high school AVID teacher mentioned it following a presentation I did at a magnet school in downtown L.A.
I had no clear understanding why Marlene was inviting me to be a guest at AVID’s Summer Institute, nor was I convinced I should go. I eventually decided to go, but only because it seemed like the polite or socially sensitive thing to do. Upon arriving in San Diego, I was brought to the Summer Institute luncheon where I heard some very poignant and powerful stories from AVID students about how the program affected their lives. Following lunch, I was whisked off to a meeting room where I was introduced to members of the AVID postsecondary team. They asked me to share my philosophy of education and my thoughts about what could be done to improve the success of college students in general, and the success of underrepresented college students in particular. Little did I know, but I was in the process of being “interviewed” as a candidate to help AVID launch its postsecondary initiative. As I shared my ideas with the AVID team and asked them about their postsecondary plan, I was struck by the uncanny congruence between our respective educational philosophies and practices. (View a summary of the essential features of AVID’s Postsecondary System.)
What immediately impressed me was AVID’s student-centered focus. During our almost three-hour discussion, our conversation never once strayed from the topic of student development, particularly the development of transferrable skills and transportable strategies that students could apply across the curriculum and throughout life. I was also struck the humanistic and holistic nature of AVID’s approach; it addressed the student as a “whole person,” including both academic and personal dimensions of student development. AVID’s postsecondary system was also comprehensive and collaborative; it engaged the whole campus to educate the whole student, including faculty, administrators, and student support professionals across different divisions, departments and disciplines. Its emphasis on dismantling divisional boundaries and creating cross-campus partnerships among different organizational units of the university struck me as just what American higher education needed to bridge its historic gap between academic affairs and student services. (Read more about the relevance of AVID to the current needs of postsecondary education.)
However, what impressed me most during my interview was the sincerity and authenticity of the AVID team members. They demonstrated a genuine altruistic commitment to helping students succeed and achieve their full potential. The AVID team members’ passion and compassion for students was readily evident; I got the feeling that these were professionals whose hearts and minds were in the right place. Sensing that this was a professional marriage made in heaven, I decided to tie the knot and make a commitment to join AVID’s postsecondary team.
The honeymoon stage of our relationships has passed, and the advent of this year’s the holiday season has caused me to pause and reflect on my first full year of work with and for AVID. My reflection leads me to the firm conclusion that I made the right choice. I’m proud to be part of a community of educators who’ve checked their egos at the door and have stepped up to make a difference in the lives of students, particularly the lives of disadvantaged students for whom the biggest differences could and should be made.
I’ve also come to realize that the professionals involved in the AVID movement are more than student-success advocates; they are also change agents working to improve the quality of education. When I attend AVID’s Summer Institutes and National Conferences, I catch a collective buzz of hope and excitement about the promise of education, and a sense a pervasive passion for reforming current conditions that block or sabotage its impact. AVID professional development events strike me as something akin to religious revival meetings, where the faithful congregate and create a contagious fervor about fighting the good fight in pursuit of a morally compelling cause.
Having the opportunity to pursue AVID’s noble goals and lofty ideals has been a very rewarding experience for me this past year, and the opportunity to continue this pursuit excites me about the upcoming year. I now know what AVID is all about and why its impact has proven been to be so deep, durable, and universal.
Joe Cuseo holds a doctoral degree in Educational Psychology and Assessment from the University of Iowa. He is Professor Emeritus of Psychology at Marymount College (California) where for more than 25 years he directed the first-year seminar—a college success course required of all new students, and where he was a 14-time recipient of the “faculty member of the year award”—a student-driven award based on effective teaching and academic advising. He is also a recent recipient of the “Outstanding First-Year Student Advocate” Award from the National Resource Center for The First-Year Experience and Students in Transition, and the “Diamond Honoree Award” from the American College Personnel Association (ACPA) Diamond Honoree Award for contributions made to student development and the Student Affairs profession.
Joe has delivered numerous campus workshops and conference presentations across the United States, as well as Canada, Europe, China, and Australia. He has authored articles, monographs, and books on effective teaching, advising, student retention and student success, the most recent of which are: Thriving in College and Beyond: Research-Based Strategies for Academic Success & Personal Development and Humanity, Diversity, & The Liberal Arts: The Foundation of a College Education.
Currently, Joe serves as an educational advisor and consultant for AVID.