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The Learning Nook

A framework for understanding how students navigate transition and change.

By Rob Ingle

August 27, 2019

Students walking across campus with Denver skyline in background.Last week, several thousand new students made the transition from high school or other institutions of higher education to the Metropolitan State University of Denver campus. Many variables will determine their success through this significant life change. As faculty and staff, we can consider and address these variables through the lens of Transition Theory, an adult-development theory conceived by Nancy Schlossberg, Ed.D.

When assessing a transition or change — whether it be to relationships, routines, assumptions or roles — students as well as faculty and staff consciously (and often unconsciously) apply a ratio of assets to liabilities. According to “Student Development in College, Theory, Research, and Practice,” this explains why “different individuals react differently to the same type of transition, and why the same person reacts differently at different times.” Essentially, a person’s appraisal of a transition is a key determinant of their coping process.

In her theory, Schlossberg noted four S’s, or aspects of a transition process, that can affect a person’s ability to navigate change and transition. These aspects are further outlined in “Student Development in College, Theory, Research, and Practice.”

The first is situation. Schlossberg noted eight factors that define moving from one situation to another. Most notable to this author is previous experience with a similar situation. Here, the individual assesses how effectively they coped previously with similar transitions, and the possibility of success (or failure) for the current transition.

Self is the second of the four S’s. Although many factors make up self, psychological resources such as commitment, values, ego development, self-efficacy and the outward view of life, in particular optimism, stand out.

Important to any personal journey is support, the third S. When a student takes a leap of faith into a new transition, the process is easier with the support of strong intimate relationships, family units, networks of friends and surrounding communities.

The last S is strategies. Schlossberg emphasized a strong correlation between a successful transition and a person’s flexibility and use of multiple methods of moving into, through and out of challenges.

Psychologist Carl Rodgers once noted that “a person is a fluid process, not a fixed and static entity.” As we, the faculty and staff of MSU Denver, cross paths with students’ frustrations and joys, we can take the opportunity to meet them wherever they are. With patience and presence, we offer our listening, our unconditional support and our warm regard to their transitions.

Topics: Community, Professional development, Student Success

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