New Shoes

Today I wore my first-day-of-classes shoes while welcoming students to the College. Each First Day brings new insights on what we can do to serve students better.

By far the biggest challenge is those students who walk in and say, “I’d like to register for classes here.” “Have you taken your placement test?” I ask. When the answer is no, I direct the students to our sister colleges who are offering Fall II sessions with later start dates. I ask some of them why they waited until the first day of classes. They typically say either, I didn’t get around to it, or I didn’t know. We will look this semester at what we can do to encourage students to register earlier and raise awareness.

The highest volume of questions are how to finish registration or change classes, where to get the student ID, and where to get the UPass. The registration machine is still up and running for returning students or new students with test results. The line seemed steady throughout the day.

UPass distribution is a challenge we need to fix. For the uninitiated, UPasses enable students who are full-time and on financial aid to receive a free CTA pass. We are attempting to issue over 4,000 UPasses in two days. The math, with four workstations, makes it tough to keep wait times down.

The student IDs are a similar challenge, although we have solved that this year by extending the deadlines for students to get their IDs. Even with the extension, though, a sizable chunk of students choose to wait in lines that are one, two or three hours long. I asked these students why. Some said the demands on their time now are less since classes are just starting. They worry about the unknown workload and if they will have time later on to wait for an ID. I don’t know what to do about these students. Others were not aware they could come back later in the week or next week, although my observations of staff indicated that we told every student this. Maybe we need to tell them several times, and announce it to the waiting area. When I announced it, I saw only see three or four of the 60 students waiting get up and leave.

Those were the challenges. They were more than offset by the rewards. Students walk in with serious expressions on their faces. Quite a few are looking down. I greet them with a loud, “Welcome to Harold Washington. Happy First Day of Classes!” Some glance at the shoes, and then at me, and wonder who this madman is in the grey suit with the orange tie, orange shoes and orange socks. Most, though, look at me, and then a big smile breaks over their face. Yes! the first day of classes. They walk into the college, I hope, a bit more self-aware of this step they have taken, and a little prouder that they have made it this far.

Some complimented me on the shoes – which they called kicks, skids, and boats. Others thanked me for welcoming them back. More than a few gave me a thumbs up. All in all, it was a great first day. More than enough reason to celebrate with a video.

Published by Don Laackman

Leader with non-profit, higher education, and private-sector consulting experience.

4 thoughts on “New Shoes

  1. I really liked seeing you at the door with the orange tie and awesome shoes. I most certainly smiled and would have given you a high five too, but didn’t want to interrupt your time with the students. Thanks for being there and for making me smile on the first day of class!

  2. Don, I think it means a lot to students that you great them at the door. Nice work! And the shoes were seriously cool. Your enthusiasm is contagious.

  3. Don, you may be aware of this program already, but here’s a link to a pre-screening process that the Seattle Community College system uses to help prospective students identify funding and then guides them to an educational planning sessions which include testing and other registration assistance. From what I’ve heard it has been very helpful and effective.

    Here’s the site:

  4. Thanks for taking care of greeting Don…..It means a lot that you are there when the students walk in the door.

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