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Mission Possible with Mordecai Brownlee

Welcome to Episode 50 of the ThinkUDL podcast: Mission Possible with Mordecai Brownlee. Dr. Mordecai Brownlee is the Vice President for Student Success at St. Philip’s College and an Adjunct Professor at Morgan State University School of Education and Urban Studies, and the University of Charleston School of Business and Leadership, as well as a columnist for EdSurge. Today’s conversation focuses on recruiting interest, inspiring students, and engaging them for the long haul in their academic careers, as well as what ways we can support students along the journey. Dr. Brownlee offers faculty some ideas to engage students and sustain student effort and persistence throughout a course, a term, and a college career. I found this conversation both refreshing and really helpful to me as a faculty member as we discussed the student success side of things to see how best we together (faculty, staff,  and institution) can support the whole student. This is a conversation about the systemic application of UDL principles, but it has applications for individuals and courses as well. I am so glad we get the chance to be able to learn from this conversation with Dr. Brownlee.


Follow Mordecai Brownlee on Twitter @ItsDrMordecai

Find out more about Dr. Mordecai Brownlee at his website:

Dr. Brownlee’s mission as an educator is to work collectively with other educators to create a safe and nurturing learning environment that promotes student inclusion, student engagement, and student success.

Learn more about St. Philip’s College here

GroupMe is one way to contact students outside of the LMS to increase social connection

OrgSync is another social platform that is helpful for out-of-classroom connection
Lillian references Susan Robinson’s The Peak Performing Professor when talking about purpose, mission, vision and goals.


This podcast was auto-generated and may have inaccuracies/misspellings. A corrected transcript will be posted as soon as possible.

Lillian Nave  00:00

Welcome to think UDL, the universal design for learning podcast where we hear from the people who are designing and implementing strategies with learner variability in mind. I’m your host, Lillian Nave. And I’m interested in not just what you’re teaching, learning, guiding and facilitating, but how you design and implement it and why it even matters. Welcome to Episode 50 of the think UDL podcast Mission Possible with Mordecai Brownlee. Dr. Mordecai Brownlee is the vice president for student success at St. Philip’s College and an adjunct professor at Morgan State University School of Education and Urban Studies, and the University of Charleston School of Business and leadership, as well as a columnist for edsurge. today’s conversation focuses on recruiting interest, inspiring students, and engaging them for the long haul in their academic careers, as well as what ways we can support students along the journey. Dr. Brownlee offers faculty some ideas to engage students and sustain student effort and persistence throughout a course, a term and a college career. I found this conversation both refreshing and really helpful to me as a faculty member, as we discussed the Student Success side of things to see how best we together that’s faculty, staff, and institution can support the whole student. This is a conversation about the systemic application of UDL principles, but it has applications for individuals and courses as well. I’m so glad we get the chance to be able to learn from this conversation with Dr. Bradley. Thank you so much, Dr. Mordecai Brownlee for joining me on the think UDL podcast today.

Mordecai Brownlee  02:14

Oh, thank you so much for having me, Lillian. It’s, it’s an absolute honor been looking forward to this. Yeah,

Lillian Nave  02:19

I have been really looking forward to talking to you, I’ve seen you because of your webpage and from some of your videos, and I’ll definitely put that in our resources. So people can find out a little bit more about you after, after our talk. But I wanted to just start out with the question I asked all of my guests, and that is what makes you a different kind of learner.

Mordecai Brownlee  02:44

You know, I am I’m really thinking about trying to answer this question. I think that I love to, to understand the why I love to understand the why I’m huge about that. And for me, it makes sense. If I can get a sense of the y, which is the expected outcome or the desire or the intention, then I can make sense of the action, I can make sense of what’s happening from an environmental standpoint. So I guess that makes me a little different.

Lillian Nave  03:12

That’s, that’s good. And that’s definitely one of our primary universal design for learning principles is students have to know why they should even care, right? why we should engage in anything? What’s in it for me, right? Yes, Ron, what can I get from it? So I think we often forget about that. I know, I wasn’t taught that when I was in graduate school, I wasn’t taught any of this, about how to teach others and how really important that is, if we can’t get that first step in as to why we should be doing something. I think we’ve lost a big battle in the long war. I don’t want to say it’s a war that we’ve lost to the beginning here.

Mordecai Brownlee  03:54

You know, but here’s the thing I’ll tell you, Lillian and not to take us another direction. So you know, especially in education, as we look at education being the catalyst for change in the lives of so many of our, of our youth of our students, especially especially we talk about poverty, right. And so understanding the Why is huge, because, you know, the reason for this instruction, the reason for you being here is to to change your your life and the lives of your family and those that you love so that “Why” is huge.

Lillian Nave  04:22

Yeah, you know, one of the things I’m also really interested in is cultural competency, and how various different cultures are going to view education, really. And there is a large continuum that moves from individualistic to integrated, that, that looks at like even the reason for education, and how different those are. So on the one hand, you might see the reason for education is to get a better job or a better yourself, and that’s kind of very enclosed. It’s just for you. And then there are other ways of looking at an education and ways of being that says, you know, it’s not just for me, it’s for my family, my group, my community, my tribe, my place. And we’re all doing this together. And so it’s less competitive. It’s more collaborative. And we’re all going to do this together. And it’s going to make a difference for all of us. Not just I’m getting ahead of you and you to get myself out there. I think it is, it’s really, it’s really interesting to see that and to understand where our students are coming from, because they have different motivations coming in.

Mordecai Brownlee  05:39

Absolutely, absolutely in any way that we as educators can help them with that, why? And to in to support them, right, because the other part of that is, is we don’t necessarily know if they have a support group or family or loved ones or tribe around them. They may be the lone person in their tribe seeking to change their life. And so any way that we can support that journey, we want to do that.

Lillian Nave  06:00

Great. So you are the VP for student success at St. Philip’s College, along with a couple other duties that you have. And I wanted to talk to you about, in particular, what you’re doing at St. Philip’s College, I think it’s amazing. And in particular, how are you offering individual choices for your students recruiting interest there and helping them with student success? And maybe you need to tell us a little bit more about St. Philip’s College as well.

Mordecai Brownlee  06:33

Yeah, thank you, Lillian. So St. Philip’s College is very unique. Matter of fact, how I first learned about St. Philip’s was years ago, when I was conducting research for my doctrine. And come to find out I found this school, that was the only federal federally designated historical black college that was a community college, but also Hispanic serving institution in the nation. That was it. And it was at that particular time, maybe a three hour drive away. So I was like, Okay, I’ve got to go to see the school for myself, went and did some of my my research to do a phenomenological study, and wrapped up what I was doing, and just said, you know, it was so unique that I said, you know, one day one day, you never know. And that one day finally came. And so it’s been an absolute honor to serve as, as the vice president there have been there over four years now. And we serve over 13,500 students now that’s pre COVID. That’s pre COVID. Right. But we’ve we’ve been able from a headcount standpoint, for those that are interested, just under percent drop in headcount, which is phenomenal, I think we’ve done an outstanding job of continuing helping students on their pathway, up to 13,500 students, we have a multi campuses representative, all three Joint Base San Antonio locations, we have a workforce development location, our traditional Martin Luther King location, that’s a part of our our history, our 120 year history. And in terms of just outreach, we have 57 sites that we provide outreach to through Dual Credit interruption. I mean, we are pretty vast and we do. And for those that are unfamiliar with San Antonio, Texas, where it’s located San Antonio, Texas is the most impoverished metropolitan city in the country. A lot of people don’t know that thing was about three, four years ago, we surpassed Detroit in that regard. So us as we talk about an answered your question Lillian about choice in an opportunity. For us. It’s, it’s it goes back to that why it’s it’s so many of our students, education is going to be the means in which they can change the trajectory of their life, and certainly the environment in which they have been exposed to and raise within. And for us, then when we talk choice, opportunity, is the first conversation that a lot of our students are having in regards to what are you good at? What are you interested in? What what what sparked interest in you, I think, to pre COVID, one of our commencement speakers, phenomenal young man 4.0 GPA, both of his parents died of drug overdoses at different times he lived in parks and couch served and would use the light of his cell phone to do his homework at night. So I say that to say that when we have conversations about choice, this is the first time in a lot of instances that we can have a conversation about passions with our students, because they’ve been so used to survival. But once we can get to having a conversation, and opening up that door about the why and choice and now is the time where you can chart your chart your own path. And we do that to our various animators. Okay, so Institute models, what we run is scary for some students, when you ask them what’s going to be your major. Well, that’s just not a conversation that they’ve ever had. Right. So now we get into the fear factor and the mutual barriers begin to come up. So what the approach that we utilize for choice is meta major, tell us your interest. Tell us area that you you may be interested in. And it may be a shot in the dark. But that puts us in the direction of where you’re headed. And now we can talk about what is going to be your career pat your your academic pathway to place you on that drives you towards interest. So once we can put it put a group around you support you continue along your journey, those interests begin to truly become passions. Next thing, you know, their degree earner or moving on for four year articulation agreement till we’ve done our job.

Lillian Nave  10:32

Wow. So, so sad on a podcast, you can’t see when my eyes get really big, or my mouth is wide open, I can tell when we’re talking. And you’re telling about all these amazing things and the 57 sites and 13,000 students that you’re serving, you really have a wide array of students and places and such a diversity of learner variability that you’re going after, and meeting them at various different places mean that the college and university landscape now is vastly different than it was 50 years ago, you know, just a generation ago, we’ve got more students coming to the university that may not have come before, and we’re so thankful for that. And so what I love this meta major, like, Who knows if they’re gonna, you know, be an English major when they set foot on campus, I didn’t know, I just found an old my old high school, yet not yearbook, but a scrapbook that my mom had put together. And it said I was going to major in math or philosophy is what I said, Yeah, totally didn’t happen, right? No idea. No idea what a you know, how do we expect students to know that, you know, at the very beginning, so I really appreciate that you’re just you’re kind of giving them some choices for a meta major, what your interests are, rather than, here’s a barrier, like this is a curriculum that you have to get over these hurdles. And now it’s more of a welcoming them into a choice group, let’s say or a passion project. Sounds more to me is that is that kind of getting at what you’re doing is getting

Mordecai Brownlee  12:14

at what we’re doing. And now that you know, in the essence of that, now, let’s talk about the science of it. So the science of it is, is that we’ve watched over time, especially over the past 20 years, think about how many folks they can joke about it, how many times they change their major, right? Oh, I went into school as a freshman, you know, wanting to do a be an astronaut. And by the time I left out of there, I was, uh, you know, doing something else. And so, even me, personally, I changed my major, probably three or four times, okay. And folks say it’s a part of the journey. Well, what happens during that process, multiple things are happening during that process, there’s highly likelihood that you’re now are having to change trajectory, change points in life and pivot. And and you’re in your academic, that’s where you now have courses credits, then you can’t use perhaps toward your degree. Right now we’re getting into loss of credit hour, but more importantly, loss of time. And when you’re talking about fighting poverty, when you’re talking about urgency towards either workforce development, getting to towards business and industry, taking them off of the poverty scale into the middle class, we’ve got to do that as quickly as possible. So the chances of us then talking about, well, let’s just have the coast before us and just let the journey take its course, there’s a highly likely that I won’t see you again, if you’ve been discouraged or you decide to pivot on me, I may not be able to find you. And we then do what we can to ensure that we start as grand and as big as possible. And then as the journey continues to take them along the way, we then go into refinement versus starting with refinement from the very get go, because that may turn out to be at the turn.

Lillian Nave  13:54

Wow. You know, our community colleges are, are I think such at the vanguard, they’re at the front of our, our change in America in in educating our students. In fact, I met a four year university of Appalachian State, and we have a lot of connections with our community college programs where you get into the four year program when you start up with your two year program, you know, and there’s like these arms that move out and working in concert, where we didn’t used to work in concert as much with our community colleges, and you would lose, oh, these credits don’t transfer or these, you know, this is somehow a big clunky transition. And I think that this community college group and what they’re doing for university, they’re educating more students than four year colleges. You know, community colleges are where it’s at, I must say, and you’re getting the most diverse set of students and really shaping them, restarting them on their journey which is just so important to be doing and I love that you are bringing them in with passion. And then, but then you’ve got to keep going. So if you want to sustain the effort and the persistence of your students, one of the things that I’m hanging my hat on, and the UDL principles is heightening the importance of goals, both large and small. So how is it that you can continue to put those goals in front of your students, and heighten that, while they’re on their journey?

Mordecai Brownlee  15:29

You know, part of what we do at St. Philip’s colleges is we have each and every one of our new students develop their own mission statement. It’s a beautiful experience, because at that point, this is where we’re charting a new path for so many students where they never been challenged to have a mission statement, we have educators who don’t have their own personal mission statement. So let’s just start there, right, but now you’re talking about a student that dad has has been in survival mode, perhaps, and now being told now’s the time for you to, to think about what is going to be your mission along this journey, because my job is to support you on this mission. So that’s when we then develop with them a mission statement. And then we get into objectives and goal setting. And so there’s multiple things that’s happening there from a learning standpoint, because now we’re getting into an essence of you being a critical, analytical, strategic thinker, and moving towards productive citizenship. And that’s just remarkable in the sense to where our students are now being able to say, Okay, I’m doing this in my life, or I’ve experienced this. And now this no longer aligned with my mission. And it’s such a beautiful experience to watch that light bulb go off for students. And that’s where we get into the goal setting because now they’re charting their path. They’re understanding strategic planning, as a human, and hopefully, then that will take them towards a path maybe towards strategic planning from a business standpoint, you never know. But once they can make the connection as as an individual, now we have charted a path toward analytical thinking, and changing the trajectory of your life. And you know, in the kind of decisions you need to make to get to where you want, though,

Lillian Nave  17:10

you know, I’ve worked with some of our faculty to about that mission, vision goals, process, and we often flip it or at least when I came to those things, I thought goals were first and then realized, I think it’s the peak performing Professor might be the book, I’ll make sure it’s in our resources. But it starts with, you have to start with what is your purpose? And not what are your goals? The goals are actually the last thing like what is your purpose, and then you can figure out your mission, what your mission is to be, and then a vision. And finally, are those goals and those goals can be kind of smaller and larger, but they have to meet up with and align with your mission and your purpose. And otherwise, the goals are meaningless.

Mordecai Brownlee  17:57

It’s meaningless, it’s it hold it hold, it holds no no substance to it. Right. And that’s when you get into what I think is is these new year’s these new year’s goals? Right? Um, well, my New Year’s What do you call it?

Lillian Nave  18:11

resolution resolutions?

Mordecai Brownlee  18:13

resolutions, right? Which, in reality, rarely do we ever stay on them? I think it’s a success rate of less than 5%. But it’s the same reality in our own lives, right, where we’re a goal driven, but in reality, we should be mission.

Lillian Nave  18:27

Right? Yeah, I must say, I have noticed you have a mission statement that you put on. At least I’ve seen it, I think it’s on your email signature, at least I’ve seen it before about you want to promote promote student inclusion, student engagement, and student success. And I noticed that in that statement, you use student each time, every time. Yeah, it’s, it’s not just sort of demean that made a difference. It’s not a lofty little, throwing it out there goal, you are student focused, and you’ve got it three times in your mission statement. It’s all students all the time and you want them included, you want them engaged, and you want them successful.

Mordecai Brownlee  19:09

You know, part of part of when I was doing when I understood the power of mission planning, I then realized and said to myself as as well, if I can do it for institution, certainly I can do it for my own life. And I can do it for my family. And so very quickly, I’ll just tell you, you know, I have, there’s an institutional mission, but what you just read was my professional mission, but then I have a personal mission. My personal mission is to empower people into develop systems that empower people. That’s my personal mission statement. So I wake up every day with that on my mind, and then my family. We are so into it. I have my wife who I met in community college, by the way, and then we have two children, six, six year old Mordecai, Jr. and then more Michelle, she’s two years old, when I’m 42 that we have a family mission statement and we have family strategic planning sessions and it’s not boring. We go off somewhere and we have fun and we have commerce. With our children, certainly our six year old daughter, as long as ice cream is involved, we have the conversation about what is it that, that you’re going to do that you want to see part of our family mission to take our families to the next level now harder than the why the why is because my wife and I both came from households and was raised in households with single mothers. So as we talk about putting together family and having a successful relationship, there are certain things that we want to have as part of the supportive infrastructure. So by pointing all that is, is there anyone that would look at my activity online, anything that I’ve done, it’s all about reinforcing positive quality, lifestyle, family relationships, and that commitment as educators because we need those images, we need those supports to support us along our paths. There’s enough junk out there, but why not put some positivity?

Lillian Nave  20:48

Oh, I love it. I love it. I love that you have a family mission statement, I totally believe it. And I see your mission in just the things you put out into the world, our listeners are going to be able to see your website and and what you have out there in your communist for edsurge. So there’s a lot of ways that they can get to see that mission in action. And I really appreciate it. Now you said that every student is responsible for making their own mission statement. Where does that happen is that coming into the college, what happens?

Mordecai Brownlee  21:23

There you go social once a student is onboarding, I’m sure each of our educators listening to this, there’s an onboarding process of each of our institutions, we have a model where there is a professional academic advisor, that’s our model, okay, so we don’t necessarily have a faculty advising model, we have a professional advisor model, they seven faculty, they support the faculty, certainly. And so it is that job of that professional advisor, we call them certified advisors, because they are certified through kale. ca el, anyone’s interested in that. And so they understand even though they’re on the Student Affairs side of the house, they are learning outcomes associated with what they do, which then takes us to the learning, teaching and learning happening with the academic advisors, that mission statement is a part of then when the student is choosing them no major is then we talk about mission, okay, you’re choosing this meta major, because this is your mission now, because that certified advisor is going to be attached to that student the entirety of their towards a more completion, every interaction that they have with that student goes back to that student’s mission. Hey, you know, Lillian, I see that your mission statement is ABC and D. And I see that you’re tracking well, and you’re following this, and this is what you told us that you want to do. So now I’m going to operate as your accountability partner, and I want to check in with you, and I want to make sure you stay on your path towards completion.

Lillian Nave  22:37

Wow, that strikes me a lot like things that I want to have all the time like a life coach. Yeah. This is really helpful. And, you know, I think it’s a really fantastic model, that sometimes, you know, not every school does it that way. And sometimes you have your academic advisor, and they are not entirely trained in what the new curriculum is or what exactly is going on. And then you might switch when you get into your major advisor. And I think we lose some students along the way, in some of the schools that I’ve worked in, you might get a different advisor for your first year, then you move into your major, you go in your major advisor, but it doesn’t have this larger outreach that says what your purpose Your mission is, you know, what are you really getting at? It’s just sort of, are you punching your ticket with these courses, it’s just more like choosing courses. So you’re really engaging, and you’re going back to that why, again, with connecting them to their mission.

Mordecai Brownlee  23:36

Absolutely. And I think the other thing is, too, we can, we can understand relationships and other aspects of our life, but we don’t, we take for granted the importance of relationships and education, right. And so when you begin to, to to send students in multiple directions, that loss of relationship continues to occur every time that loss of momentum occurs every time, and it’s that relationship that will help sustain that student towards completion.

Lillian Nave  24:02

Wow. Um, so I, I definitely believe in the importance of relationships. I think it’s important for the faculty and the student. And I also think that peer to peer relationship is really important for learning. So I incorporate that as much as I can. I find it’s a little harder to transition to that online lately, but I’m trying. So my next question is about fostering that collaboration in community. And that’s going to, as you say, that’s important for continuing the effort and persistence of your students to continue. So what sort of things do you do that fosters collaboration and community?

Mordecai Brownlee  24:43

You know, part of what we’ve had to do in the midst of COVID-19, which seems like this has been going on so long it has and it has and people, there’s so much going on in people’s lives and our students lives and educators lives in our community as a whole. So certainly, my thoughts and prayers are with anyone that’s lost in Want the team and listening to this or, or someone that’s battling right now, I think that as we talk about community, in this day and time, online interactions have taken on new life. And I think that more than ever, I think now is a point where we, we have to not only gravitate due to necessity, but we can no longer take for granted the impact of interactions. So part of what we’ve done at St. Philip’s College is this, we’ve expanded our online outreach towards students, creating communities for students, and I’m doing them for students, and then saying students like this, we’ve worked with a think tank of student leaders to develop these strategies, and then deployed from there, because we wanted it to be what they wanted it to be. And not that we were doing it with good intention for them. So we have we have formulated these online, these online communities, they’re doing extremely well, as well as exponential learning, exponential learning has been a means in which we’ve been able to, again, drive them towards that, why, and continuing to strengthen that student’s academic pathway. And we’ve created more online virtual experiential learning opportunities, which we didn’t have pre COVID, we had some, but we really relied heavily on face to face interactions, to be able to have that guest speaker to be able to have a practitioner in that particular field, come and speak and have those interactions with you or assign you with a career coach of those things. Now, moving those elements online, has really helped our students in terms of community. And then the other part of that is just absolute outreach, through advocacy, we continue because of the significance of poverty in our community, to be available to students to continue to work with our local food bank, to have a regular drops, to be able to have those outreaches. You know, you don’t want to talk about domestic violence. But I will tell you, you know, even not you people don’t want to talk about domestic violence, but it has been charged your COVID-19. And so now we have to, we have to, we can’t deny that and now it becomes some of our students are experiencing that. So what are we doing from an outreach standpoint, to ensure the safety of our community. So I think all those pieces are all a part of the care beyond the classroom. And it certainly is heavily important.

Lillian Nave  27:18

Well, so really what this this conversation is making me think of how Universal Design for Learning is, this is a systemic approach that you’re taking, you’re looking at making sure that your students are engaged and continue to succeed throughout this course, throughout the course of study, not just a particular course that they’re taking. And I’m really interested in your the two examples, you were just talking about online communities, you had students sort of leading what they look like. And I’m interested, if you have examples, what what does that look like? And also that experiential learning online? Can you tell us a little bit more?

Mordecai Brownlee  27:54

Yeah, so so there’s a by no means is this a plug, but it’s just who we work with. So there’s a company by the name of orgsync, who we’ve we’ve worked heavily with, to shape our online experience in regards to outside of the the the the classroom where Canvas base from academic standpoint, but orgsync takes us outside of the academic portion. And so what we did was is that we work with WorkSafe, to say, Okay, how can we make some make some shifts and changes to our interface on the front end to certainly be more engaging, but then how can we give user in usability to our students to craft and create events and opportunities for engagement with students at the times that they want for those interactions to happen in the means which they want. So students aren’t just going to, to operate and build community between Monday through Friday 8am to 5pm, occasional weekends, you know, they’re these interactions are happening certainly after 5pm. And they’re happening on the weekends. And so really looking at then how we can pair those out of classroom, if you will, interactions, but in support of the classroom. And that’s where the beauty of the meta major comes in, you can get like minded students that are moving in the same directions or other directions, to begin to support one another and help one another, be exposed to new facets of career pathways, and be able to share resources. And it’s just been amazing to have these online video sessions like you would at a regular movie theater and then go into dialogue and discussion, and to hear and especially what what all is going on in society. Now. These are some very deep rooted conversations that folks are having as we talk about diversity, equity inclusion, and it’s just taking conversations and learning to the next level. I think I’ve entered of aspects of experiential learning. So experiential learning so our approach to exponential learning has been not just co curricular because people have they understand co curricular but exponential pieces that there still is a learning outcome associated with it and the learning outcome is still being assessed. So it’s more than just saying, let me just expose you to this video. Now tell me what you think it is, okay, there is a lesson associated, there’s a learning plan, there’s learning outcomes associated with this exposure. And I’m going to assess you on your ability to be able to achieve this learning outcome. And if not, let’s go back and do some work. And so let’s move to the next.

Lillian Nave  30:25

Wow, so I just had a conversation today, with, with folks at our institution about the that move between org sync, or that outside the classroom, social media sort of thing where students are connecting, and how clunky an LMS or learning management system is where I really want to bridge that gap. You know, we bridge the gap when we’re face to face when you have a conversation in the hallway, when you’re talking to people in and out of the class. And it’s a, you know, a holistic experience. And I want that to happen to on an online experience. And it’s a little bit clunky when it’s assignments, you know, that you have to put in a discussion post, but I want there to be more interaction, because I understand my students are more than just brains on sticks, they are whole people with emotions, right. And I want to bring that whole part in. So I’ve added, you know, group me, which is just a way for, for us to work together in a group. And it was brought to me by students, they’re the ones that that use group me and then told me about it a couple years ago. And so having that that effective part of the brain, you know, those things that you’re interested, you’re excited, you want to talk about it. But then having the ease of use to move those two things together. So I experimented a little against it was my first semester doing a fully online course. So trying to do some, some work on the the group of me and and continuing that conversation, I think is just so important to in, especially what I’m teaching is about intercultural competency and learning from other people and seeing how they see the world and bringing that in. So, like broadening that out, you are seeing your students as whole people, you are understanding them as beings outside of just their academic beings. And you are harnessing that because as universal design for learning principles tell us we know there’s an effective part of the brain that’s outside that’s different than the cognitive part of the brain. That’s all important, in fact, absolutely necessary for learning. So that in the experiential learning part that you’re talking about, makes me also think about the reflection that comes like if you’re doing something great, sometimes you need the time to reflect on what you just did to know what you learned. In fact, I would say all the time, you need to reflect on it. And I really appreciated that you said you need to assess those things. So having those students tell us what they’ve learned while they’re doing it is part of the whole student learning part. So I can see why you’re getting a lot of success there. Well, you know, and

Mordecai Brownlee  33:25

the other part of that is just helping our students understand the difference between intentionality versus actualization. Right? You can and you can intend that Oh, that’s not what, you know, this is actually what I meant, well, you need to be able to be skilled at being able to share how you analyze what you’ve been exposed to, and how this fits into your mission. Right. And so is we can see this in our own relationships, maybe some of the Spats we’ve got in with loved ones as well. That’s not what I meant. But that’s what you said. So it’s that whole piece about intentionality versus actualization. And so being able to then drill down and say, This not only fits in terms of my active pathway, this actually fits the terms of my individual life. And so we want productivity all the way through,

Lillian Nave  34:10

wow, I could see this being really helpful in just individual courses, you know, faculty who are listening here that that aren’t outs that aren’t like in the Student Success part, that they’re just looking at their own course, how important this is to think about, you know, students setting goals for themselves, and really understanding where they are moving towards, that can be really helpful. Okay, so you’ve got a lot of safeguards, you’ve got a lot of ways to bring in your students and to keep them along the path with effort and persistence. And there’s one other idea I also wanted to ask you about, and that’s comes in this self regulation, part of student engagement, and about motivation. So I’m wondering if you have some ways that you use to motivate your students to Continue on or to take some risks or to move forward.

Mordecai Brownlee  35:05

You know, part of what we’ve learned in terms of our approach to student success has been the the rewarding through. There’s different ways, right? There’s two ways that really come to mind number one, for those that are part of the academic pathway, infrastructure development at your institutions, especially community colleges, stackable awards have been breakthrough opportunities at the community college level where students depending upon their their trajectory and their career field, have the ability to work towards a certification, maybe at a level one level two standard, and then move towards degree attainment, the ability to be able to be a certificate holder in itself, already places a student, depending upon especially career technical education and high wage high demand positions, that certification is now just taking you to the middle class. So part of what we’ve done is we’re talking about working adults, and we’re talking about working adults, especially in COVID-19, I’m sure that we’ve had some loved one family member, somebody that we’ve known that has been impacted from an employment standpoint. And so what we’re finding now is, is that individuals are having to figure out a way to quickly retool themselves to hit the market. And so these certificates in themselves are built and designed to be able to be short term around opportunities. And then if the individual sees fit to them move towards either higher certification, or towards towards, towards degree they can. Now that’s one piece, the other part of in terms of the encouragement and the motivation comes through exposure. And so what we do is, is that once students continue along their pathways, their academic pathway to getting them, giving them the exposures to what they will be, who they will be, proves huge, those positive reinforcements in so many essential locations are not reinforcements that those students have ever been exposed to, nor will they have ever had access to, or the resources to. So the ability for us to be able to give them these exposures is huge in terms of the motivation of keeping them along, and pairing them with mentors that are practitioners in those particular areas really doing the work is huge. Again, granting resource and network where perhaps that has never ever ever been provided for that student. And that within itself, is that significant of relationship. Wow.

Lillian Nave  37:31

Yeah, I love our local community college, especially it is the Technical Institute, Community College and Technical Institute. It also is one of those dual enrollment programs where high schoolers can go and kind of take classes at the same time and move on towards their, their degrees, moving into a four year degree, after you know, dual enrollment, that sort of thing. And seeing how it has already changed the lives of our community is so satisfying and so inspiring. And our community, which is where we are here was very large manufacturing community. In fact, we are in the area that was the largest furniture producer in the United States. And, and then a decade ago, all of that left. And in fact, I was teaching at our community college then and we were retooling. And I had factory folks who had used to have factory jobs. And then they were taking my art history class, which I thought I hope I’m serving them well. Art History, I’m not exactly sure. But I was very pregnant at the time and taught some some accelerated courses because they had a really quick program to get recertified to move into a different direction to try to get a different employment. And it was hope, really what that was, was hope. And I know, things change often. And we’ve had a lot of unemployment and the, the need for retooling for recertification is more than just Well, I shouldn’t say just it’s more than just the economics. It is also that hope that I can provide for my family, that I can move forward that there’s something for me that I can do after they had done you know, everything they could they did everything right. But then something happened, and what are you going to do? So

Mordecai Brownlee  39:39

I think that that is, you know, I think to the community that I still serve, because I teach online and have been for about six years with the University of Charleston, Charleston, West Virginia. But before I moved back here to Texas and living in West Virginia, I think it was in Appalachia and I just missed it and I would say that watching that happen with coal industry, right watching that happen with the coal industry, you’re talking generations of families that were dependent upon a natural resource. And now all of a sudden, you know, there’s been an industry change has been a legislation, legislative change. And now you’re having to figure out how to provide for your family watching what’s happened to COVID-19, here in San Antonio, for those that have been through San Antonio, a hotel industry, culinary arts, huge in this community. And now you’re talking about $500 rooms that are now going for $69. Right. And so you, there’s jobs associated with that heavy discount that you may see on your local webpage now. And so hope is beautiful. So the exposure of what you were doing, Lillian is essentially what we’re seeking to do. And our own way is, is that that that sense of continuing to give the positive reinforcement, because we can never take for granted what that student is having to overcome in order to continue to engage in the academic pathway. And we can run the gamut on what those possibilities are. But that that ounce, that ability, that exposure to hope, will continue to make them and take them towards their desired missions.

Lillian Nave  41:06

You know, one of the things that I really appreciate when I fell into learning about universal design for learning is that it seeks to reach all of those students without asking questions, I don’t need to know your background, I don’t need to know, necessarily your story, because I’m trying to reach all of my students without having to make exceptions or accommodations, I want to be able to reach and teach and help my students succeed. By taking down those barriers. Maybe the barrier is a hidden curriculum, maybe the barrier or assumptions that the department or the institution had made about their learners. Or maybe it’s just assumptions I had made about what what I should be doing, or my students or something like that. But UDL opens and levels that playing field, to say that everybody is worth teaching, everybody’s worthwhile. Everybody has an equal chance to succeed. And I’ve just seen it play over and over and over again, in, in my conversations with with people on the podcast, but also in how important it is to make sure we are teaching all of our students in not to have to ask all those questions, as you said, everybody’s got a story that behind why they are there. We don’t need to ask that story. We just need to help our students and make sure that we are providing an open, accessible, successful path for our students.

Mordecai Brownlee  42:42

You know, you said something really struck a chord with me. And if I could just encourage educators that are listening in on this and you said use the word worth. And for me what I heard was value. And I think that for it’s so interesting, some of the dialogues that I’ve been a part of over the past few years, when you talk about academic rigor in the the thought that by continuing to infuse aspects of equity means that we’re going to take a hit to academic rigor. And I would just wish that some not see it that way. There are ways to approach in teaching and learning that opened the door towards increased equities to ensure that each and every one of our students are able to be successful. Certainly, we want them to do their part. But we were not taking a backseat to rigor. But we are asking for refinement of approach, because there are ways to ensure that each and every one of our students are making it. That’s what we want. Because each and every one of our students are valuable.

Lillian Nave  43:37

Absolutely. I think there’s been a misconception that rigor means hard. And sometimes hard is just for being hard. Like just for the sake of being hard. It doesn’t have to be right. It does. That doesn’t make sense. Just you don’t have to do something hard, just because it’s hard. Maybe we can make it easy to learn that, you know, without reducing the rigor. We don’t just have to make it hard.


That’s right. That’s right.

Lillian Nave  44:06

Okay, so all right. But my last question I have for you is is sort of a takeaway that what are some ways that faculty so for teaching classes, you are on the Student Success side, you’re kind of in the administrator role. But really a see you as a student focused on that administrator role. What are some ways that faculty can work with students success staff at a university to help students persist in their studies? or What advice do you want to leave with faculty today?

Mordecai Brownlee  44:39

Gosh, I feel like we’ve already asked me way down along in that regard. certainly see the power, see the power in change. See the power and change there’s a there is a there’s a revolution that’s currently happening in society. There’s a revolution that’s happening in higher education and we should embrace it because it will ensure that We are able to be relevant for years to come, the challenge is, in itself is is for those that don’t want to change. And I think that when we use these taglines about innovation, I, we have to understand a few things about innovation. Number one, you’re going to try some things that won’t work. And I would encourage faculty be willing to try some things for the sake of student success, that may not be successful. And that’s okay, work with the students work with your fellow colleagues, to create some opportunities. But I think that if you keep students at the center of it, it’s real hard to fail, right? But just the sake of innovation, the spirit of innovation, there’s going to be some things that work may not work as you hope. But then what pieces can we take and continue to evolve, and then and then refine, and then create something that’s very beautiful and relevant. And so as our institutions, faculty, staff, anyone that’s listening to this, particularly faculty continue to evolve, be encouraged by the evolved with the tapping the revolution that’s happening in the curriculum in society. And we must ask the academy evolve at a, in my opinion, at a faster rate than industry, business and industry. And society is depending upon us to evolve. And yet there are these elements that we continue to want to approach, giving honor to what was and what, what, and the foundations of what we believe something to be. And yes, we want to teach those foundations, but we also have to understand that we owe it to our students to teach a quality and relevant subject of curriculum. And so continue to evolve, continue to understand in this evolution, and this revolution of society, that there will be some new approaches and embrace those approaches, because then you can embrace a new population as to that if we would have continued to approach in the previous manner, you will not have reach.

Lillian Nave  46:50

That is the most encouraging way to ask for transformation that I’ve heard. Because I do believe there, there are plenty who are still of the ilk that say this is the way it’s always been done. And so that means it’s the right way. And it’s hard to move that needle, if that is the place you’re coming from. And I am so encouraged by you, your efforts, what you’re doing, and just talking to me today, that helps me to do really have this spirit of transformation. The idea behind having this podcast in the beginning, was to bring up the chatter about opening access and creating successful pathways for students in higher ed, because I think we still need to listen to it. And we have a transformation ahead of us. And I appreciate that you just said it’s not even ahead of us. It’s it’s honest, it’s upon

Mordecai Brownlee  47:51

us. It’s here,

Lillian Nave  47:52

it’s it’s here, and we better start paying attention. So we need to get our faculty on board and our administration on board. Because our students are already there. They’re already in front of us.

Mordecai Brownlee  48:06

That’s right. That’s right.

Lillian Nave  48:08

Well, thank you so much. I really appreciate the chance to talk to you and I appreciate the time that you’ve taken. And I really have enjoyed learning from you and for all the really great stuff you’re doing at St Philip’s College, and to help improve student success. And I think we’ve got a lot to learn from what you’re doing.

Mordecai Brownlee  48:28

But thank you so much for the opportunity, Lillian, and to all of our educators listening. Uh, thank you so much for taking the time to listen on today.

Lillian Nave  48:36

Thank you. You can follow the Think UDL podcast on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to find out when new episodes will be released, and also see transcripts and additional materials at the website. The think UDL podcast is made possible by CollegeStar. The star stands for Supporting Transition, Access, and Retention in post secondary settings, and the website provides free resources and instructional aides based on UDL principles. If you’d like to know more, go to the website. Additional support for the podcast is made possible by Appalachian State University where if you call it Appa-LAY-shun, I’ll throw an Apple-at-cha. The music on the podcast was performed by the Odyssey quartet comprised of Rex Shepherd, David Pate, Bill Folwell, and Jose Cochez. Our sound engineer is Tanner Jones and I am your host, Lillian Nave. Thank you for joining us on the Think UDL podcast. 

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