Wait, what? The adage goes: “when there is a will, there is a way”.
The will… Ideally, students come to college, to Computer Science for what I know, self-motivated, knowing that CS is for them. That’s not always or often the case. Many come for an array of reasons. We also work hard to spread the good word: outreach, summer and other research programs. Anything to ignite a will in our prospective students. And when there is a will there is a way.
But what if the way gets long and sinuous and it is unclear where it gets? This is when we lose our students, the ones who came with a will, but whose will faded because the way seemed to lead nowhere… That’s when students drop out or change majors: they do not see a way through.
What if we start with the way and ignite (or re-ignite) a will? Sharing context of learning with students is important: why they learn what they learn, how what they are doing is going to take them to graduation and to the career they care about, seeing beyond fast reward and rather keep an eye on the “end” product. This is achieved by mentoring but mostly by reviewing plans of study from current time to graduation, including other milestones like internships, research, community service. Making it “real” helps students see the (path)way and consider it doable. This is why academic advising is so important and should go beyond transactional: “here are your classes for next semester” and into personal planning, giving students the whole set of options and outcomes of their possible choices; in short, allowing students to reclaim agency in their educational journey. The way is then no longer obscure and that, I believe, has the power to (re-)ignite a will.