A student sends his teacher an email. That assignment due tomorrow? It won’t be in. I had to leave town. I won’t have Internet access. Can I get it to you next week?
For some college professors, this is all too familiar, the common lament of students who haven’t stayed on top of their studies and are trying to save a grade at the last minute.
But Penn State is offering a class to teach faculty and staff that, with one particular group of students, special challenges are more than a “the dog ate my homework” scenario.
“At Penn State, and especially with the World Campus, the military population is growing,” said Drew Tatusko, assistant director of faculty development for World Campus, the university’s online arm.
The World Campus’s enrollment has the highest concentration of military students across all of Penn State’s locations, with 17.2 percent of the student body being service members.
From deployment to training to sudden and unexpected relocation, there are often extenuating circumstances that require adjustments or allowances from instructors.
Joan Smeltzer, a Penn State York math instructor, has seen the impact firsthand with her students. She had one who was being deployed, and while she was encouraging and trying to be helpful, he was also insistent that he expected no special treatment.
“They really want to be treated like everyone else. They aren’t trying to duck anything at all. They are very rewarding to work with,” she said.
But still, having no military background herself, until she took the online course, she didn’t know exactly how erratic it can be to schedule life around the demands of service.
“Their responsibilities need to be handled in a different way because they are doing a service for all of us,” Smeltzer said.
The course also introduces staff and faculty to hurdles such as traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder that could impact a student’s ability to tackle some classwork.
The class opened to anyone with Penn State Web access May 20. Tatusko said it has been very positively received. According to the university, about 100 faculty and staff have signed up for the self-directed course, with two dozen earning certificates of completion.
“You are never finished learning, particularly about your students,” Smeltzer said. “You need to be aware of what they need.”