Michael Stallard on Connection Culture
TCU is a model of connection, writes this Horned Frog dad in a new book.
Research shows that supportive relationships are at the heart of a connection culture and lead to better student learning and development outcomes. Connection enhances the executive function of the brain so that students make better decisions and are more creative thinkers. In addition, connection improves physical and mental health. It makes students more resilient to handle the inevitable stress that comes from being challenged academically and learning to become more independent adults.
What’s the science behind the idea of connection culture?
Human beings are biochemically created to connect. Connection affects neurotransmitters in our brains, hormones throughout our bodies, and the allocation of blood, glucose and oxygen so that when we feel connected, we thrive.
In contrast, a lack or a deficiency of connection makes people feel unsupported, left out or lonely. When we feel disconnected, our bodies move into a state called “stress response,” which triggers a “fight or flight” readiness. That’s good if we are facing a short-term threat, such as being mugged or needing to help someone who is hurt. But it becomes a problem when people are struck in a constant state of stress response because they will always feel disconnected. Research has shown that feeling disconnected over time sabotages our productivity and happiness, and shaves years off of our life expectancy.
You highlighted TCU in your latest book as a potential model of connection culture in higher education. What was it about TCU that stood out as a place of connection for you and your family?
The TCU community is friendly and helpful; the faculty, staff and students took time to get to know us. Today we have many friends who are part of the TCU family. My wife, Katie, and I speak so highly of TCU that people routinely assume that we ourselves are alums.
However, many colleges are under enormous financial pressures to do more with fewer resources to support more students. This reality contributes to a drift toward indifference on campuses because people are so busy they don’t take time to develop supportive relationships. But the higher education community is beginning to see that campus culture matters, and they’re taking an interest in learning about TCU’s culture of connection because they want their students to thrive too.
At TCU, faculty and staff members also benefit from the university’s connection culture, and it’s one of the reasons The Chronicle of Higher Education recognizes TCU as one of the “Great Colleges to Work For” and the only college to be honored in all 12 categories assessed by an independent survey of faculty and staff.
What connection experiences did your family experience at TCU?
It started when we met Ann Louden through a mutual friend and Mike Marshall, who, at the time, was the admissions counselor that covered the Northeast. We immediately felt connected to both of them and still do. Through Ann, we became involved with Frogs for the Cure, and our entire family has participated in the music videos. As a family, we have hosted the TCU Send-off Party for the Northeast for several years, and we really enjoy connecting incoming students and parents.
When your daughters first were checking out TCU, what were their initial impressions?
Sarah, our eldest daughter, described the college she wanted to attend as “small school, big spirit.” We visited quite a few colleges that didn’t measure up. She checked out TCU during Christmas break; the day was gray and drizzly and practically the only people on campus where workmen in hard hats. But an admissions counselor gave Sarah and my wife, Katie, a personal tour. Sarah came away confident that TCU was the school she was looking for based on the TCU staff she met. She returned in the spring and that second visit affirmed her decision.
Elizabeth, our youngest daughter, was determined not to automatically follow in her older sister’s footsteps but when she met TCU faculty, staff and students, she decided it was the place where she could thrive just as Sarah had. My wife and I were thrilled; we could see TCU combined academic excellence with faculty and staff members who genuinely care about students.
What were some memorable connections for your daughters?
Sarah had a wonderful experience as a cheerleader all four years and she gained leadership experience as co-captain her junior and senior years. She cheered on the sidelines in four bowl games, including the exciting victory at the Rose Bowl. She has benefitted from being involved in Ignite, one of the campus ministries.
I’ll never forget how thrilled Elizabeth was with her political science professors when she told me she stayed up all night reading a book that Dr. Jim Riddlesperger recommended – not because she had to but because she got hooked. I was delighted to see that she was learning to love learning and is on the path to become a life-long learner.
Elizabeth’s relationships with faculty and staff members opened doors for her to land internships with Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price and former first lady Laura Bush, and she spent a semester studying in Barcelona. We have seen our daughters grow in competence and character while at TCU.
Michael Stallard, an expert in organizational culture, is president of E Pluribus Partners, a Connecticut-based leadership consulting and training firm. He also writes for FoxBusiness.com, Entrepreneur.com and SmartBlog on Leadership.