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Georgia Southern research promotes faculty and staff collaboration

Jennifer Syno has spent her entire career in education. Starting out as a middle grades math teacher, she transitioned to a dual enrollment program for at-risk students, and today she serves as the advising coordinator for Georgia Southern University’s Waters College of Health Professions.

“I am really passionate about student success,” said Syno. “Working with students to help them figure out how to overcome obstacles, be successful and find their pathway in education–that’s where my heart is.”

In her quest for helping students, Syno has witnessed firsthand the successes and failures students encounter in their academic pursuits. Now a candidate in the Ed.D. Educational Leadership program in the College of Education (COE), she is focusing her research on what can be done to help students succeed at Georgia Southern.

“Faculty and staff, we have the same ultimate goal for the student population,” she said. “We want our students to be successful, yet we often stay in our silos and do not work together to achieve this goal.”

During an action-research project required of her program, Syno surveyed the faculty from the former College of Health and Human Sciences (CHHS) as well as staff from areas including CHHS advisement and the University’s career services, housing and academic success center. Her survey examined perceptions, such as how participants perceived faculty and staff collaboration, whether collaboration contributes to student success, the value of collaboration and whether or not individuals were willing to participate in faculty-staff collaborations.

“The most interesting thing I found is that faculty and staff all valued collaboration,” said Syno. “Participants indicated they are willing to collaborate, and I think that is a great start. Now I want to know why we aren’t doing it more often.”

Participants were also asked to share perceptions of respect when considering various perspectives of faculty and staff.

“My initial findings indicate that faculty perception of staff had no bearing on willingness to collaborate, which goes against much of the existing literature,” said Syno. “This could be a small indication that relationships between the two parties may be improving. It is noteworthy, however, that there was a disconnect in that faculty perceived themselves as respectful to staff when staff indicated a slight disagreement with the statement of “faculty respect staff.””

Syno plans to treat her first study as a pilot for her dissertation.

“My hope is that with my dissertation, pending Institutional Research Board approval, I could do this study University-wide,” said Syno. “Having spent my entire career in education and knowing that as a classroom educator we were always trained to collaborate, I would also be curious to see if the results would be different, for instance, in College of Education, than they would in other colleges at Georgia Southern.”

Syno, herself, is already seeing the benefits of faculty-staff collaboration as she works with several of the College of Education’s educational leadership faculty to complete her research. Most recently, she received word that an article about her research co-written with faculty members Juliann McBrayer, Ed.D., and Dan Calhoun, Ph.D., was accepted for publication in the College Student Affairs Journal. Syno also presented findings of her study, “Faculty and Staff Perceptions of Organizational Units and Collaboration Impact,” at the 2018 Georgia Southern University Research Symposium where she was awarded the COE’s Graduate Best Poster Award.

“The faculty in my educational leadership program are challenging me and having me step out of my comfort zone and do things I never do, like the Research Symposium and a upcoming conference presentation as well,” she said.

Ultimately, Syno hopes her research could help lead to more collaborative efforts between faculty and staff at Georgia Southern.

“It will give the University a better understanding of how to have successful collaborations and maybe even areas to start in or areas of improvement for collaborative efforts and relationships,” she explained. “We have to work together and help the students, and my research has already shown that the desire is there.”

Georgia Southern University, a public Carnegie Doctoral/Research institution founded in 1906, offers 141 degree programs serving more than 27,000 students through nine colleges on three campuses in Statesboro, Savannah, Hinesville and online instruction. A leader in higher education in southeast Georgia, the University provides a diverse student population with expert faculty, world-class scholarship and hands-on learning opportunities. Georgia Southern creates lifelong learners who serve as responsible scholars, leaders and stewards in their communities. Visit GeorgiaSouthern.edu.

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