We recently had an opportunity to talk to Paul Schantz, Director, Web and Technology Services, Division of Student Affairs, California State University, Northridge, about how the university is using NameCoach to provide a more inclusive learning experience for its students.
Can you tell me about CSUN?
We’re a large institution with 40,000 students in the heart of the San Fernando Valley. Close to half of our enrollment is Hispanic. Approximately 3,000 students are international. In fact, CSUN has one of the largest international populations of graduate students in the country. A large percentage of our students are first generation college attendees. Diversity and inclusion has been a reality for us for many years.
That must present a number of challenges for your faculty.
We have a lot of students with names that are difficult for faculty and staff to pronounce. Most people don’t realize this, but at the beginning of a term, professors have 200 to 300 student names to remember and try to pronounce correctly.
I would imagine you’ve run into the issue of mispronunciation yourself.
My last name is not a terribly difficult name to say, but because it has a z at the end, people mispronounce it all the time. I’ve gotten Sanchez, and my personal favorite, Shartz. I’ve had a lifetime of people saying it incorrectly. But I can shake it off because of who I am. I’m not a first generation student. I’m a 6 foot tall Caucasian man. For me, it’s an annoyance. For a student who’s first generation, getting their name right is very important during their very first term on campus.
How has NameCoach helped CSUN make saying someone’s name right easier?
I first heard about NameCoach when our vice president of student affairs and dean of students returned from a conference. He has been at CSUN for 43 years. He was the first African American President of the Associated Students in the early 1970s. He always had a sense of inclusion as part of his life and wanted students to feel like they are included here on campus. He put me in charge of making NameCoach happen here. I should mention that he’s also a name reader at commencement, so he has a personal interest in using NameCoach to get everyone’s names right.
Commencement must be a challenge for name readers.
It is. We hire professional name readers for commencement. NameCoach helps them considerably. But the need to pronounce names correctly goes beyond commencement. Having a place where students can record their own names and share them with other systems is huge. And it’s not just the students. We have 5,000 faculty and staff in the CSUN family. The ready availability of NameCoach in our PeopleSoft portal/myCSUNProfile is extremely valuable if you ever have to look them up to talk to them. We’re not going to have professional name readers in PeopleSoft.
Faculty must appreciate having it available.
Absolutely. Human resources organizes an annual employee awards ceremony where we made NameCoach available. They went nuts over it.
What would you say to others who want to build a more inclusive learning environment?
Eventually, every campus will have something like NameCoach, if not NameCoach itself. It will be expected to be baked into the overall college experience. It shows the university cares enough about its students to get their name right.