Lions and Tigers and Bears! Oh, My! Identity in Crisis: Student Finding Their Way in Life

Christine Chmielewski, Indiana University South Bend

This article was originally published in Academic Advising Today Volume 34, Number 2, June 2011. Christine recently completed the NACADA-Kansas State University Graduate Certificate in Academic Advising. This article was adapted from a paper written for the Multicultural Aspects of Academic Advising course and recommended for publication consideration by her professor, Doris Carroll.

Christime Chmielewski.jpgJust like the Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Cowardly Lion in the Wizard of Oz, students often feel lost; they need guidance and reassurance to succeed in college. The critical component to academic success, other than student will, is advising. Without the support of an experienced navigator, the institution can generate obstacles; with the help of a “Wizard,” students can discover and develop their natural gifts.  Moving forward in spite of fear to confront challenges is part of the journey. It is easier to navigate through an unknown and magical world with a support structure in place.

I make choices
The Scarecrow was poised atop a pole in the field. He longed to be anywhere else, but had been placed on a post to “work” a job he had not selected. He believed he had no brain and was therefore incapable of learning or experiencing happiness. Of course, after some self-pity he figured out how to get down from the pole: “Well, I may not be very smart about things, but if you bend down the nail in the back, I may fall off.” This is exactly what Dorothy did, and it worked!  The Scarecrow’s ability to reason was made clear with that statement. Although he walked through life as a victim of circumstances, the Scarecrow eventually found happiness when he defined his own path. When the Wizard presented him with a diploma he said, “Every pusillanimous creature has a brain. But what you don’t have is a diploma.” The Wizard points out that while the Scarecrow reasoned his own path, he had not done the work to face his perceived inadequacies, conquer his fear, and claim his domain.

Students often make statements not unlike those of the Scarecrow. They doubt themselves, make excuses, have poor study habits, and procrastinate until they sit on a pole in a field alone and uncertain how to succeed in class. They need advisors to listen and help unveil options while they learn how to comply with the coursework expectations and discover ways to stay motivated. Managing time and juggling multiple deadlines simultaneously is often as important as information retention and application – all brand new territory, just like the quest to the Emerald City.

I become connected
The Tin Man was doing the work he was designed to do, but had frozen stiff. He was so focused on his “job” that he forgot to take care of his long-term needs. He felt insecure and questioned his values (because he had no heart), so rather than planning his future he stayed occupied with his daily tasks. Without belonging to something bigger and with no sense of connection, he resigned himself to the way it was and eventually rusted. Only after Dorothy and her companions arrived did the Tin Man rally and discover that fulfillment comes in relationships with others.

Students often are in a similar place. They come with earlier successes defined, an established social network, and set priorities. Then everything changes, and that can be unsettling. Doing day-to-day tasks might seem overwhelming and developing connections ambiguous, but without creating community and forging a way to their future, students only stay occupied. As was the case with the Tin Man, students can have an identity crisis. They must discover a passion for knowledge and figure out how to promote their strengths through faculty engagement and professional opportunities. Being connected beyond the academic realm through volunteerism, a part-time job, study abroad, and service-learning provides context and application for learning, rounds out the college experience, and helps define humanity. Often making these connections requires assistance. Just like the Wizard gifted the Tin Man with a heart, advisors gift students with bridges to opportunity.

I create my future
The Cowardly Lion put up a front when he met the group in the forest saying, “Put ‘em up, put ‘em up!  Which one of you first?”  His false rhetoric was born of fear and was exacerbated by heightened anxiety. He acted strong to cover his insecurities and the loneliness he felt, but these actions only reinforced his solitude. Peeling back the masks that students present can be exhausting. They come from diverse backgrounds and experiences, often making it difficult for us to understand and recognize their motivation. The one certainty is that they are here to increase their opportunities.

A good advisor recognizes that presenting clear expectations and boundaries, providing positive reinforcement, and unveiling options provides the safety and security students need to lessen vulnerability. The Lion was able to face his fears and confront the Wicked Witch while defending his safety net, Dorothy. The journey of self-discovery is scary and it is difficult to make alone. Students often wonder if they are good enough to succeed. Thoughtful, intentional advising, coupled with honest communication and compassion, help students see their merit and figure out appropriate ways in which they can move forward.

I define my character
The Wicked Witch is the biggest obstacle that can stop student progress. She can be killed or managed.  Students who are intrinsically motivated overcome obstacles through fortitude, determination, intelligence, and ingenuity. Others need guidance to find their way and create their destinies. As the Good Witch tells Dorothy, an advisor begins with simple instructions: follow the Yellow Brick Road.

Through practice and repetition, patterns emerge and confidence grows. Personal strengths, clear identity, thoughtful community, and meaningful contributions are often discovered through a robust and well-rounded college experience. Advisors serve as a road map that guides students through this process. With the support of talented “Wizards,” students persevere and succeed in finding their way to the Emerald City.

Christine Chmielewski
Sr. Academic Advisor
CLAS Advising Center
Indiana University South Bend

Fleming, V. (Director). (1939). The Wizard of Oz [on DVD, 2009, 70th anniversary ed. Warner Brothers, Burbank, CA.]

One Response to “Lions and Tigers and Bears! Oh, My! Identity in Crisis: Student Finding Their Way in Life”

  1. Susan Kay Says:

    This is a great article, thank you for the use of Oz!

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