Jasmine Lota and Tyler Schipper give each other a high-five.
First-year student Jasmine Lota (l) and Dr. Tyler Schipper give each other a high-five. (Brandon Woller ’17/University of St. Thomas)

Tommie High 5: Helping Students Feel Seen, Known and Valued

As director of retention and student success, Tonia Jones Peterson often works with students when academic challenges arise. Wanting to give recognition to students excelling in their classes, she created the Tommie High 5.

Tonia Jones Peterson (Mark Brown/University of St. Thomas)

“It is nice to be recognized for the work you are doing in the classroom,” Peterson stated. “I wanted to make sure that we’re also highlighting the great work that is happening across campus. So, this year, I implemented the Tommie High 5, which gives faculty the opportunity to congratulate students on their great work in class.” Peterson worked with the Alert Redesign Team to redesign the university’s alert process, which included new alerts, such as the Tommie High 5.

When faculty submit a Tommie High 5, the student receives an email with comments from the faculty member. The student’s faculty advisor also receives a copy of the email. Since its launch last fall, the Tommie High 5 has received positive feedback from students and faculty alike.

Dr. Liz Fogarty (Mark Brown/University of St. Thomas)

“During a busy class period I don’t always get a chance to tell students what an awesome job they’re doing,” said Dr. Liz Fogarty, assistant professor in teacher education. “In the fall I sent Jade (Hill) a Tommie High 5 to let her know that I appreciated her hard work. It was a little thing on my part, she was the one doing the hard work, but I think this form of recognition gives teachers the opportunity to recognize students for something other than through grades.”

Jade Hill ’25 

Third-year student Hill balances a busy schedule with her studies, commitment to the Tommies women’s basketball team and other extracurricular activities. “It made me feel really good,” Hill reflected. “It’s such a rewarding feeling to know that teachers are aware and recognize that you’re putting in the hard work in the classroom as well as on the court.”

Dr. Tyler Schipper, assistant professor in economics and data analytics, was involved in updating the university’s student alert process and initially was unsure about the impact the Tommie High 5 would have on students.

Dr. Tyler Schipper

“I was a bit of a skeptic of how meaningful these would be for students,” Schipper admitted. “But, based on my experience, I stand corrected. Students that got a Tommie High 5 talked to me after class and were genuinely excited and even grateful for being recognized. I was quite surprised by how effective such a simple gesture seems to be.”

Schipper now describes himself as a “Tommie High 5 convert” and has tried to give Tommie High 5s to students more often.

“I received a Tommie High 5 from Professor Tyler Schipper,” said first-year student Jasmine Lota. “I highly enjoyed his Macroeconomics class, but sometimes it took me a little while to grasp some of the concepts we were learning.”

Jasmine Lota ’27

Lota put extra time into the course, attending office hours, completing practice problems and asking questions to understand the subject matter. “Professor Schipper sent me the High 5 recognizing my efforts and encouraged me to keep working hard,” she added. “I really appreciated the message and think it’s a great way to let your students know that you’re thinking of them.”

For Peterson, the Tommie High 5 has been one of the most joyful parts of her work. “It has exceeded my expectations,” she said. “It’s so heartwarming to see all the positive, personalized messages from the faculty members in the Tommie High 5.” She has also enjoyed seeing the grateful reactions of students and faculty advisors who receive the Tommie High 5 emails.

“Students are doing amazing work day in and day out,” Peterson stated. “The Tommie High 5 has been a success, and hopefully more and more students receive a Tommie High 5 and feel positive about their experience!”

In addition to the Tommie High 5, this school year she added a “shoutout” section to the annual Tommie check-in survey offered six weeks into the school year for first-semester students. In a shoutout, students could give recognition to faculty or staff who supported them.

Peterson found that over 75 different students, faculty and staff received specific shoutouts, with some faculty members receiving shoutouts from several students. “Everyone here on campus plays such a role in the student experience,” she concluded. “It’s important to understand that we all play a role.”

Peterson hopes to continue to implement ways to make students feel known, seen and valued by recognizing their academic achievements in the future.