08/17/11 — Changes made at WCC to improve services to students

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Changes made at WCC to improve services to students

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on August 17, 2011 1:46 PM

Two personnel changes were made recently at Wayne Community College with one goal in mind -- to improve services and accessibility to students.

As officials ready for the start of another semester Thursday, there are certain traditions they have come to count on, long lines and hefty waits outside the financial aid offices among them.

For many students registering for classes, that will be the first impression they get of college, so it's all the more important to make it a good one, says Dr. Kay Albertson, WCC president.

"We're looking at continuing the improvements of all of our processes to make the students' experiences from the very first time they walk through the door as positive as they can be," she said.

"You're always going to have financial aid lines, but if you can make people's wait to see a counselor a little more pleasant, that's what we're going to be doing."

It's all part of the "front door experience," a term gaining nationwide popularity among community colleges and first-time college students.

Handling that effort will be Gene Smith, recently named associate vice president for academic and student services. He has been at the college 18 years, starting out as a biology instructor before moving into such roles as department chair of math and science and division chair of arts and sciences.

"Gene has the right credentials and the right personality to be successful," Mrs. Albertson said. "First and foremost, he will be supervising all of the components of the student services areas" that include counseling, financial aid and student activities.

Smith said he has worked to try to incorporate faculty and staff involvement, so that students feel the widespread support.

And while such things as lengthy wait time might not be eliminated altogether, there are things being done to make it more pleasant -- like providing refreshments or the option of signing in and returning later.

The goal is to promote student success and access to services from the moment they arrive, Mrs. Albertson said.

"I truly believe that Gene, again, because of his competencies and because of his experience and creative ideas, is going to take us to be an institution where people talk about the front door experience, how well they were treated when they walked through the door -- 'I was sent to the right person,' 'I got the right answer; yeah, I may have had to wait for a little bit but when I got in, it was with human contact and people who were sincere and cared about me,'" she said. "We want to do the kind of training and have the kind of setup that even with limited resources, individuals still say it's your friendliest, most receptive environment that we have been in in our educational experience."

With ongoing cutbacks that have affected personnel as well as resources in the community college system, the president said staff often finds itself "wearing multiple hats." That makes it all the more important to figure out ways to streamline resources.

WCC is also responding to the "fastest growing population" in community colleges, the 17-22-year-olds.

"We have a lot who come back to retrain but our fastest growing population is the young student who's engaged in technology, who perhaps has more of the opportunity to really get excited about the back-to-school bash. You have to change your focus on how to do things," Mrs. Albertson said.

Paige Ham was hired last month as student activities director. A 2004 graduate of Southern Wayne High School, she obtained an associate's degree from WCC in 2007, graduating from Mount Olive College in 2010 with a degree in recreation and leisure studies. Before coming to Wayne, she was parks and recreation director in Faison.

"This is where I started," she said of her decision to work at her alma mater. "I loved it out here. I loved the staff, the faculty, I just had a wonderful experience out here. It's home."

Creating activities and being able to work with students is her passion, she said.

"I want to get the students involved, bring them activities that they can do outside of the classroom," she said.

It also helps that Ms. Ham is part of the "social network generation," Mrs. Albertson said, a bandwagon the college hopes to become stronger in promoting -- from Facebook postings about the college to "tweeting" updates for students and other followers.

The more serious side of Ms. Ham's role will be a combination recruiter and representative, supervising Student Government and other clubs on campus.

"That's really the heart and soul of typical leadership and modeling for our students because we want them to be contributing citizens no matter what they do," Mrs. Albertson said. "If we stop and look at our mission, (it's) helping students go as far as they can academically but we also talk about quality-of-life enhancements."

It goes beyond taking a class or obtaining a certificate or degree, she said. Service is a work in progress, but there are ways to measure its success.

"On an annual basis we do services and program reviews as part of our institutional effectiveness process," she said. "We'll have various surveys that will be given to students and patrons.

"I would like to see some focus groups among our students. ... You will see growth in club memberships, you will see growth in the number of students who come to SGA meetings and activities. There will be a lot of observations on the part of administration."

But for now, she said, it is all built upon those first impressions.

"The moment that student walks on the campus, the first experience, to those student activity experiences, to the moment they walk across that stage and have that credential, I want all those dots connected," Mrs. Albertson said. "It's not going to be perfect but it will feel good."