The Home We Love So Well: Stories from Home Series
Faces of Student Support
There’s an adage you’ll hear many times at Huntingdon College: it’s all about the people. Each member of faculty and staff is chosen to be part of this college family specifically because of the level of care and concern for students they are willing to demonstrate. Support for learning, health, engagement in campus life, residence life, and life beyond college is just a friendly Huntingdon face away.
“College can be confusing, scary, challenging—I’ve been there, so I try to be ‘that person’—where students can find comfort,” says Debreshia (Bree) Randolph ’17, director of the Office of Academic Affairs. “I am there to help—to answer their questions, help them find solutions, and help them know I care.” Bree is new in her role after graduating through and serving in the Evening Studies program for two years. She helps students with add/drop, grade resolution, changes of major, and other academic requests, and facilitates life for all aspects of academic affairs.
Nancy Jackson ’10 and Tina Hollinger, manager and assistant manager, respectively, of the Scarlet and Grey Shop, provide and collect books and informational resources for students and sell college merchandise, coffee, and snacks. The Scarlet and Grey Shop, which opened last year, provides study and gathering areas both inside and on the building’s porch and outside sitting areas. The shop is a respite for the college community and the local community, serving Starbucks coffee to order. “I like that we can make each student’s day a little better,” says Tina. “If someone is having a bad day—come in, get a cup of coffee—leave with a smile on your face.”
“I love our students,” Nancy agrees. “We have the best students—they’re sweet and kind. Helping students find what they need to be successful, whether it’s a book, a quiet place to study, a cup of coffee, or a sweet roll, makes me happy because I know it makes them happy.”
Maryann Beck ’92, Vaughan Dickson, and Elizabeth Rogers are the faces of the Staton Center for Learning Enrichment, located in Houghton Memorial Library. Together, they advise students who have not selected their majors; assist all students with writing needs, time management, mastering the use of technology, making academic decisions, and enhancing their academic strength; and, with the help of the Presidential Fellows academic team, offer tutoring and academic coaching.
“We get to see the full student here,” says Vaughan, the Center’s assistant director. “I not only connect faces with names, but I also know more about students than I could learn by teaching them in class. We can see that they’re nervous, and we can reassure them. We have the perspective to guide them through academic questions and roadblocks that are tricky. I’m always so grateful when I’ve helped someone whom I could tell really needed my help. Because students share with us what intimidates them, we can see the academic experience through their eyes, and in that way this office is also a valuable resource for faculty. We help faculty members and students be the best they can be.”
“I always enjoy showing students and helping them understand the power of technology in enhancing their college experience,” says Elizabeth. “I get to help them through all four years of college—not just a class or two. It’s clear that students know that the Staton Center is a safe space. There is no stupid question. And we serve all students. Even the well-prepared students come to us because they know we’ve worked in a variety of academic positions at the College and for that reason we know a variety of solutions to any issue they may have.”
“This is my calling,” says Maryann, director of the Staton Center. “I have spoken with the Call classes [part of the core curriculum, in which students explore more deeply what they feel called to do, as well as the meaning of vocation] and have told them I have come full-circle. Working one-on-one with students and planning how they will finish the semester … I’m like a proud mama.”
Houghton Library is staffed with a number of individuals who are ready to help with various aspects of studying and research. There is no resource Nordis Smithcan’t find. Nordis serves as the reference, instruction, and interlibrary loans librarian, and as suchhelps students find the resources they need for completing papers and assignments, research, and their Senior Capstone course and project (in applicable majors). “Students who come here from various academic backgrounds often need assistance in navigating a college library. I immensely enjoy helping them,” says Nordis.
The Office of Student Affairs oversees Greek life, residence life, student activities, clubs and organizations, student government, counseling, and Campus Ministries.
Fran Taylor, vice president for student affairs and dean of students, a former school principal, joined the Huntingdon administration after her son, Alex, graduated in the Class of 2012. “It is important to me that parents know we’re going to take care of their students,” says Fran. “This staff pours a tremendous amount of time, care, and attention into students so that they adjust to college life well, feel happy and safe, get involved, and enjoy their four years here. It’s important that if parents make us aware that their student is ill, homesick, has a family crisis … that they know we’ve got boots on the ground here to help their students through any issues, and we will make sure they’re okay.”
Staci-Jo Palek, director of residential communities and residence director, Ligon Hall, has been in her position for four years. “I’m not helping the students—the students are helping me. [In this position] every day you get to know a new personality. If you have an open mind every student will help you grow and learn. Being a young professional here it’s easy for students to relate to me. It’s not hard for students to know I was in their shoes just a few years ago, so I’m here to talk. I’m here to listen.”
As assistant residence director, Logan Gildea ’19 manages the living and learning environment centered in Blount Hall. “Since I graduated from Huntingdon I’m able to connect with students—I went through the same things they’re going through,” says Logan. “I’ve always enjoyed people who have different life experiences because they help me think outside the box. I’ve met so many different people here. I like connecting with different students because I understand where everyone is coming from.”
Kathleen Penney ’15, director of student activities, has been a member of the Huntingdon staff since graduating. “As an alum, it is important to me to be there for students and to give back the same type of experience I received. I loved my college years. We all go through different life experiences and we can learn so much from students if we make it comfortable for them to ask questions.”
Da’Monta Wiggins, coordinator of campus recreation and residence director for Blount Hall works to set an example. “I get the chance to be for students the role model I didn’t have in my college experience. I love being a big brother, a go-to figure. It matters to me to help and serve as best I can.”
Joe Thomas ’17, assistant director of residential communities and residence director for Searcy Hall is also heavily involved in Greek life as the IFC adviser. “Not too long ago, I was a student. I’ve been there, made mistakes, and learned and developed resources. With the opportunities and blessings I’ve received, it would be foolish not to pass advice along to current students.”
As director of counseling services, Dr. Latonya Graham offers a friendly ear, sage advice, and plenty of tissues as students navigate through issues weighing on their minds and hearts.“I have the opportunity to collaborate with our students in making better life choices and resolving problems during their educational journey. I believe that all of our students are doing their best as they prepare for their future. I appreciate their candor and creativity. I love their honesty, openness, and willingness to think outside the box. Student energy is refreshing and invigorating for me. It is a pleasure to support each of them.”
Chaplain Rhett Butler ’13 was appointed to his role in the summer of 2018 after completing his Master of Divinity at the Divinity School at Duke University.“I didn’t choose college ministry—my placement here was one big fat surprise. I was terrified. But I soon learned that this experience is really a culmination of all of my life experiences to date. I get to help students and be with them through their vocational discernment; preach; lead worship; teach classes … this position gives me the unique ability to be in the middle of the student community. I think being immersed in the community is my favorite part.”
Nyree Conville is the new Director of Institutional Health at Huntingdon. “I have been a part of Huntingdon College for more than 20 years. My husband started as a student-athlete at Huntingdon and never left. He has been the head baseball coach for 15 years. We have raised our children here, coming to games, going to concerts and even having picnics on the Green, so it was only natural that they chose Huntingdon when going off to college. I have also been a nurse for more than 20 years, from ER/trauma to instructor of college nursing students. I love to care for others, and I love to teach. Health and wellness are very important to me and I can’t wait to extend care to those in need here at Huntingdon. Huntingdon is such a special place, where everyone is family. I am so proud to be a part of this wonderful family.”
As the director of the Center for Career and Vocation at Huntingdon, Sherry Leigh Lacey Farquhar ’15 helps students with all things career-related, from personality and aptitude testing to resume development, interviewing skills, internships and externships, to vocational awareness and job placement. “Working with students is the best and most important aspect of my job. Watching students transform into successful professionals is amazing and rewarding. I love supporting students as they attain their career goals and I love helping them realize their full potential.”
Dr. Lisa Olenik Dorman is both a professor in the Department of Sport Science and Physical Education and the director of the Office of Disability Services. “I enjoy helping our Huntingdon Hawks in Disability Services achieve their academic goals because by helping them, they are reminding me through their hard work and their success that everyone should be allowed to pursue a career or vocation that interests and inspires them. These students also remind me of our complex personal identities and how a little ‘neurodiversity’ provides our campus community with more opportunities to connect and rely on each other … it makes us stronger.”
Alongside Dr. Dorman, Han-’NaehBelser ’17 serves as the Office of Disability Services learning support specialist. “I enjoy supporting the students at Huntingdon College because they are wonderful and have taught me so much. Watching students grow in knowledge and character really is the best part of being the Learning Support Specialist. Accommodating academic needs makes education accessible.”
A comprehensive list of everyone who serves to support students at Huntingdon College would require photos of and quotes from every member of faculty and staff. In this close family atmosphere, all members of the faculty and staff work together for the good of each student.
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