Fulfilling the Role of Student Advocate, Liaison, and Cheerleader

—A Q&A with Tia Cherry, assistant director of academic initiatives and student engagement in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences

Tia Cherry, assistant director of academic initiatives and student engagement in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences

Many William Paterson University employees are focused on helping students achieve academic success, stay connected, and have a smooth path to graduation. Tia Cherry, assistant director of academic initiatives and student engagement, talks about her role in student support services in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences.

How long have you been in this position and what does it entail?
I’ve been in the job since September 2019 and work very closely with the Office of Financial Aid, the Career Development Center and Student Enrollment Services to help strengthen student success and retention. I also work with the department chairs in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, especially at virtual registration events, to support our enrollment. I make sure that students are doing well overall, because if they’re not, any little thing can deter a student from staying on track.

What are some of the typical ways you’re helping students?
Students come to me when they need additional help with advisement, career planning, and communicating with other departments on campus. Sometimes they just need assistance with filling out documents and I’ll say, “Here, let me share my screen. I’ll show you how to go through the steps.” One student recently asked me for help when his computer conked out. I contacted Brian Fanning, associate director, Information Technology, on behalf of the student, to ask if we had any more laptop loaners. And sure enough, within 48 hours, Brian made it possible. I feel like I’m being the student’s advocate, liaison, and cheerleader at times. That’s pretty much what my role is.

I’m also proactive about reaching out to students. I send out a “welcome back” email before the start of the semester. I let students know about tutoring workshops before they may need help. And, for example, if a student’s leave of absence is almost up, I’ll contact them to ask, “Where are you at in the registration process? I just want to assist you.” If a student did not meet Satisfactory Academic Progress (SAP) or did not complete their FAFSA, I work very closely with the Financial Aid Office to ensure that the student submits their documents. When students see that I am advocating on their behalf, it increases the probability that they’ll come back to me. It also lets them know that at William Paterson we care. And we really do want to see you succeed.

 Is first-generation student retention a big part of your focus?
About half the students who come to see me are first generation. A lot of institutions are honing in on that, embracing it, and letting students know it’s okay to identify as a first-generation student and we have the support services to help you. William Paterson recently established a chapter of Tri-Alpha, the honor society for first-generation students, and when Jonnine DeLoatch, director of the Office of Student Transitions, took charge of it, I volunteered to help. I’m a first-generation student myself, so for me, that’s my passion, my heart -- anything dealing with first-generation students.

What steps are you taking to increase student engagement?
I work closely with Alex Corsillo, the College’s liaison in the Career Development Center, and we collaborate on an array of career development workshops. One recent one was “Connecting with the Career Development Center” and we did that on Instagram Live. For another workshop, Alex and I partnered on a PowerPoint presentation to familiarize students with a lot of great tools, like Handshake, a portal that helps students apply for a jobs and internships, and Pioneer Life, a portal to help student find out what activities and events are happening at WP. We explore every avenue of communication, including email and text messaging to let them know about important events.

Do you have any success stories about students you’ve worked with?
One student in particular, Alicia Rosales Chavez ‘21, stands out. She participated in Aspire, the College’s career readiness program, and contacted me because she liked my presentation. She was a non-traditional student—married, with two children, and working part-time. I took her under my wing and encouraged her to apply to the College’s mentorship program, the Pioneers and Leaders Program, or PALS. She became one of the peer-to-peer mentors, and also took advantage of attending several workshops. She graduated summa cum laude with a BA in psychology and is hoping to apply to graduate school in the fall.

I’ve had students email me and say, “I’m graduating but I just wanted to say thank you for everything you’ve done,” so I know it’s appreciated. Being able to help people—that’s my niche.