Eight Women Named Outstanding First-Year Student Advocates by the National Resources Center

The National Resources Center at the University of South Carolina recently named 10 educators as 2019 Outstanding First-Year Student Advocates. Out of the 10 recipients, eight were women.

Crystal Benedicks is an associate professor of English at Wabash College, an all-male institution in Crawfordsville, Indiana. Her research interests include Victorian poetics, composition theory, queer theory, and masculinity studies. At Wabash, she created gender studies courses which challenge common stereotypes of masculinity on campus. Dr. Benedicks is a graduate of New College of Florida in Sarasota, where she majored in English. She holds a master’s degree and Ph.D. both in English from the City University of New York.

Katie Chartier is the assistant director of the first year experience at the College of the Desert in Palm Desert, California. She has transformed the college’s Engage, Develop, Grow, and Empower (EDGE) summer bridge program to serve over 4,000 students, far more than the initial class of 22 students. She has also promoted the inclusion of the Spanish language in staff connections to students as a way to further connect with the Hispanic-serving institution’s student population. Chartier holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration, management, and marketing from California State University, San Bernardino, and a master’s degree in educational leadership from Northern Arizona University.

Anneke Chy is program manager of the Cornerstones program at the College of Natural Sciences at the University of Texas. The program provides a small academic community for the college’s first-year students. She is additionally responsible for implementing the Major Switch program, which focuses on assisting struggling students in first-year science courses by working with introductory course faculty and academic advisors to suggest and develop alternative academic pathways where students can thrive. She also serves as an assistant professor of instruction.

Robin Cunningham is the associate vice president for freshman studies at Seton Hall University in New Jersey. She is responsible for creating the Seton Summer Scholars summer bridge program to provide foundational experience for students with academic challenges. She also created the “Gen-1” program, which aims to specifically support first-generation college students in the two weeks prior to the start of college to ensure student success. Dr. Cunningham holds a bachelor’s degree in English, a master’s degree in counseling, and a doctorate in secondary education all from Seton Hall University.

Brigitte Lahme is a professor and chair of the department of mathematics at Sonoma State University in California. In addition to co-authoring several college textbooks for mathematics, she served on a multidisciplinary team to develop and offer a year-long STEM course for first-year students funded by the National Science Foundation. This initiative has helped support first-year students in their transition through college while encouraging exploration of STEM. Dr. Lahme holds a master’s degree and Ph.D. both in mathematics from Colorado State University.

René Sawyer is associate dean of academic advancement and support at Greenville Technical College in South Carolina. She was the leader of a five-year Title III Grant which yielded several student success initiatives. She was also responsible for leading Greenville Technical College’s academic advising from Student Service to Academic Affairs, a shift that required major changes to college procedures, personnel, and facilities

Calley Stevens-Taylor is dean of student success at Cedar Crest College in Allentown, Pennsylvania. She is responsible for the creation of both an early alert system and a one-stop Student Success Center to efficiently and effectively promote student success. She also added an academic coaching and logistics-based staff for international student populations. Her commitment to serving Cedar Crest’s international students has been met with an increase in the college’s overall international student population from 2 percent to 10 percent and a 13.2 increase in international student retention over the past five years. Dr. Stevens-Taylor holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of North Carolina at Asheville, a master’s degree in college student personnel from the University of Tennessee, and a Ph.D. in international and comparative education from Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.

Lorett Swank is the director of the Center for Student Excellence at Southeastern Louisiana University. During her tenure she has created a new a freshman success course, enhanced orientation, embraced proactive advising, early intervention strategies and academic coaching, created a freshman academic coaching course for first-year students on academic probation, and developed a freshman seminar series to help first-year students establish campus connections. Dr. Swank holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Louisiana State University, a master’s degree in counseling from Southeastern Louisiana University, and a Ph.D. in education, leadership, and research and higher education administration from Louisiana State University.

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