Susie Brubaker-Cole has been at Oregon State University for only four months, and already feels like she’s come back home. Her position as Associate Provost for Academic Success & Engagement is a dream job, she said, but her path from struggling student to enthusiastic administrator has taken many turns.
When Brubaker-Cole realized she was not thriving as an undergraduate at University of Oregon, she decided that her best option was to step out of academic life and do a little growing up.
“I felt like I was selling myself short by just going through the motions,” she said.
It turned out to be the best decision she ever made. Barely out of her teens, the Ashland native headed for San Francisco and spent three years discovering who she was, and what she wanted.
Eventually, she pursued a Ph.D. in French literature at Yale. But although she loved the program, she began to feel a sense of isolation that she feared would continue if she became a professor.
“I wasn’t sure that the life of a humanities scholar was right for me,” she said. Instead, she became interested in education administration, which provided her the opportunity to work with people and solve problems in a different way.
Upon graduating from Yale, Brubaker-Cole was hired at Stanford University and eventually became director of undergraduate advising and research. But after eight years at Stanford, Brubaker-Cole began to feel the tug of the Pacific Northwest once more. Her family was still in Oregon, and she was also feeling a strong desire to work for a public university.
“Working in a large private university is a very different experience than working in a public university,” she said. “I wanted to shape the present and the future of a community that I was part of.”
She and her husband, Kyle, took a trip through Oregon to scout out places they might like to settle, and Corvallis rose quickly to the top of their list. So when the newly created position of Associate Provost for Academic Success & Engagement at OSU opened up, the opportunity was so perfect that it scared her.
“I was paralyzed for a week,” she said. “The moon and the stars had aligned.”
Interviewing for the position confirmed that Brubaker-Cole was making the right choice.
“I sensed an enormous amount of energy in the room,” she said, and an obvious dedication to making student success a top priority.
She also noted a dedication to diversity, and to support of students from all backgrounds and abilities, which she felt was key to making the position work.
“I wanted to be in an environment where that ethos was present,” she said.
During her first year on campus, Brubaker-Cole is already tackling some big projects. Her first priority is helping students get access to the courses they need at the time they need to take those classes, something that has been a problem for a variety of reasons.
Because many foundational courses in the baccalaureate core are crucial to student success, Brubaker-Cole wants students to have the ability to get into those courses easily and in a timely fashion.
She’s also working with other campus groups to create a more structured first-year experience for freshmen and transfer students coming to campus. During her time at Stanford, she and her family lived in a freshman and sophomore dormitory, and got to witness first-hand the kind of experiences incoming students have on campus.
“It gave me a really privileged window into all aspects of student life,” she said.
She also hopes to establish a pilot project in Fall 2009 that will mimic the Summer Bridge program that OSU athletes benefit from, but which will be open to students who may need extra support as they begin life at OSU.
Brubaker-Cole is working with groups and programs across campus on these projects, including EOP, the Academic Success Center and leaders in various colleges and departments. She said there is a transparency in the decision-making process at OSU that she finds refreshing, and which she believes will make her work better and more inclusive as her office works to make student success at the university a top priority.
One of Susie Brubaker-Cole’s top priorities as Associate Provost for Academic Success and Engagement is leading the Student Success and Engagement Initiative. The focus of the initiative is first-year undergraduate experience, and work is currently underway in several areas:
• Providing course access – The focus is on first-year student access to essential courses including writing, speech and science
• Developing a first-year experience – This will combine using existing freshman orientation courses with a guarantee of small-course experience for every entering student
• Creating academic support services – A pilot bridge program will be created for new students, as well as an evaluation of current academic support services
• Supporting students in difficulty – This will create an early-warning system to identify struggling students, and look at advising and retention needs
The group is also working on issues including undergraduate research, new bacc core curriculum and orientation sessions for entering students.
~ by Theresa Hogue