When Susie Brubaker-Cole arrived at Oregon State University in 2008 to take on the role of associate provost for Academic Success & Engagement, she saw it as a chance to both return to her home state and make a break from her career trajectory, which had been rooted in a private university setting.
Six years after leaving Stanford to experience life at a thriving public university she’s adjusting her career trajectory a little more: Brubaker-Cole is becoming vice provost for Student Affairs, replacing outgoing vice provost Larry Roper, who is returning to teaching after more than 18 years in the role.
As she transitions into her new position, Brubaker-Cole won’t be as directly involved in shaping academic support and curriculum as she has been in her role as associate provost, but she’ll be working on developing educational opportunities outside of the classroom that will reinforce what students are learning in their coursework—for instance, participation in student leadership, intramural sports and clubs.
To Brubaker-Cole, it’s crucial that students see the university as much more than a place to get a degree that will propel them into a career.
“Student affairs on this campus plays a critical role in advancing our education for citizenship and democratic participation,” she said. “The university community can become a microcosm of what it’s going to mean to be a productive member of broader society and other communities later in life. I’m looking forward to building that even more strongly than it currently exists.”
Not only that, a vibrant university community can prepare students for a very different set of challenges they face than previous generations.
According to Brubaker-Cole, having a degree isn’t enough anymore—employers are looking for graduates with strong communication skills, the ability to work with diverse groups of people, and who can navigate what will likely be many different jobs with differing skills sets.
“There’s a lot of pressure to think about the success of a college degree in terms
of employability,” she said. “But equally important is developing the type of competencies that make students strong life-long learners who are prepared for the incredibly rapidly changing work environment they’re going to face, and also for the types of challenges and decisions they’re going to face as citizens of increasingly complex and diverse societies.”
She also hopes to see parents becoming more involved, not as helicopter parents, but as players invested in the type of college experience their students have even beyond the classroom.
“Parents are deeply concerned about student success and well-being, which is a wonderful resource to have,” she said, “and we need to do a better job of educating parents about what those outcomes should be to help their students and how they can be the best supporters and advocates of student success.”
As she looks forward to taking on a more broad-reaching role in Student Affairs, she looks back on her time reshaping undergraduate education with quite a bit of pride.
“There’s been so much momentum building in the last five years I don’t think we can be slowed down and turned back,” she said.
Under Brubaker-Cole’s watch, and with the help of countless campus partners, OSU launched a comprehensive first-year experience that includes a mandate for all true freshmen to live on campus, provides tailored curriculum in residence halls to help students thrive, focuses on transition to their off-campus life, and attempts to boost retention through increased connection to campus traditions, resources and fellow students.
“The commitment to students at this campus is so deep and broad, when people know they have a chance to create better opportunities for students they’re going to be right there around the table,” she said.
Additionally, barriers that have previously prevented freshmen from access to core classes are being removed, including a $3.3 million annual investment from the university to increase both the number of seats and the number of sections available for key required courses. Brubaker-Cole said that’s especially important in areas such as speech communications, where students are supposed to be gaining skills that will help them throughout their college career. Previously many freshmen had to wait until they were juniors or seniors to get into the packed courses, negating much of the benefit.
“Every freshman is able to get a seat in a comm class now, so we’ve made enormous progress there,” she said
Brubaker-Cole will take over as vice provost for Student Affairs on July 1.
~ Theresa Hogue