Life in Student Services

by Rachel Remington

Horizon Reporter

Walk in through the glass-paned double doors of the Laidlaw Center at Whatcom Community College to find a cluster of people rushing from one place to the next.  The lines for registration and financial aid extend far into the building; as many as 30 people in one line.  This is the first day of fall quarter at Whatcom.

Whatcom is at a record high for student inhabitants, with nearly 7,000 students enrolled this quarter, meaning that all the faculty in all areas of student service have had nearly no time to rest since the quarter started.

The college has a number of services available to students, most of which are located in the Laidlaw Center.  These services include registration, financial aid, a Running Start office, and entry and advising, which provides a number of services including disability support and counseling.

With the peak number of students this quarter, many areas of student services have been so booked that one must schedule an appointment far in advance to see someone on the faculty.  Tawny Townsend, associate director for entry advising and testing services, has been so busy since day one of the quarter that she has seen about 200 students every day (not including drop-in students).

Townsend is one of many faculty members working in entry and advising, and some of her responsibilities include overseeing new student orientation, academic advising, and directing the testing center.  She explained that entry and advising is a place for students to come “if they have any questions they need answered” about the college, such as transfer advising, disability support, counseling, or even worker retraining.

Along with Townsend, there are a number of other faculties with other responsibilities working in entry and advising, including Kathy Barnes, associate director of financial aid and registration advising, Bill Culwell, director of disability, and Margaret Vlahos and Malcolm Oliver, both school counselors.  Faculty in entry and advising mostly take students with appointments, but they also have drop-in advising Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Entry and advising offers a number of advisers for any academic questions, such as picking a career path or just learning more about the college, but it also includes two personal counselors.  Margaret Vlahos and Malcom Oliver will meet with students about any personal issues they may have, such as test anxiety or even eating disorders.

Depending on the nature and severity of an issue, the counselors will either try to help a student problem solve their issue if it’s a minor dilemma, or they will help a student to find more long-term counseling outside of the school for bigger issues, such as major depression or drug abuse problems.

The counselors try to listen and help students problem solve rather than trying to give students solutions to every problem. They want to help students explore their problems and look at a number of options in the situation.   “I see my role more as a listener,” said Vlahos.

Financial aid is the busiest it’s ever been as well.  Since the beginning of the quarter, there has been an almost constant line in their office.  In 2008, Whatcom processed a total of 3,759 FAFSA’s, but already this year the school has processed over 4,800 applications.  Jack Wollens is the director of financial aid, and Kathy Barnes is the associate director of financial aid and registration advising.

Barnes’ responsibilities in financial aid are directed more towards the advising aspect of it.  She assists students in completing FAFSA’s  and answers any questions they might have about financial aid, and she also helps students not eligible for financial aid to find other alternatives to pay for school.

Barnes encourages students to apply for financial aid as early as possible so they can get the best financial support possible, but she helps those who don’t qualify for financial aid to apply for scholarships.

She feels that scholarships are a great alternative because there is such a wide range of them available, and there are so many different qualifications for the hundreds of scholarships that students are likely to find one that can apply to their situation.  “Everyone has a different story to share,” said Barnes, “That’s what’s nice about scholarships.”

Registration has been busier than ever this quarter with the record number of students enrolled at Whatcom, making it more difficult for faculty in registration to fit in all their daily responsibilities.  Mike Singletary, a Whatcom registrar, is one of several faculty members in registration that helps to maintain student files, from first admission to graduation.

Singletary is also responsible for evaluating student’s credits from other schools and transferring the credits to their Whatcom transcript.  He creates preliminary and graduation evaluations to help guide students in completing all the classes they need, and he provides help for students to get the classes they need to graduate.  Singletary and the rest of the registration faculty are also responsible for putting final grades onto student’s transcripts.

Running Start has seen a big increase in students this quarter compared to last fall (60 more students) and has been constantly busy since day one of the quarter.  Laine Johnston, director of admissions for Outreach and Running Start, has been busy seeing Running Start students for any questions they may have about the program, but she’s also been busy with outside of school promoting people to join Whatcom.

Johnston also plans information meetings with running start students, and sets up testing sessions for them so they can get enrolled into the school.  The Running Start office also includes Tricia Wilson and Sarah Pearson, Running Start advisers, plus a number of other faculty, such as Jo Akehurst, an Outreach representative.  Outreach is a program that goes into the community (ex. high schools) to promote students to join Whatcom.

Student Services is busier than ever, and the entire faculty is working hard to meet students’ needs despite the chaotic number of students enrolled.  They are working to maintain helpful and quality support to students, and try to be of help to every student that needs it.  “We are working with students in a meaningful way so they know they’re supported and heard,” said Townsend.

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