In a Q&A, CASAS (Center for Academic Success and Accessibility Services) Director Katie De Oliveira and Navigation Coordinator Jenna Barcello, senior elementary education major, talk about the center, located on the third floor, Buley Library
1. How did you get started working for CASAS?
Coordinator Jenna Barcello: One of my friends worked here as a navigator and she told me I should also apply. I was going into my sophomore year, and I did not know many people and I wanted a reason to be on campus, so I applied and got a job as a navigator.
Director Katie De Oliveira: Seven years ago, I came from Wisconsin, I had just gotten my doctorate, and I was looking toward the next step in my career. I had previous higher education jobs focused on student and academic success, and that always interested me, so when I saw the position posted at Southern it was a natural fit.
2. Why do you think it is important to have this center?
JB: It is a large community for a lot of people. Ever since we merged with the Disability Resource Center and became CASAS, a lot of people with accommodations started coming and using the academic support, which is really nice because we have reached a larger audience of students than we used to.
KD: This area concentrates, obviously, on the success of students. To me that is vital, if you have a student that comes in, they start school and they do not understand the content, or they do not have the skills and strategies they feel they need to be successful, or are looking for accommodations, or they are finding that they just need a little extra help, to me, this is the place to be. Whatever it might be, that will help them successfully maneuver through each semester, and through the years that they are at Southern, this is the place to come to get that support.
3. What is the No. 1 thing students ask you about?
JB: Students usually ask me if I use the services that we provide. When they see that the student workers in the office also use the resources, they are more inclined to sign up, because it shows that it really does work and is a successful tool. I personally get tutored at CASAS frequently because I want to get the best academic support
KD: ‘How do I pass this class?’ We get that a lot.
4. What services do you offer?
JB: I am a Navigator Coordinator, so I am the one who helps the other 23 navigators that we have. I make their schedules and keep everything organized.
KD: We have content support which includes tutors or Peer Academic Leaders for all the different courses on campus; A variety of programs which include workshops, like the one we did for success week. We also do some for midterms and finals. And coaching, which works to support skill development like organization, time management, study strategies and note and test taking strategies. We try to provide a lot of different tools to really support those students in building these skills and making it through the semester, especially because no one class is the same.
5. When are you the busiest?
JB: On a weekly basis, we are probably busiest Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays between 11 a.m.–3 p.m. No one really wants to get tutored on a Monday or during the weekend. And obviously we are super busy during midterms/finals.
KD: It depends on the area. For accessibility services, we are busier at the beginning of the semester, everyone comes in looking to see what their accommodations are to get ready for the semester. For academic support, although we do see some students in those first weeks, it’s not nearly as much as we do around midterms and finals. That is when it really starts to pick up because by that time students are heavily into classes. They have projects, exams, quizzes, papers that they need help managing. And that is where I would say things start to quickly increase. One day you are thinking ‘OK this is a good number [of students]’ and then the next day we are jam packed.
6. What does it mean to you to be successful at SCSU?
JB: Being successful at Southern means not only having good academics, but leaving here with a lot of resources and networking. Not necessarily being well known, but knowing a lot of people, and just coming out of your shell.
KD: I do not think I have one specific definition; I think in terms of what it means for each individual student. For one student it could be getting a 3.5 GPA. Another student it could be making it through a class, or making it through to the next semester. It could be so many different things to different students. To me, helping students get to those goals, whatever it takes, is what it means to be successful.
7. What is something you wish to see in the future for CASAS?
JB: I hope to see it get a lot more student traffic. It already does get a lot of traffic, but I would like to see all first-year students come here just because it is a valuable resource and a wonderful way to meet people. We have over 200 student workers here, so when you get tutored by a student, you will also see them around campus, which helps build a warmer community.
KD: I would love to see us continue and work to enhance the education of the campus around accessibility and disabilities, and bring that in as part of our social justice mission. It is an area that really has the potential to grow. This office has given me many opportunities that I never would have otherwise.
8. What do you want students to know about the center?
JB: That it is a really welcoming place. A lot of people feel intimidated to come up here and ask for help, which I completely understand. CASAS is an incredibly supportive and positive environment that you can come to, even if you just want to study on your own.
KD: Our motto here on the third floor has always been: ‘If you don’t know where to go, come here and we’ll support you.’ I never want a student to leave here without getting the support that they need. That does not mean they come here, and they have a math appointment. It means they come here, and they have a next step or plan that makes them feel good about the support they are going to get. You do not have to be getting a ‘D’ or an ‘F’ to get support, and that (idea) is still a continued negative stigma around CASAS. We work hard to make a positive and safe environment for students to get the support that they need, whatever that is.
9. How have you seen students change/develop through CASAS?
JB: I have seen a lot of people learn professional social skills. For example, the job of answering the phone. Learning how to communicate with others, no matter who they are, and what they need, is a terrific way I have seen students grow, including myself.
KD: I think students feel more confident in their abilities. Some of them start with just seeing us and then they end up becoming tutors, PALs or navigators, and it is great to see. It is also the growth in themselves, in being able to think positively about their school and academics, through CASAS that is so rewarding.
10. How would you describe the work that you do for CASAS?
JB: On my end, managing and making sure everyone is leaving on a positive note is the most important part of my job, besides ensuring everything is running smoothly. Doing this, I leave every day feeling accomplishment, knowing I helped a lot of people, or at least tried my best to get people the help they need.
KD: I do not think it is just a ‘me thing’ it is a team thing. We’ve all worked extremely hard together to develop a mission and vision for CASAS, and how best to support the students in various areas. We are only a year old, so we are still working to develop. We have such a great foundation and that has everything to do with the staff that exist in CASAS.
By: Valeria Araujo