This is Student Affairs: Advocacy and Success
Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series entitled “This is Student Affairs,” in which we examine at length the functions, administrative responsibilities and personnel within the various departments that make up Clemson’s Division of Student Affairs.
When an off-campus apartment caught fire earlier this semester, a group of Clemson students were surrounded by a typical scene — firefighters, police and emergency medical responders.
When it was determined the fire would displace this particular group of students, the American Red Cross offered support. At the same time, a member of Clemson University’s Office of Advocacy and Success — a department within the Division of Student Affairs — became engaged with the situation.
“We were there at the site where the students gathered,” explained Kimberly Poole, associate dean of students and director of Advocacy and Success. “We met with the students individually to assess further needs, and see what resources may be beneficial.
“One of our primary focuses is ensuring those affected in a variety of situations that the university is aware and taking the necessary steps to offer help.”
Advocacy and Success was formed with the intent of serving current Clemson students as a trusted place for care and referrals to campus and community partners. Its origin can be traced to the Dean of Students Office, and its importance to an increasingly diverse college population cannot be understated.
A Growing Need to Provide CARE
Poole had just completed her doctorate and nearly a decade as a member of Clemson’s counseling staff when she interviewed for an assistant dean of students position in 2014. Roughly one year later, Vice President for Student Affairs Almeda Jacks called for a reorganization within the division. One of the results was the Office of Advocacy and Success, which was to report directly under the leadership of the dean of students.
Poole was hired as associate dean of students and tapped to lead Clemson’s newest office.
“Advocacy and Success is critical to helping minimize impediments to student success,” said Dean of Students Dr. Chris Miller. “Their job is to assist and advocate, and they do it in a way that is skillful, professional and extremely deliberate. Their intervention is critical from a care perspective.”
If ever one word was befitting an office’s mission, it’s care. For Advocacy and Success, one of its primary responsibilities is managing student cases within the CARE Network. Common reasons for a CARE case referral include concerns ranging from academics, behavior, career, finance and relationships, as well as death, grief and personal health or wellness.
Poole said her office has seen an average increase of anywhere from 13 to 18 percent of CARE reports from year to year. During the 2016–17 academic year, Advocacy and Success managed nearly 1,300 CARE cases. The office uses Maxient software to manage and refer students along the CARE Network.
“Being intentional and staying within our purpose is critical,” said Poole, who chairs the university’s Behavioral Intervention Team and also serves as a member of the Threat Assessment Team. “While our office is responsible for other important things such as following up on student deaths and managing the dean on-call system, having someone already in a CARE case manager position really helped us formalize much of what we do.”
Assembling a Qualified Team
Kathy Cauthen began her career as an art teacher in Anderson (S.C.) County, but changed her focus to the field of alcohol and substance abuse as a prevention specialist. She first came to Clemson in 2005 with a passion to help educate students on alcohol and substance abuse.
Serving on many committees and boards together with Poole, she was a natural fit as CARE case manager when Poole took over the direction of Advocacy and Success.
“When Kimberly became director of this area, I was excited to work with her,” Cauthen said. “Helping someone navigate this university is rewarding. Students all have such high expectations, so how are we empowering them? I can’t think of a better way to impact the life of someone at Clemson. The goal is to make sure you’re connecting them to the resources we have at Clemson, by being that positive conduit.”
It hasn’t taken Poole long to view Cauthen as that positive conduit for students. Poole said her ability to organize the mounting volume of cases has made a visible difference.
“Kathy has developed a good system to help with the checks and balances,” said Poole, whose office is housed on the second floor of the Hendrix Student Center. “She does a thorough job of reviewing files and making sure all students get proper attention.”
Poole’s first full-time staff expanded when she added Assistant Dean of Students Chana Land and Administrative Coordinator Tina Weaver.
Land was also a veteran clinician in Counseling and Psychological Services — better known as CAPS — when Poole, a longtime colleague, hired her in December 2015. The two have served together on the Tigers Together Coalition, which focuses on suicide prevention, and Clemson Community Coalition, which focuses on alcohol and other drug initiatives and reducing high-risk behavior among students. Land has been involved in a number of collaborations in two years with Advocacy and Success, but one of her primary functions has been the outreach component.
“It’s a big aspect of my role,” she said. “We’re a newer office, so people don’t always know how to utilize the CARE Network to begin helping a student unless they know who we are and what we do. However, we’re making great progress toward our goal of training faculty and staff.”
Weaver’s journey has included stops with Municipal Services, Student Health Services and now Advocacy and Success. Serving the role of administrative coordinator, Weaver handles human resources and a number of important responsibilities on a day-to-day basis.
“I review CARE cases and assign them to a trained staff member as file manager,” she said. “I take a lot of CARE referrals over the phone. That aspect is why I came to Student Affairs. I said several years ago that I could see CARE becoming its own entity, just because of the sheer volume we were seeing. And lo and behold, it came to pass after a few years.”
Rounding Out a Staff
Poole completed her current staff with a graduate assistant last summer and another full-time assistant in October.
A graduate of North Carolina State University, QuiAnne’ Holmes earned an assistantship after spending a year in Colombia teaching English through a Fulbright scholarship. A psychology and Spanish language and literature double major at NC State, Holmes knew she wanted to help people and was intrigued with Clemson’s position description.
Since enrolling in the counselor education master’s program, Holmes has teamed with Land to focus much of her work on outreach for students, faculty and staff.
“We try and maximize opportunities to be proactive rather than reactive,” she said. “We want to let students know we’re here if they need us. Yes, we do respond to crises, but we also provide resources from the outset so students can stay and be successful at Clemson.”
Mike Sutton is the newest member of the office. When Cauthen assumed the role of senior CARE case manager, he joined Poole’s team following an 18-year career as a school social worker in North Carolina. Sutton assists with the management of CARE cases.
Sutton said it’s pertinent in his role to make up-front assessments of what may benefit a particular student on campus.
“Whether it’s CAPS, financial aid, housing or academics — we tend to handle a lot of traffic direction,” he said. “One of my favorite aspects of the job so far has been the constant communication with our partner offices and departments. If you don’t have good communication, it’s like having an engine without the proper amount of oil. It’s not going to work. Fortunately, we are all on the same page working toward a common goal.”
Poole acknowledged the office’s biggest challenge has been efficiently maximizing time to meet a growing variety of needs.
Not only are individual journeys tough, but they are also often complex. Unanimously, the full-time staff in Advocacy and Success identified mental health and emotional well-being as the biggest trend in caseloads among the CARE Network.
Weaver said it’s rarely one specific issue, but rather a myriad of things.
“Emotional crises may be related to academics, or to losing a close friend or family member,” she said. “But when you see students walk out with a smile on their faces, especially after they’ve come to us emotionally drained or in crisis, you feel like you’ve done your job.”
And as CARE caseloads have increased, Cauthen admitted it has forced her and colleagues to examine issues from a broader lens.
“We focus on how can we best engage our students with Clemson for personal and academic success,” she said. “When Dr. Miller came on board, we repurposed our area. By doing that, we’ve shined more light on what our office does best — advocate for students.”