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Getting to Know: Transitional Studies

August 4, 2017

Tamara Toomey (Courtesy photo) Tamara Toomey (Courtesy photo)

EDITOR’S NOTE: College Relations publishes a monthly series of news articles, features and Q&A interviews highlighting various departments on campus in an effort to assist the faculty and staff in gaining an increased awareness about and understanding of each other’s roles and responsibilities.

The August Q&A is with Tamara Toomey, Director of Transitional Studies.

Q: What is Transitional Studies?

Transitional Studies is an academic program that provides students with opportunities and resources to build their academic skills. The department’s main goal is to identify qualified students and facilitate their successful transition to Chadron State College, particularly during their first year. 

Transitional Studies is responsible for many services to students, including: Preparing students for college success and the rigor of academic life, offering additional placement testing to ensure appropriate course enrollment, connecting students to academic and campus resources, providing personalized academic advising, creating individualized course schedules, providing tools for success in the Essential Studies Program and serving as an advocate for students.

Q: As the Director of Transitional Studies, how do you see the role of the department?

Transitional Studies is a department of one, so I am involved with everything. However, the more global concerns of the position are: Strategic planning, advocacy and policy implementation, keep abreast of research and initiatives in Developmental Education, being a voice or representative of the program across campus (at meetings, on committees, etc.), coordinating with departments (particularly English, Education and Mathematics), analyzing data and decision making and data reporting. 

I also teach English 111, provide academic advising as well as enroll students in the Transitional Studies Program, meet with students who qualify for the program and their families when they come on campus visits, assist with Signing Days and New Student Orientation and administer placement tests at CSC and distance locations, among other duties.

Q: What resources does Transitional Studies provide students?

The main resource the program provides students is coursework and academic advising. For most students, taking Transitional Studies courses does not extend their time in college since they receive elective credit that counts toward their degree requirements. 

We also provide personalized central advising. From the moment a student is identified as a potential candidate for the program, I am their academic adviser and help them and their family navigate their transition to college.

Transitional Studies also recognizes that high stakes tests such as the ACT or SAT only represent one day in the life of a student and may not be an accurate reflection of their true academic ability and potential. As such, the department offers students additional placement testing. We currently require students who test into Transitional Studies to take the English Placement Test. The rationale for this is that the ACT and SAT do not require students to provide a writing sample, and do not accurately reflect a student’s writing ability. Once a student completes the English placement test, the English department faculty determines proper placement. 

The department also creates course schedules to meet students’ individual needs and advocates for students by going above and beyond to help them resolve barriers to reaching academic success.

Q: How do you assist students during college?

The Transitional Studies department’s relationship with a student often begins before they arrive at college. Once a student is identified, the student is assigned to me for advising and begins receiving Transitional Studies communications about the program, their schedule and placement testing. They also attend a session with me at Signing Day and I am a resource for them regarding other questions they have, and this all happens before they are actually on campus in the fall. At New Student Orientation, students and their families attend another session with me. During the semester, students meet with me several times for advising, in addition to a variety of other reasons including financial aid assistance, connecting with tutoring services, to resolve questions and receive general advice. In addition to students being able to contact me, I also conduct proactive outreach to them from the point of their application until they are no longer my advisee.  

Q: How does Transitional Studies’ location benefit students?

Being located in the King Library means my office is centrally accessible to students. I also have a true open door policy. Unless I am not in the office, my door is always open to students. 

The location also allows me to easily connect students to services like free tutoring and Project Strive/TRiO. I think it is also less intimidating than if the office were located somewhere less central. Students are already coming into the library, so it is easy for them to access my office while they are there.

Q: What is the most rewarding part about working in Transitional Studies?

During my second day on the job as an academic adviser in the START office, someone asked me what my dream job was. My reply was: “Director of Transitional Studies.” As an under-prepared college student myself, I know what it is like to step out of the comfort of what is known to you, possibly your family and community, and attempt to complete a college degree. Since I began working with college students 10 years ago, it has been my desire to work with a population that I was a part of as a college student and give them the support so many staff and faculty provided for me. Being able to do that and seeing students in the program succeed is the most rewarding part of my job.

Q: As a one-person department, how do you manage your time?

This is something I am continually working on. It is important to me that students receive prompt responses from my office, so I strive to return voicemails within 24 business hours and emails within 24-48 business hours. To make the most of my time, I prioritize tasks and try to chunk like tasks together for efficiency. I also rely heavily on my Outlook calendar and my old-fashioned paper planner. I end each day by planning the next day and I start each day by reviewing that plan. During the school year, I also use project tracking to help me keep track of what I am currently working on, what is on deck in the next three months and then in the next three months, what projects are waiting on other items or units, and what has been accomplished. This is rewarding for me as I can see what I have done in a variety of timelines. I actually use a whiteboard and notes to do this, which students find amusing when they come to my office. But I think modeling our own time management strategies can be beneficial for students to see because everyone has a different system that works for them and it takes time to find that.

Q: Is there anything else you want to add?

Our numbers are always moving targets, but as of July 31, 2017, we have 419 students in our incoming freshmen class, and 197 of them are in the Transitional Studies program. That is roughly 47 percent of our incoming class. This is surprising as this is the first year that we have required the English Placement Test, which helped some students test out of the program. If we had not done that, we would have been looking at closer to 53 percent of freshmen who would have been in the program. There is a real need for the Transitional Studies Program on our campus, and we have seen that need continue to grow over the last several years.

—Alex Helmbrecht, Director of College Relations

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