From Advising to Counseling to Tutoring and Beyond, Students Can Access Many Avenues to Receive Help Along Their Educational Journey

Thanks in large part to a healthy surge of self-confidence, success in the classroom and her evolution as a student leader, Connie Elder has blossomed since arriving on campus at SUNY Orange. She credits the College’s nurturing environment and its commitment to students’ academic and personal well-being for her turnaround.

But things weren’t always so rosy for Elder. Immediately upon graduating from Port Jervis High School, she enrolled at SUNY Oswego. But classes there were too big, magnifying her tremendous shyness. And, while she had always struggled taking tests, she found herself lost in Oswego’s intricate maze of advisors and counselors, which dramatically hampered her academic progress during her three semesters there.

Forced to endure a “mandatory semester off” from Oswego, Elder returned home to regroup. It was then that she “discovered” SUNY Orange. Although she originally intended to return to Oswego, she elected to enroll in several classes at SUNY Orange and she’s still here today, on track to earn her associate’s degree in criminal justice this May.

Elder is a member of the College’s Student Senate and an active leader of the Criminal Justice Club. In late February, she was part of a SUNY Orange contingent that traveled to Albany to lobby regional legislators for support of a bevy of educational initiatives in Governor Eliot Spitzer’s initial New York State budget proposal.

PHOTO: Connie Elder and Terri Van EverenElder (at left in photo) readily attributes her success at SUNY Orange to the caring, professional and personal approach the advising and counseling staff have displayed from the moment she stepped on campus. Terri Van Everen, the College’s interim director of advising and counseling, has been Elder’s primary counselor.

“Terri helped me a great deal. When I first came, there was a problem with my transcript and she fixed that for me,” Elder says. “She’s been very kind, and we’ve developed a friendship. But everybody in the Advising and Counseling Center is so nice. If Terri isn’t there, someone else is always willing to help.

“I would never be in Student Senate, or the Criminal Justice Club, if it weren’t for the atmosphere here. I was very shy when I got here, and that was part of my problem at Oswego, but I’ve gained so much confidence in myself since I’ve been here.”

Many students at SUNY Orange can share identical or similar tales to Elder’s, having found their niche at the College after struggling elsewhere. Van Everen says students who start their college careers at SUNY Orange often report different campus atmospheres once they’ve transferred to another school. It is one of many factors that set the College apart from most academic institutions.

“We don’t realize how unique we are until we talk to those students who have gone to a four-year school. When they get there, they miss that connectedness,” Van Everen explains. “At our Advising and Counseling Center, you can always sit down and talk with someone. We provide students with a comforting environment, created by people who care and people who will look after them.”

That personal connection migrates from every corner of campus, not only the advising and counseling staff: from a diverse Learning Assistance Services program through a network of academic labs where students can seek help (in math, reading and English) to a roster of faculty members who are committed to their students’ success.

The College provides a myriad of assistance programs, from academic advising and personal/social counseling to transfer assistance and coordination of developmental education coursework for students who may need to elevate their skills in order to handle college-level academics. Also, veterans, students with disabilities and low-income first-generation students can find a willing staff member who can help put those students in a position to be successful.

Students are also able to take advantage of career counseling, tutoring, workshops and other programs that address a variety of student needs.

“Our goal is to support our students, but we really want them to become independent learners and active learners,” explains Eileen Burke, coordinator of the Learning Assistance Services office, which oversees a range of academic support programs including tutoring and developmental education. “We like to think we are ‘empowering’ our students.”

Van Everen and Burke agree that one of the College’s greatest strengths is its ability, across all areas, to tailor advising, counseling or tutoring to the student’s specific needs. The programs are easily accessible for students, and supported by a faculty that is willing to personally assist students and actively encourages them to seek additional help when necessary.

“The professors here really seem to enjoy their jobs. They are creative in the ways they are willing to help you, and they really seem to care about the students,” Elder stresses. “That kind of atmosphere makes me feel like I want to come to class every day.”
“Many students think that asking for help is a sign of weakness, but it is really a strength that they realized a need and found a way to take advantage of an opportunity for assistance,” Burke adds.

“At SUNY Orange, you can find professors who will make the time for you if you ask, and they are there for you, sometimes even if you don’t ask,” adds Mary Catherine Halfpenny, a SUNY Orange graduate now attending Vassar College. “For a lot of folks, a community college is their only way to improve themselves, and SUNY Orange is such a resource. The effort you put in is the effort you will get out.”

“We give them the information and let them make the best decision for themselves. The College puts a lot of information out there for students, on the web, in brochures and publications, but a lot of times they don’t know how to filter the information at their fingertips, or know the right questions to ask,” Van Everen says. “We hold their hand until they can become self-sufficient. They like having someone on campus that they can connect with.”

That connection, coupled with the supportive faculty, helped Elder grow from a student who was lost and in academic trouble at Oswego to a confident pending SUNY Orange graduate reviewing her transfer options now that she is back on track toward her bachelor’s degree.

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Mike Albright
Communications Officer
115 South Street
Middletown, NY 10940