DONNA GOSS: Hello, and welcome to this edition of staff notes. I'm Donna Goss, and I'm here today with Amy Benedict Augustine from the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.
Hi, Amy, thanks for joining us today.
AMY BENEDICT AUGUSTINE: Pleasure.
DONNA GOSS: You do some very important work in your college, and I'm hoping you can tell us some details about the work you do with students.
AMY BENEDICT AUGUSTINE: Sure. I love what I do in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences. So I'm trained as a career counselor, and I work with pre-freshmen through alumni, helping them figure out what they want to do some day. And that's working with the folks that are very focused and know exactly what it is that they want to do, through the folks that have absolutely no clue what they want to do and really need a lot of help figuring out what that direction might be.
DONNA GOSS: So tell me how you work with those very different groups of people who are very focused and know the path that they are ready to pursue, as opposed to those who really need to find their way still?
AMY BENEDICT AUGUSTINE: So the office provides a variety of services to be able to address whatever a student or alums' need might be. So for the student that knows what they want, I might do a little questioning first just to verify. Are you sure? I might say, how do you know that that's what you want to do? And often they might tell me about some practical experience they've had, maybe a course that they've taken, advice from a faculty member.
So I just want to verify, and then I would tell them about the variety of resources that are available and maybe try to begin to connect with them with alumni, faculty, professional associations, employers of all different kinds.
DONNA GOSS: People in that field that they can begin to connect with.
AMY BENEDICT AUGUSTINE: Right.
DONNA GOSS: And then what about the students who come in and they're just fresh out of high school and not really sure what it is they're focusing on?
AMY BENEDICT AUGUSTINE: So one thing that I want to say is sometimes that applies to our seniors, and it's the freshmen that are really focused. So it really varies.
I might begin to ask them about activities that they were involved in that they really loved, the courses they may enjoy the most that might not even be in their major. Sometimes I'll ask about family input because sometimes that can be subtle or not so subtle.
DONNA GOSS: Right
AMY BENEDICT AUGUSTINE: And that can add some challenges for some students. And in some cases, it's also a great support. They might say, you know, they're very supportive. They want me to figure out what I want to do.
And as a counselor, I'm trained to begin to notice signs of oh, maybe something else is going on here and I might ask questions about their subport network. Do they have friends? Have they gotten connected to activities here? So every now and then, I might begin to pick up on signs of depression and we'll talk to them about, sounds like we need to address some of these other issues first. Let me introduce you to my colleagues on the counseling side of student services so that you can address those issues, and then we'll work little bit by little on the career development issues.
DONNA GOSS: I know we have counseling services in Gannett. But do each of the colleges also have some resources that help students in that regard?
AMY BENEDICT AUGUSTINE: I believe it varies by college. I know Human Ecology does, for example. That's the one that comes to mind right off the top of my head, our neighbors. And then depending-- actually, those folks might be making a referral to Gannett.
DONNA GOSS: Right. With our international students, it's particularly challenging, I think, for them to be away from home and still feel that pressure, especially if there's a legacy involved in the family, where everyone has gone to medical school and that's what the student is expected to do. That's an awful lot of pressure. Tell me some of the ways that you help students deal with that.
AMY BENEDICT AUGUSTINE: Yep. So I might talk to them pretty directly but patiently, kindly, about what those expectations seem to be.
I might ask about grades because in some situations, it may be that the student is realizing they don't have the grades to be able to pursue the academic paths that everybody else in the family has done. We might begin to pursue alternatives.
So if it's in the field of medicine, for example, what might be other jobs they could do and still be involved in health care? Maybe they really love the research side of things or maybe they really want to be on the nursing side of things. I'm actually seeing an increased number of students that are considering nursing because it gives them more constant contact with patients than they might have.
DONNA GOSS: All right. So the students at [INAUDIBLE] really benefit from your experience. How long have you been there and been doing just exactly this job?
AMY BENEDICT AUGUSTINE: So I'm mildly embarrassed and proud to say that I will have worked at Cornell 21 years at the end of June, and I've always been in career development in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences.
DONNA GOSS: Can you tell us a little about your career progression and how you came to be in this role after 21 years?
AMY BENEDICT AUGUSTINE: Sure. So when I was in my master's program, a counseling psychology program at Boston College, I had lofty ideas of being a therapist and helping everyone solve their personal issues. And my first position after graduate school was in a hospital setting, helping women with eating disorders. That was very intense and I burned out very quickly, even though I loved the work.
I moved back to the Finger Lakes region, which is where I'm from, and got a job at Corning Community College and was helping students who were on public assistance get through their academic program and find employment after.
And as a fresh young graduate, I thought, oh, this career counseling stuff is OK, but I really want to be doing therapy! So an opportunity opened up at the community college, and I took that position where I was doing personal counseling, academic advising, and career counseling.
And I found I missed the career counseling because sometimes with the personal issues, the students weren't so motivated to change for any variety of reasons. And with the career counseling, there were personal issues that played a part, but there were also practical, short term gains that students could make and I could refer them to resources, and be a little more of a coach. And if they were having a difficult time, I could help them with the personal issues, as well.
So then I happened to see the job listing at Cornell and thought, oh, that sounds interesting. I'm going to apply for that. And to make a long story short, 21 years later, here I am.
DONNA GOSS: Now you've reached a milestone in your educational career that I'd love to talk to you more about. You've just recently achieved your PhD. So I know that was a long road for you and I would love to hear some of the details on how you got there.
AMY BENEDICT AUGUSTINE: Sure. So probably around maybe 10 years ago, I was thinking, hey, I work at Cornell University, I ought to think about getting a doctoral degree. I was ready to be back in the classroom, looking forward to that academic challenge and I began by taking some courses in Human Ecology, the human development group. Loved some courses with Elaine Wethington.
But the focus of the program wasn't quite right. So then I started taking some courses in the education department, and loved taking classes from Dawn Schrader, and John Sipple. And again, it was a little better fit, but still not quite right.
And I'd begun to explore the possibility of taking some courses in ILR, when a colleague and dear friend Bonnie Kamala said, you know, I heard about this program at the University of Pennsylvania that's geared for people just like us.
DONNA GOSS: What does that mean?
AMY BENEDICT AUGUSTINE: What does that mean? So sort of mid-level professionals that have full time jobs but want to get a doctoral degree. So in the Graduate School of Education is the executive doctorate in higher education management, and it's a two year program where classes are designed for students to be on campus in Philadelphia once a month for three days or so. Thursday, Friday, Saturday. Coursework, reading, group projects and whatnot in between.
The first year is all coursework and prepping for the dissertation, and then the second year is dissertation and a little bit less coursework. There's also an international component to the program. So my group had the opportunity to travel to South Africa for two weeks and visit universities in Cape Town, and Johannesburg, and Pretoria and learn about the higher education system there.
Yeah, it was an amazing experience. An amazing, amazing experience. The program also follows what they call a cohort model. So the same group of students started in August, 2008, and took all the same courses on the same schedule together.
DONNA GOSS: Right. Well, now, that camaraderie has to be really important all the way through your course when you're adults that are taking this class and you're meeting once a month, and you're probably doing a lot of connection over the internet and Skype. And being able to stay with that same group of people, tell me about those relationships.
AMY BENEDICT AUGUSTINE: Yeah, it developed-- that was an amazing experience. So I've got colleagues at all kinds of universities and colleges all across the country that, at any moment, I could email or pick up the phone, and depending on their schedule, I am likely to hear right back from them.
Was interacting with one classmate while in Boston who is the president of the American Public University System, which is an online university. Was asking him some questions last week. A colleague at a community college, colleague at NYU in the business school.
DONNA GOSS: And now they made some wonderful resources, as well.
AMY BENEDICT AUGUSTINE: Absolutely.
DONNA GOSS: Now you talked about taking classes at Cornell and how they didn't quite fit your needs. And of course, we know at Cornell though there's a tuition benefit. Were you able to use the tuition benefit to get your PhD?
AMY BENEDICT AUGUSTINE: Yes.
DONNA GOSS: How does that work?
AMY BENEDICT AUGUSTINE: So with the courses that I took at Cornell, obviously, they were related to my job and the university covered them. So when you take a course at a college or university outside of Cornell, there is a tuition benefit, something like 80% of the current tuition at Tompkins Cortland Community College, whatever that may be. Up to eight credits a year, I think it is.
So every semester that I was attending Penn, I received-- oh, I think I had to get a B in my courses. Which I did! I think I got maybe $400 or so. So that helped me with the cost of transportation, if there was an extra night's hotel stay just based on my schedule, books. So that was very helpful.
DONNA GOSS: Yeah. The employee degree program is something that's offered here at Cornell that a lot of other universities don't offer.
AMY BENEDICT AUGUSTINE: Yeah.
DONNA GOSS: And I know that you're a strong proponent of that. How do you stay involved with people in that program? Do you do some mentoring, as well?
AMY BENEDICT AUGUSTINE: Informally. I have begun to do some mentoring. In fact, I have an appointment next week to talk to a colleague in one of the academic departments who had heard about my program and reached out and said, I'd like to know a little bit more about that. Oh, and actually another colleague. So, yes, I have informally become a mentor to talk about the program.
DONNA GOSS: Right, well, it's a wonderful experience that you've been able to go through and it's great that you're willing to share that with other people who are thinking about the program.
I do have one more question to ask you, and we always conclude our program with this. And it is-- if you were president at Cornell for a day, what would you do?
AMY BENEDICT AUGUSTINE: So I thought about this in advance and brought my list. So as a student of higher ed, one of my concerns is the achievement rates for our underrepresented minority, low income students, first generation students. So that was at the top of my list.
So I knew I couldn't ask for everything, so I made a prioritized list and the first would be to establish a fund for low and maybe lower middle income students so that they could have an international experience during their time at Cornell. Whether that's a study abroad experience or being able to participate in one of the classes that has a study abroad, or an international travel component to it, or an international internship.
In fact, my dissertation research is on the impact of international internships on undergraduate college students, and there is an impact and I'd be happy to talk about that more at some time.
I would also require a community service or civic engagement component for all students across the university. I really think it's important for them to get out of the classroom, get out of the lab, get off the field, get out of there work study job, whatever the case might be. And understand what the community is all about, whether that's here or someplace else. I think that's a really important component of beginning to use their higher education in ways beyond just the jobs or graduate school that they'll pursue after graduation.
I also would implement staff sabbaticals. Some of our peer institutions offer staff, after a certain number of years, an opportunity to go someplace else for a semester or a year and learn from that experience. Some of our peer institutions also have staff leave to engage in community service.
So for example, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill allows a certain number of hours each year that staff can take paid time to go and volunteer in the community.
DONNA GOSS: Well, those are some really great ideas. I hope President [INAUDIBLE] is listening. Wonderful ideas. Amy, thanks so much for taking the time to be here with us today.
AMY BENEDICT AUGUSTINE: My pleasure. Thanks for asking me.
DONNA GOSS: And thank you all for joining us on Staff Notes. We'll see you next time.
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Meet Amy Benedict-Augustine, Academic Programs Officer in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS), and hear her inspirational story about her work with students and her own academic achievements.
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