By Aleksandra Sidorova
Interim Vice President of Enrollment and Student Success Cori Jackson, Dean of Students Steve Matthews and Director of Special Programs Dr. Michele Carpentier moved their offices to the space surrounding the H.U.B. at Angell College Center to streamline student access to support services. The process started in January, a week before the semester started, and was completed a month ago.
Jackson, Matthews and Carpentier have been working together at SUNY Plattsburgh for 30 years and plan to retire together in 2023. Together, they approached President Alexander Enyedi with the idea of moving their offices to ACC.
Jackson has many responsibilities — overseeing administrative processes, the Global Education Office, the Career Development Center, University Police and special programs. Her predecessor, R. Lizzie Wahab, worked on the 6th floor of Kehoe. Support services have become more accessible and inviting as ACC is the center of student activity on campus and closes at midnight, as opposed to 5 p.m. in Kehoe.
“I’m not a big fan of Kehoe anyway. I think it’s kind of intimidating for students,” Jackson said.
Students walk into the Office for Student Success with any problem ranging from academics and campus involvement to personal finances, and Jackson and Matthews help them find the resources they need to solve it. Jackson said having walk-in offices at the H.U.B. was the “best model to serve students.”
“For students, if they have a problem and they don’t know where to go, and they walk into this space, one of us should be able to get you to the right person,” Jackson said. “We don’t send you running around campus trying to figure out how to solve problems.”
Matthews is filling in a new role as Dean of Students. He held that title earlier in his career at SUNY Plattsburgh, but the role functioned as director of student conduct. Now, his responsibilities center around student involvement: campus life, student-run events, seeking student input for further campus development and organizing communication with parents to keep them updated on major campus events. He also supervises and coordinates Housing and Community Living, the Student Health Center and the Center for Student Involvement. He said working together with all departments helps to “pool resources and potentially have bigger and better events” on campus.
“Our mission is to help all of our students be successful, and each student has a different measure of what that is for them, so it takes getting to know the students,” Matthews said.
Interacting with students and being involved in campus life is important to Matthews’ job.
“If we’re going to be student-centered and interacting with students as much as we can, the last place that we should be stuck is in an administration building,” Matthews said. “Students aren’t going to wander there. We want to be [at ACC] where students see us — they know we’re accessible because students see us every day — and they’re not afraid to interact with us.”
Involving himself in student life is also Matthews’ favorite part of his job, he said. He attends community events, such as Coffeehouse, SA meetings, theatre productions and sports games to support student activities.
“It’s showing the students that what they do matters and that they matter,” Matthews said.
Carpentier oversees special programs — Student Support Services (SSS), Student Accessibility Services (SAS), Upward Bound, Educational Opportunity Program (EOP) and others — as well as the student emergency assistance fund and the food pantry housed in ACC. Carpentier reported that in the month since she moved to ACC from Macomb Hall, the amount of food going out of the pantry tripled.
“I think part of that is it’s just more convenient for students who aren’t necessarily special program students, but still need assistance,” Carpentier said. “It’s just easier for them to come get it here than it would be for them to go to Macomb Hall.”
Carpentier said the dorm setting made the offices located in Macomb seem less accessible to students who do not live there or qualify for special programs, whereas at ACC, support services are available to all students.
“What we try to do in this office is make sure that students who for some reason can’t fit into one of those special categories can still get the services they need to be successful, so that’s why they look similar in many ways,” Carpentier said. “Students still need things even if they don’t get into a special program, so we kind of serve the other students, who would have fallen through the cracks otherwise.”
To avoid stigma, the food shelf is free access and available when the ACC is open.
“We don’t want people to feel like, ‘Oh, I got to sign up.’ We don’t want them to feel that it’s welfare,” Carpentier said. “What stigmatizes things like that is when you have to sign up for it.”
The food shelf will be getting a new name in the fall semester, something “cute and funky” — Carpentier did not disclose what it will be — to further battle the stigma associated with relying on it. A change in name will also reflect that there is more to the shelf than just food: it also offers personal hygiene products like toothpaste, shampoo and pads and tampons. Carpentier hopes to be able to offer more fresh fruits and vegetables on the shelf in the future as well.
“We don’t want [students] to be struggling here,” Carpentier said. “The only struggle you should be having is academics, getting as smart as you can get — that should be the struggle.”
Carpentier’s only concern regarding the food shelf is funding. The food shelf costs between $700 and $1,000 to operate each week. It is primarily funded by alumni donations and benefits from athletics fundraisers, donations from students and the catering company Chartwells, as well as community suppliers such as churches. The annual “Feed a Cardinal” fundraising campaign is coming up later in the semester, too.
“I don’t believe in budgets, and I don’t believe in ‘technical.’ I believe in getting the job done, and the chips fall where they may,” Carpentier said. “I’m not a person who spends a lot of time worrying about the rules — that’s [Jackson’s] job. I figure out how to make the rules work for the person in front of me — that’s my job.”