I’m Not the Assistant by Laurie Koepplin

August 18, 2023
Laurie is an AmeriCorps College Coach serving with the University of Montana Western.

When I began my first term of AmeriCorps service on April 4th, I was given a desk and space outside of the Director of Student Success’s office. People would walk into the Multicultural Center (where his office is located) and assume I was his personal assistant. He or she would ask, “When will the director be back?” “Will you take a message?” (Of course I did, I’m a helpful person.) We even had conversations about not needing to tell each other where we were going or when we would be back.

Then the director remembered another desk in the Learning Center, which is outside of the coordinator’s office. Lately people have come in and assume I’m her assistant. They ask me questions about her whereabouts, her schedule, or her tasks. Again, I’m not her assistant. She even told a facility manager yesterday, “She’s not my assistant! She is an AmeriCorps member who supports all of Student Success.”

So here’s what I’ve done to support Student Success in the past five months:

Many exciting things happened during July to bring students to the University of Montana Western (UMW) campus. I had many opportunities to provide access to high school students and scholars who will attend UMW in the fall. For example, UMW hosted three Bulldog Bound events. I conducted 8 tours, including one for 18 high school students in Salish Kootenai College’s Upward Bound program. Ten of these students are members of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes. As part of our tour, we visited the glass studio on campus to learn about glassblowing and the importance of believing in yourself. Towards the end of the tour, one student told her parent on the phone, “I found my college—I love it here! They have both a glassblowing program and a horsemanship program.”

In addition to this tour, I engaged 9 other individuals and their guests. Tours are a great opportunity for me to share information about the campus, college attainment, and services offered by TRIO, Montana 10, Student Life, Student Success, and many other departments on campus.

Bulldog Bound is a daylong event designed to prepare incoming freshmen to begin college this fall. It starts with an introduction from the Chancellor and the Director of Admissions. Then several staff from the Student Success team, which includes Career Services, deliver presentations. Many other offices, from Counseling to Dining Services and Student Life, also present and answer any questions. Each student has a checklist of items that he or she might need to complete, such as submitting an official high school transcript. Lunch is provided in the Dining Hall and presenters mingle with students and their guests.

The Learning Center Coordinator and I also traveled to Southern Utah University (SUU) in Cedar City, Utah, to learn about their Career Services program. We visited extensively with Jerry, the tall person in the middle, and McKinley, who is next to him. They provided a wealth of information that I added to my legacy binder. All of these staff in SUU’s Career Services fulfill the same role as one staff member at UMW. After all, they have a much larger student population to support than UMW does.

It has been an eventful five months at UMW, and my position can change based on the needs of the Student Success Department. My position description had stated that I would advise a cohort of 30 students. But since I began service at the end of the academic year and students were not on campus over the summer, my position changed to giving tours for the Admissions team. The other thing that changed was more involvement in Career Services. Unfortunately, this department had mostly been nonexistent for a few years at UMW. My major task has been to recruit local businesses to participate in a Job Expo in September. Some employers like this idea of connecting the college and community. Other businesses only hire family members since they are very small. My next challenge will be to market the event widely to get as many students and community members to attend as possible.

As summer draws to a close, I’m moving back to the broader umbrella of Student Success. I look forward to more direct service with college students, which is my original position description.

In August, I will continue to conduct tours for high school students and their guests. I recently conducted a tour for Montana Technological University’s Upward Bound program. 12 people from Butte, Anaconda, and Opportunity visited campus to explore the opportunities offered by UMW.

 In the second week of August, the Advising, Career Services, and Learning Center teams will host academic success workshops for student-athletes on UMW’s football team. These workshops will cover topics like time management, writing resumes, study skills, academic coaching, maintaining a strong GPA, and how to succeed as a student.

I also look forward to a local service day in August and Montana Campus Compact’s Close of Service in Missoula.

All of the activities of the last five months have given me deeper insight into the students who choose to attend UMW. Meeting employers has given me excellent opportunities to engage with the local community. Continuing my service under the broader Student Success umbrella will allow me to coach and increase college attainment for more students.