Zoë Pixler, Family Orientation Coordinator, sat down with Dr. TaJuan Wilson, Ed.D., Executive Director, TRIO Programs and Multi Student Retention to ask the question “What does Student Affairs mean to you?” (Second in a series of articles about the Division of Student Affairs at Missouri State.)
What is your official title and what are your daily duties?
I am the executive director of TRIO Programs and Multicultural Student Retention. I oversee programming for TRIO students’ support services, upward bound and a plethora of other programs. I would say that my main component would be TRIO. This program is for students who are underrepresented, including those who are first generation, disabled or low income. The main goal is to get our students to graduation. I am also involved in student support services-collegiate programming, in which we cater to 190 undergraduate students with tutoring, mentoring advising. Upward Bound is a pre-college program where we work with three high schools and focus on getting students to high school graduation then to college. All these programs are funded by the College of Education through grants.
What made you decide to go into Student Affairs?
I actually initially wanted to be a dentist, but took the FOCUS test and it told me to work with students. So basically my path went from pre-med to education to political science. I was a TRIO student myself and didn’t think law school was possible. I ended up getting accepted into Harvard, Yale, Princeton and many others, but could not afford them. I accepted a position in Oklahoma City and worked on my public administration and counseling masters. Then someone approached me about working in education in a high school and my career took off from there.
How would you explain Student Affairs to a family member?
We are, as Dr. Siscoe loves to say “Champions for Student Success.” Our entire goal to work with students and get them to graduation. We are not faculty members, but we are the ones students come to with challenges.
What keeps you in Student Affairs?
The students. I love the direct contact with students. I can’t imagine doing anything else now. So much so, that I went back and completed a doctorate in education. Now this guy who used to have no background in education has a wealth of knowledge. My goal is to be a university president.
What do you think are the most important factors for student success?
I think retention is the biggest component of student success. If you are retained at the university, you will graduate at some point. The students who are actively involved and engaged on campus are the ones who are going to be tremendously successful. Making time for studying is huge as well. I also think it is important for students to equip themselves for life after college. They should be asking themselves “what kind of internships am I doing?” “How am I getting involved in the community?”
What do you think first year students need from Student Affairs?
I think support is so important for first year students. They are making that awkward transition from home and are now completely free and able to do essentially whatever they would like to do within reason. They need people who are understanding and who have their backs. People that will say that they are not trying to hover but if you need me, I am here. I am a resource. Utilize me.
What do you think is the best way to reach out to first year students?
I think the best way to reach out to first year students is to build relationships with those students. This is big and takes time. Our program is unique because students are drawn to our office and the work that we do. We constantly have a wait-list of over 100 students at any given time. This is pretty significant and a testament to the time we take to get to know them and their families. Plus providing financial assistance always attracts students.
How do you think first year students typically respond to Student Affairs?
I think that sometimes students are initially terrified to get involved, especially with things like student engagement. I think one of the big things within student affairs that attracts a lot of students is Fraternity & Sorority Life. I think that is an awesome connection to get students involved. From there it becomes about community service and giving back and all those other things that streams into the work that all of us do here in student affairs.
How would one get more info on TRIO?
We are here as a resource for first generation, disabled and low income students. If someone is looking to join the program, they can reach out to me directly, stop by the office and fill out an application, or complete one online. All information is on our website: trio.missouristate.edu. We do have a wait-list right now but if there is a special circumstance or special situation, I will certainly try to get those students in the program.
What is your favorite tradition at Missouri State?
That’s a tough one! I would have to say New Student Convocation would be my favorite. I absolutely love it, it’s favorite time of the year. It is tremendous how it sets tone and imagery for the entire academic year. I like that, it reminds me why I went into this in the first place.
Zoë Pixler, a sophomore majoring in Photography and Art Education, is a Family Orientation Coordinator, helping with special projects and family orientation. She is a member of Sigma Sigma Sigma where she is the Goals and Resource Coordinator.