Gatepost Interview: Ben Trapanick, Director of First-Year Programs, Administrator of the Year

(Photo by Brad Leuchte)

Could you describe your educational background?

I got my undergraduate degree in history from SUNY [State University of New York] Binghamton in New York. I did my graduate work, and I got my master’s from North Carolina State University. My first job after graduate school was at the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences down in Boston, and I helped students there to get them back into good academic standing, helped them with study skills, things like that. When I was there, I also worked with some people on campus to create their first-year experience course. They didn’t have one there and we created one at my office that year and it’s been going there ever since then. Then, I got hired here in 2005, and I was the first person on the job here. So I oversee Orientation, but we created a first-year experience course and foundations program and other things like that. So it wasn’t really a direct route here. I did some college coaching right after undergrad down south, and then decided to go back and get my master’s.

How do you feel about being awarded Administrator of the Year?

As for thoughts on the award, I am very honored to receive the award. As a student affairs professional, it is incredibly humbling to receive any award, especially one voted on by students.  I am not aware who nominated me for the award, but to have been meant a great deal.  And to win it is very special.  There are a lot of great administrators on this campus. Many of them are people that I look to for guidance on a number of things. Some of them have won the award as well.  Not only is it an honor to win, but it is also an honor to be recognized in the same way that other people who have been presented with the award have been.  Thank you to the people who nominated me.

What do you like best about your job here in Framingham?

I like the students who I work with. My foundations peer mentors are a really great group of students, and I’ve really been able to see a lot of them grow as student leaders and grow as people. I love the people who I work with, and I like the opportunities that I’ve had to build things that weren’t here before. I wasn’t just handed the job and was told, “Here, run this.” I was able to build things the way I saw them, largely due to the students and the people I work with, too.

What are your plans for the Foundations program?

As for the Foundations program, the Steering Committee and I have spent a great deal of time assessing the Foundations program over the years.  We now have a focused and developed plan that is designed to assess the goals and objectives associated with seminar.  It is a tremendous amount of work, but something that is of great interest to me and the Steering Committee.  Feedback from this assessment has led to a great deal of changes in the past, such as having a common syllabus.  With that said, it is a tremendous amount of work when you are assessing two new goals every year.  But it has allowed me to collaborate with many offices on campus, especially ones that are involved with the goals and objectives that are being assessed.

What do you want to accomplish this upcoming year?

I would like to continue my focus on student development as well as continuing to research the effectiveness of the Foundations program.  First-year programs has two student leadership programs and collaborates on a third.  The Black and Gold Orientation leaders and the Foundations Peer Mentors are coordinated by my office, and I work with SILD and the Dean of Students’ office to supervise the Wet Feet Leaders.  I believe that we have made some great strides over the past several years in how we train our leaders and helping them do their jobs better.  The Black and Gold team, which is supervised by Assistant Director Ashlee Givins, has come a long way in learning how to be strong student leaders. That means they understand their role in helping first-years and transfers transition to life as an FSU student.  It also means that they are learning skills that can be applied to life as a graduate of FSU.  And the Foundations Peer Mentors have come a long way as a program as well.  We are very deliberate in our efforts in helping their assigned students. In addition, they have also learned valuable skills that have helped them become strong members of our community.  The mentors are one of the strongest parts of the Foundations program. They are instrumental in helping new students connect to each other in addition to having a person who is similar in age to them who can help them navigate the new expectations of being a college student.  And the Foundations intern who assists me with the coordination of this program is a huge part as well.

What do you feel you were able to accomplish this year?

The first is rolling out the assessment for the Foundations seminar.  We kind of stumbled a bit when we tried to roll it out the first year, but after tightening it up, and training the facilitators on what we were looking for and how they can create assignments that can be used, we really got some good data.  While it certainly wasn’t all me, I am glad that we have the assessment on track to get good information on the effectiveness of the program.

The second is the collaboration that has been involved with focusing on the goals of Foundations seminar for next year.  We are trying to find creative ways to incorporate topics that have been lost with the development of the common syllabus.  I have been working with some offices, namely the offices located in the Health Center, to discuss how to incorporate information about staying healthy and sexual assault/bystander intervention.  We will see how that works this fall.

Lastly, I have been serving as the advisor to the Class of 2015.  Both Kendall Valente and Michelle McGonagle are class officers.  I have worked with them the past three years as they have both been orientation leaders and peer mentors for three years. And I have known Michelle since she was a first-year in my Foundations seminar.  Not to say that they are the leaders that they are because of me, but I do want to say it is great to know that I had a small part in the people they have become.  Working with them this year as seniors as class advisor has really been a pleasure.  They see the bigger picture, have become confident young women and I have seen that happen.  I am looking forward to seeing them walk at graduation.

Is there any advice you would like to give to students?

Keep an open mind. As you start finishing up your first year, look back on it and think about what you liked about your first year, what you would do again, what would you do differently. Think about those things for your sophomore year so when you come back, you’ll think, ‘Wow, this is a lot different. I know what I’m doing now. I know where to go, what time things are open.’ Really think about what you want to do now that you have year one under your belt. What do you want to do now?