Kara Kolomitz, the last finalist for the position of Vice President of Enrollment and Student Development, visited FSU for an open forum with the community on Monday, Feb. 29.
Kolomitz is currently the vice president of student affairs at Regis College in Weston, Massachusetts and was previously the dean of students.
After introducing herself, Kolomitz described herself as a leader. She said her earliest recollection of being a leader was when she was in the third grade and petitioned to place gravel on the playground.
Kolomitz said she saw her friend one day with mud all over her white tights after recess, and thought that something had to be done. She went to all the classrooms and had the students sign a petition, which she then presented to the school board.
“That’s the story that I always remember when I think about the beginning of my leading and wanting to be a part of something good, and that has certainly translated into my work in higher ed and my work with all sectors of education,” she said.
Paul Welch, director of the counseling center, asked her what her leadership style is. Kolomitz said her approach is about honesty, dedication, humor, loyalty and hard work.
A challenge Kolomitz faced was being part of the decision to change Regis College, a private university, from an all-women’s school to a co-ed school.
“That was a really significant culture shift. We served, for almost 80 years, predominately white, Irish-Catholic women. … I was really honored to be a piece of that glue that insisted that we come together to figure out the greater good,” she said, adding Regis now has about 40-percent diversity and is in the high thirties for first-generation students.
Sean Huddleston, chief officer of diversity, inclusion and community engagement, asked, “What are some of the things you helped to lead to ensure that inclusion happened at a high level?”
Kolomitz replied, “I think sometimes, the beginning of inclusion is the most obvious conversations, and I would also say to you they’re also the most honest conversations that you have to be willing to have.”
She added it is important to give students a place to voice their opinions, and having that available helped the process of becoming a co-ed college while maintaining “some bold leadership and movement.”
Rita Colucci, chief of staff and general counsel, asked about Kolomitz’s involvement with the recruitment of students.
Kolomitz said her role “has been really integral in developing the co-educational campus” for both undergraduate and graduate students.
“Our philosophy is we have a profile of a student that we are very successful with, and we’ve done that through a lot of different data analysis. We’ve done that through a lot of early interventions prior to coming to campus and then certainly through the first year and on through the second year.”
She said her job includes messaging and utilizing technologies to reach potential students along with orientation, calling her work a “holistic approach.”
Marc Cote, dean of arts and humanities, asked Kolomitz about her policy on early intervention for recruitment and any plans she may have to address the declining population of potential college students.
She said having conversations early on with students and their families about the cost of college is important. Regis has partnered with a local high school, and the high school students come to campus and have college students mentor them, according to Kolomitz.
“I think that messaging and positioning of an institution is critical. … I think things are changing and I think it’s important for institutions to be smart about how they’re positioning themselves,” she said.
Margaret Carroll, dean of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, asked Kolomitz how she thinks student services can work with academics to address retention issues.
Kolomitz said an issue of retention is not knowing the students, and that having conversations with students is “at the forefront” of retention efforts.
“You don’t retain students that you don’t know – that the institution doesn’t have an understanding of – and I think that is the beginning key of understanding within the different disciplines of the school that student profile and that student’s ability.”
She added no two early interventions for students are the same and “you have to be creative enough and insightful enough to crack those appropriately.”
About figuring out “early warning triggers” she said Starfish has been important with figuring out where students excel and why. Starfish is a program that allows faculty and staff to interact with students online. She added a good advising process of “mutually coming across the aisle” in terms of student affairs and academics is “pivotal.”
Scott Greenberg, dean of continuing education, asked Kolomitz how she has used data and Starfish in her position.
She said administrators at the institution have used data “most significantly” in their decision to link first-year seminar to a second-semester, discipline-specific course that has resulted in an increased retention of students, especially first-generation students, students choosing their major earlier and an increase in co-curricular engagement.
Stafish has helped in the communication of students and faculty and staff which “has been really unifying,” along with aiding student intervention, according to Kolomitz.
Cote asked what Kolomitz sees as the similarities between Regis and FSU, and what may be some challenges in their differences.
Kolomitz said she saw FSU as a “beautifully charming campus” when she came to visit, and she felt comfortable. She said there is a size difference between the two campuses, but that her experience at Providence College in Rhode Island as the assistant director of residence life from 1997 to 2001, which has a similar population size to FSU, makes the switch “not as daunting.”
She added, “When I commit to an institution, I jump in wholeheartedly.” Kolomitz said while she would miss Regis, she looks forward to the new challenges of working at larger campus.
Jeanne Haley, a staff counselor, asked Kolomitz what she’s done recently to improve mental health of students on her campus.
Kolomitz said health and wellness is important, and Regis administrators have created a support group and network for students who have “never had a level of support for their mental health that they needed, because outwardly they seem to not need it.”
She added their work around Title IX intervention and compliance is something she is proud of, including a strong bystander intervention program which was the result of faculty, staff and students coming together to create a care advocate program.
David Stender, associate director of residence life and student conduct, asked Kolomitz to share what she will take away from her doctoral research.
Kolomitz, who is defending her dissertation for her doctorate in May, said her work revolves around studying new presidents of small, private universities.
“My interest and fascination with leadership and organizational culture has always been a piece of my scholarship and my studies regarding higher educational leadership,” she said. Kolomitz added she enjoys challenges and problem-solving, and this research aligned her with the opportunity to study these dynamics.
Jeremy Spencer, dean of enrollment management, asked about Regis’s endowment, cost and “how, strategically, do you go about aligning a limited endowment and a large price tag with leveraging your financial aid in being able to help those students?”
Kolomitz replied, “Regis is exceedingly generous with our financial aid and yes, there is certainly a ticket price, but there is also a discounted rate.”
Spencer followed up, asking, “Can you just talk about your philosophy of helping students make viable choices about when to go to school and when, in fact, school might not be financially for them? About helping them understand the indebtedness and what’s an appropriate response to that?”
The cost of higher education is the first topic Regis administrators discuss with prospective students, she said.
“I think that it is important to make sure that conversation is had with families,” said Kolomitz, adding how possible scenarios, such as taking a semester off or not finishing school within four years, could affect their finances.
“I think being honest with students upfront is the most important thing to do,” she said.
A reporter from The Gatepost asked, “Do you have any experiences working side-by-side with students to solve an issue?”
Kolomitz said she prides herself on having an approachable and accessible relationship with students. She added she has worked with students on multiple issues, such as students who are homeless, who financially can’t stay enrolled and also working on improving equality on campus.
A story Kolomitz said resonates with her is when a student came to her and said she can’t stay in school because she could no longer pay for education. Kolomitz said she would help the student look into available resources, and asked the student if she would stay in college if she had all the money she needed.
“She said, ‘No, I probably wouldn’t. … Because my dad’s afraid I’m going to be smarter than he is.’ That was one of the most pivotal conversations I’ve had, because this student was at such a cross-roads in her own identity and who she was supposed to be and who she was going to be,” said Kolomitz. She added that by sticking with the student and working with her, Kolomitz was able to help and the student ended up staying.