Gatepost Interview: Emily Abel Academic Advisor and CASA Coordinator

What is your resume and background?

I grew up in West Springfield out in western Massachusetts. … I went to Ithaca College for my undergrad. I was very confused about what I wanted to do after graduation. I was a first-generation college student. I majored in communications and I thought that was a nice broad major to pick. … When I was graduating, I knew I wanted to work in a nonprofit, help people – but that’s really all I knew. I ended up doing AmeriCorps Vista, New York campus compact at a community college in Syracuse. I was a service learning and volunteer coordinator there. … I got my master’s in higher education administration from Suffolk University the following year. I was a graduate assistant in the service learning and volunteer office there. … I oversaw a college access program called Connections to College where I worked with college students who mentored local high school students from Dorchester to inspire and encourage them to go to college. … I planned Service Day, which was one of their biggest events, where two hundred students went out into the community and volunteered. … I also interned at MIT. I was a career counselor there. … When I graduated, I was job searching, and I came across this job at Framingham State to do a similar type of work to what I was doing with Connections to College – college access and readiness. This job, at that time, was a contractor position. I was primarily responsible for coordinating PLUS – Program Leading to Undergraduate Success – and organizing College Tomorrow, which is a similar program to Connections to College. College Tomorrow is a two-week college readiness program for first-generation students in the MetroWest area. PLUS is an academic success program for a cohort of first-year students here at FSU.

How do you feel your life experience influences your work with PLUS?

A big reason why I’m attracted to this work is because I was a first-generation college student who had the support of my family, but not a whole lot of guidance because they didn’t experience college or anything that goes along with what you need to do when you’re in college. So I draw from my personal experience, but then also, as the years have gone by, I try not to project my experience as all students’ experiences. Over the years, I’ve tried to really not make any assumptions about any of the students that I’m working with and to really learn about who they are as students. There are themes – common obstacles – that first-generation college students have, but no two students are alike. I really try to work with each student as an individual – to figure out how I can best support them, what they need and how to connect them to the university so that they can persist and graduate from FSU.

What do you feel is your proudest achievement?

I’m really proud that I created Pelham Pals. A few years ago, one of the centers that I was working with to recruit for College Tomorrow and I decided that we needed to try to reach the students when they were younger. College Tomorrow reaches students who are 16 and 17 years old. For some students in the low-income community that’s too late to start to inspire them to go to college if they don’t have mentors around them. We needed to devise a way to reach students when they were younger, middle-school age.

What are some of your hobbies?

Well, I have an 18-month old so that takes up most of my time in addition to working full time. As of now, she is my full focus. In a previous life, my husband and I really liked to travel while we were in college. We still like to cook together and just spend time with friends and family.

What were you like as an undergraduate?

I was very involved as a high school student to try to get into college, but then when I got to college, I was pretty overwhelmed and intimidated by my peers. So it took me a little while to really find my confidence when I got to college. It wasn’t until I was a sophomore that I became an R.A., and that experience really gave me the confidence to become more involved. I was an R.A. for three semesters, and then I quickly realized that I needed to kind of dive in and build my resume if I wanted to get the most out of my college experience. I studied abroad. My boyfriend at the time – now husband – he went to Syracuse and we did semester at sea together. We had an amazing experience where we visited 10 countries and circumnavigated the globe through our study-abroad experience. … When I talk to students about their major and they’re really stressed about what they’re going to do, I tell them that when I was a freshman in college, if you ever told me I would be an academic advisor … I wouldn’t have believed them.

What is your number one piece of advice to students?

I think my biggest piece of advice is don’t wait for things to happen to you. You really need to seize the opportunities that come before you in college. … There are people here to support you. Coupled with that, really talk to people on this campus. Everybody on this campus wants to help and support students, but they can’t do that unless you ask the questions and seek them out.

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