New face to fill old position

Programming is expected to expand in the office that is responsible for supporting African-American students.

Improvements in their low-retention rates at Northern Kentucky University are to be effected also as the office has welcomed a new coordinator to fill one of the two positions left vacant since the student-protested firings of coordinators Blanche Pringle-Smith and Michael Griffin in February 2010.

Deborah Strahorn, a recent master’s graduate from Wright State University, began the coordinator position on Oct. 28 which will work with the current retention program NKU R.O.C.K.S. to encourage African-American students to complete their degrees and support them in those efforts, a job she said she is excited to embrace.

“I love programming,” Strahorn said. “Working with African-American students is something I relate to and I definitely want to work with…This is definitely my passion.”
Her job will have its challenges, though.

The most recent figures available on NKU’s website state that 43.2 percent of African-American students did not return to the university for the period of fall 2008 to fall 2009.

This compares to 17.7 percent of Caucasian students that did not return in the same period. The Northerner has not yet received requested updates on those figures.

When asked what new she would bring the office to deal with that challenge, Starhorn responded, “I think (it will be) a different type of energy and the fact that I am new professional,” adding that the fact that she was recently a student will help her see and understand things from a student perspective.

Getting along with students has not been a problem for Strahorn even though she said she expected it to be difficult to quickly build relationships with students mid-semester.

“I was welcomed with open arms,” she said. “I think everyone is really open and has been very accepting of me, and they are excited somebody is in the program so far.”

She said she has not experienced any negativity from students or staff who may still be upset by the February firings. Pringle-Smith and Griffin say they are still planning legal action against the university.

Acquainting herself with more students and building rapport is a major short-term goal.

“My door is always open. Students can come in whenever they want to introduce themselves so they can just meet and me be able to help them whenever I can,” she said.

Until she was hired, Miya Simpson, director of African-American Student Affairs, has borne the burden of coordinating the program on top of her administrative duties with some assistance from a staff share with a University Housing employee, Destiny Harper.

Now that Strahorn is on board, she says her ideas for innovating the outreach programs are welcomed and embraced by her supervisors.

“Everyone has been great,” she said. “There is a lot of room for innovation and that’s what really drew me to this campus because it is still young and a lot of changes can be made. Nothing is really set in stone here which is really cool.”

She also said she has not been bored at work. She has been staying active in off-campus events and establishing new lines of communication with campus offices serving students. Strahorn is also developing one point person for African-American students to work with in each office when they have specific concerns.

Despite now having another full-time staff member in the office, it will still be a change of pace. This is the first professional job that Strahorn has had since receiving her graduate degree, and so Strahorn said she is “getting acculumated” to “not being a student anymore.” The two previous coordinators had several years of experience in student retention and services.

However, one of her bosses said he does not doubt her level of talent or experience.

“We are excited to have Deborah on board in the Department of African American Student Affairs,” said Dean of Students Jeffrey Waple, who oversees the office. “She brings to us some great experience in multicultural student programming, retention of students of color and academic success strategies from both The Ohio State University and from Wright State University. Her experience in student conduct will assist the Dean of Students office in the administration of conduct issues.”

Strahorn said she plans to stay with the university for a long time.

“My job search was stressful,” she admitted. “I think now everyone is counting a job as a blessing. For me to make my mark here, I need to be here for awhile. I’m excited that I am able to start my professional life here.”

Story by Jesse Call