Arriving at UNLV in 2010 to finish her bachelor’s degree in psychology, first-generation college student Cheyenne Rogers had a Rebel Recruiter position lined up before classes even started. Today, as the assistant director of academic transitions and learning support and acting coordinator of Academic Success Coaching at the Academic Success Center (ASC), her journey from a first-generation college student to a professional has come full circle. She now helps undergraduate, and especially first-generation students succeed on campus.
She daily applies knowledge from her master’s degree in higher education (2014) as well as experience with coaching, new student orientations, advising, and teaching to help inspire students. She oversees academic success coaching as well as the Hixson-Lied Success Scholars, ASC Jump Start Scholarships, Math Bridge, and First-Gen Connect programs.
What led you to UNLV?
I am from the small town of Barstow, California, which is usually a pit stop on your way to somewhere more luxurious, like the beach. I actually started going to community college there. I am a first-generation college student, so this idea of college was pretty foreign to my family, but I knew it was the path that I wanted to take. I just wasn't ready to move away from home.
When I finished my associate’s degree, I felt I definitely needed to keep going. I wanted to learn more about myself and just experience something different, but I knew I wanted to be within driving distance of my family, and at the time, I had several friends that came to UNLV. My friend and I applied and we both got in, so we decided to live together. When I applied to UNLV, I also applied to be a Rebel Recruiter. I actually moved here on a Saturday and I started the Rebel Recruiter job on Monday. I never imagined myself coming here, but obviously, I love it so much, I'm still here!
What inspired you to get into your field?
I've always had a passion for helping others. I had a student worker position at the community college that was similar to a peer mentor role, where we got to work with students. I just fell in love with that and I started to think about it as a profession. I had a really great mentor at the community college who suggested I look at higher education. I think it was my experience as a first-generation college student at the community college that inspired me. I witnessed, as a student who had literally no idea what was happening firsthand, how my academic advisor helped me, how connection to my peers helped me succeed, and how campus involvement helped me.
I just love the college environment. I love how higher education can help one find themselves and their passions and I wanted to be a part of that journey for other students. I just saw how far it took me in life and I wanted to give back to students. I also think everyone that I've encountered along the way has just reinforced that this was the right decision for me. I think about Barb Roberts, when I was in the office of admissions as a student worker. I think about Dr. Anne White, when I was a coach. I think about Dr. Dan Gianoutsos, when I did an internship with him in 2011. It's through these people that I've encountered along my journey that has reinforced that I get to live out my dream every single day that I work.
What’s the last big project you completed and how did you celebrate/decompress afterward?
This year was the first time we did our Math Bridge and First-Gen Connect programs completely online. I don't think I celebrated or decompressed. Once those projects are done, it’s time to move on to the next. We look at the data, look at the numbers, and say that was a really great event; let's celebrate that. We had significantly more students attend this year than last, when it was in person, and that’s exciting. I’m thankful for Allison Fox because she was really doing the day-to-day planning as I was looking at the big picture. These were truly two big programs that connected so many students to resources and I couldn’t have done it without Allison. These projects also really challenged us to explore the technology and use it to the best of its ability. We knew WebCampus, but I had never made a Panopto video until preparing for Math Bridge. Learning Panopto and getting students involved and engaged and showing up virtually every day in the summer, I feel that was a huge accomplishment.
Tell us a little bit about the transition of Academic Success Coaching from in-person to remote?
I am so thankful that we had spring break right as it happened. I had that week to really focus on how we were going to move everything online. I was also very thankful that we had the foundation of the MGM Coaching partnership program, which had been working with WebEx and virtual coaching. That foundation just needed to be implemented across all of our academic success coaches. There was also the logistics within Campus Connect to make sure students knew that their appointment was either going to be on the phone or on Webex and that they were not coming to campus. it was really a lot of communication — communication to the coaches from me, and communication to the students from the coaches on exactly how to have a virtual coaching appointment.
We've definitely evolved. We encourage students to meet on WebEx, even if they don't want to turn on their camera, because it allows the coach to share their screen and talk through coaching tools, or they can start a Google doc together and take notes. We’re also able to serve students at more varied times. Before, we would see students Monday through Friday 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. because that was when the building was open. Now, we get to serve students later in the evening and on the weekend. During a non-traditional time, that has really been a benefit of going virtual. I feel overall it was like a pretty smooth transition. I’m sure we'll keep it around, especially the expanded hours.
We know our faculty and staff can have a profound effect on their students, but tell us about a lesson you learned from a student.
I feel like it's really important to hear a student’s story. The lesson is to just hear them, to listen to them, and to understand where they’re coming from and where they want to go — know their story. It's easier to talk with them when you’re advising, coaching, or teaching and relate the content to them if you know their story. If a student looks tired in class and I know that student is working long hours to help pay family bills and fund their education, I am better able to work with the student and build a plan of support around everything that they have going on in life.
I consistently hear from students that they appreciate that I take the time to get to know them and to hear their goals and dreams for their life because it makes them feel like they're not just a number and that they truly are supported. If you can establish that rapport with a student, I think they're more likely to stick around, or if they can't stick around, they're more likely to tell you why they can't. That’s where we can improve as an institution — not letting these students slip through the cracks, but to really understand what they have going on. It’s important to know that they are facing things that we have no idea about and that sometimes a “one-size-fits-all” approach is not going to work.
How would you describe supervising almost 15 GAs remotely?
To be honest, it's been a wonderful experience. I am very thankful to work with GAs who are passionate and driven to be good at their job to support students and to help others. Yes, it is a challenge to work virtually and to connect with each other, but I feel fortunate that my team is willing to support each other. I truly feel that the quality of our work has not wavered. It just looks different. All 15 of my GAs show up, support their students, and get the job done, even without me watching from my office.
There have certainly been some difficulties. Without being in the Coaching Spot, the coaches can't turn to each other and bounce ideas off of each other in that immediate moment. What has worked for us is frequent communication. We used to only have coaching team meetings every other week and now we have them weekly, just to make sure we are all on the same page. Training videos have also worked well. I also think it's been a wonderful experience for me because I've created an environment where we can freely discuss challenges or confusions, but also celebrate moments of success.
What is your typical day like right now? What’s the same and what’s different from your normal day on campus?
I am getting less steps on my Fitbit! I talk with my family and friends about this, but really nothing has changed in terms of my workload. If anything, I'm working a little bit more now. When I'm working from home, I sit at my desk and work the entire day. Truly, a typical day for me is the same. I just don't have as much commute time. My day shifts between working with the Academic Success Coaches, planning for our Hixson-Lied Success Scholars, and talking with colleagues about programs. On a typical day we might be discovering ways to support and motivate students, especially now that this time is just so challenging for students.
I’m also troubleshooting a lot more technology issues than I ever did in the past. We host all of our academic success coaching workshops on WebEx Events and because I'm the main host, I'm the only one that can troubleshoot if something's not working. So I spend some time troubleshooting tech issues I never thought I would be able to do.
My day looks pretty much the same. It's just now I have some pretty awesome, fluffy co-workers with me — a black lab and goldendoodle.
How would you describe the one day you’re on campus each week?
It’s very quiet, but I also find it very refreshing to come to campus that one day. I just love that feeling I get when I'm walking on campus, even if it's just from the car to the office. It's a nice reminder that all of this is going to pass and that we're going to be full of students and campus life again.
I was thinking this morning, with not a lot of cars in the parking garage or people in the buildings, that they'll be full again. There's going to be the hustle and bustle of switching classes, and all the tabling outside of our building. We're going see it again. And so I think getting a chance to be on campus this one day a week gives me hope.
What has been the silver lining in all of the COVID-19 stuff for you?
I have my pups at work with me. It's been really fun to just get to be at home with the dogs all day. I have Dallas, who is 6 now, and I got her when she was just born and so up until March, she knew that I would go to work and then come home. I'd be away from her for nine hours and now I get to be at home with her all day, and it's really fun. With our new puppy, Emmitt, he doesn't know any difference. When life goes back to normal, it's going to be kind of interesting because he's never been alone for eight or nine hours.
I think that the real silver lining for me is just to get to be at home with the pups and more quality time with Donny, my significant other. It's been really nice to have more quality time together and work side-by-side. We're in separate rooms, but it's the first time that we both have a true sense of what each other does.
The ASC typically celebrates the holidays with a wreath of what we’re thankful for. What would you say you are thankful for right now?
I would say that I'm first thankful for my support system — my family and my friends. My family is my world and my drive to continuously do better. Experiencing the pandemic has been a nice reminder that time and frequent communication with family should be a priority. I’m also truly thankful for the team at the ASC, the leadership we have in the ASC, the support of the academic transitions and learning support team, and my team of GAs. Everyone has just made this a lot easier. We know that we have certain limits right now being virtual, but I appreciate everyone being able to support each other and really help each other. Without them, I don't think that this would be as pleasant an experience. I feel like we're in it together, even though we're not physically together.