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Carol Tonge Mack Helps A&S Students Graduate on Time and on Target

UC's assistant dean of retention for the College of Arts & Sciences dishes on the favorite part of her job and the advice she gives students.

Date: 5/4/2017
By: Camri Nelson Other Contact: Julie Campbell
Other Contact Phone: (513) 509-1114
Photos By: Carol Tonge Mack
Since 2003, the University of Cincinnati College of Arts & Sciences' Assistant Dean of Retention, Carol Tonge Mack, has dedicated her time to coaching students and to helping them succeed.

What does your job entail?

“My main focus is to make sure that students stay engaged in their program and the college, and that they graduate successfully. I especially encourage students to utilize their academic advisors – that’s the key to staying on track to graduation.”

Tonge Mack also works with various student services not only to assist students with academic planning, but also to help students who may be struggling. These issues can be anything from assessing student misconduct, to helping students locate services that can help them with their financial needs.

Photograph of Carol Tonge Mack
Carol Tonge-Mack, Assistant Dean of Retention for UC Arts and Sciences

“It’s difficult for some students who come from a background of poverty or low socioeconomic status to continue through college because they may face barriers like family obligations, lack of resources, and money. These barriers can lead to unsatisfactory grades, ultimately preventing students from graduating.

“But,” Tonge Mack continued, “The University of Cincinnati College of Arts & Sciences is more than prepared to help students. If they are hungry, we have a pantry. If they need a job to help with finances, there are opportunities on and off campus to find jobs that still allow time for studies. It’s especially important to help these students have a plan, a focus and hope, because that will inspire them to push through any barrier they may be facing.”

You said that your grandma shared with you feedback that has stuck with you and helps you with your job every day?

“Yes, my grandmother told me very many years ago when I was growing up in Antigua that ‘No one is better than you,’ and until this day I believe that. I love challenges and I’m highly confident.”

If her grandmother was still alive Tonge Mack says that she would have been pleased with her. “She would have said God is good and he answers prayers,” said Tonge Mack. “I’m proud of you and I’ll continue to pray for you.”

You started your career at UC in the Exploratory Studies department. What was your role?

“I started my career at UC as the assistant director of the Center for Exploratory Studies. For seven years, I helped students discover their individual majors, minors or certificates. It was exciting for me to see the light bulb go off for a student as they discovered what it was they wanted to pursue and they declared their major.”

What set Tonge Mack apart from her colleagues was how she conducted her advising sessions. Prior to most meetings with her students she made the decision to not review their academic records unless there’s a major issue or meeting with the parents.

“I think sometimes you can pre-judge students, so I’d rather have students tell me everything that they think I should know,” said Tonge Mack.  “I want to be able to look at everything fresh, with a fresh lens.”

Through her approach Tonge Mack not only grew a rapport with her students, but she also helped her students successfully transition into permanent majors. Her innovative and strategic coaching led to her promotion in 2011 to Assistant Director of Student Retention Initiatives, and again in 2016 to Assistant Dean of Retention. She believes that it was her confidence and diligence that helped her earn her new role.

Lisa Holstrom, the senior assistant dean of the College of Arts & Sciences, can attest to Tonge Mack’s hard work ethic.

“Carol is one of the most student-centered people I know,” said Holstrom. “I love that she leads by example. UC, and A&S, are better places because Carol is a part of them.”

What’s the favorite part of your job?

“I love when students invite me to graduation. There is nothing like going to graduation and seeing a student walk across the stage. It allows me to appreciate the challenges that the student overcame in order to get there.”
Photo of Carol Tonge Mack with graduating students
Carol Tonge Mack (center front) with students

Devonna Gatlin, a PhD candidate at UC, is grateful to have Tonge Mack, in her life.

“She has become a great advocate for me in my career and future aspirations,” said Gatlin. “She may not know her impact, but I would definitely consider her as one of my journey partners and someone that has played an influential part in my life, academics, and my career journey.”
Along with meeting with their advisor, what other advice would you give students?

“Students should take advantage of opportunities to conduct research, do an internship or co-op, study abroad, or participate in any other opportunities that allow them to test and build skills and experiences. Doing these things at UC A&S will allow them to reflect on these experiences and understand how to translate this into talking points for future employers.”

Tonge Mack goes on to say, “It’s also important to enjoy the college experience. Once it’s over, there is no going back. Being here is supposed to be fun, it’s supposed to be exciting, and it’s supposed to be a learning experience.”

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