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Meet... Yolanda Cooper

Center for Exploratory Studies advisor's jazzy workshop presentation earns regional honor.

Date: 1/23/2012
By: Tom Robinette Photos By: Tom Robinette
Yolanda Cooper knows sometimes it helps to be a little intrusive.

Retaining students is a key part of her job as assistant academic director of exploratory advising. It requires building in-depth relationships with students and what she calls “intrusive advising.” She compares it to going on a first date.

“Retention is key for us. Get ’em and keep ’em,” Cooper said. “When you go on that date, fall in love with me. You want them to be impressed so that they want to stay in the relationship.”
Yolanda Cooper, assistant academic director of exploratory advising, recently was honored for her workshop presentation at the National Academic Advising Association’s Great Lakes Region V conference in Bloomington, Ill.

That relationship can sometimes be a challenge to maintain. When students aren’t sure which educational path to take, they become exploratory studies majors in the McMicken College of Arts & Sciences. They might be interested in multiple areas of study, they might not have made it into a competitive program, or maybe they have no idea what they want to pursue. And there are a lot of exploratory studies students on campus – topping all other majors with more than 1,400 students in fall quarter. Cooper said helping these students find the right fit can be difficult, but she enjoys the opportunity to get to know them on a deeper level.

Cooper recently was honored for her enthusiasm and creativity in her work. Her workshop, “Advising with Pizzazz! Unique ways to Connect and Build Student Relationships,” was chosen as the best in region at the National Academic Advising Association’s (NACADA) Great Lakes Region V conference in Bloomington, Ill. The association promotes and supports academic advising in institutions of higher education. This spring’s conference featured more than 50 workshops and had more than 400 people in attendance.

Donnie McGovern, director of the Center for Exploratory Studies, said it’s the first time he remembers anyone at UC earning this recognition. He said Cooper’s personality contributed to her workshop being so well-received.

“She brings a real sense of energy and happiness to the office,” McGovern said. “(That’s) why this was a perfect session for her to present on at NACADA because it’s all about bringing a sense of joy to your work as an adviser, which can oftentimes be stressful. … She just brings fresh new ideas and a fresh new approach to advising that is unique to her.”

Cooper’s workshop highlighted some of the innovative programming at the University of Cincinnati. It stressed the importance of making students feel connected with their peers and advisors to improve retention rates. After her regional honor, Cooper was invited by NACADA to host her workshop at the association’s national conference in October in Denver, attended by more than 1,500 advising professionals throughout the country and featuring more than 200 workshops related to academic advising. There she was recognized for her honor and was presented with a plaque for her regional performance.

“This was my catch, ‘advising with pizzazz,’ because (conference organizers) wanted something different,” she said.
Her workshop was different from others in more than just name. Cooper said her hands-on approach helped her stand out. It’s a technique she’s used in her advising role at UC. When creating her workshop, she pulled ideas from some of the more interactive programs she uses at UC, such as her department’s cultural diversity training program.

“Our diversity training does not involve just meetings,” she said. “We go to places. We have gone to a mosque. We have gone to an Ethiopian restaurant. We have learned elements of the culture. That’s significant to us because now I can relate to a student. … It makes them more comfortable with us and more comfortable with their setting at UC.”

Another idea she borrowed for the workshop was the “talk show” format she recently implemented for student welcome week. By forming a diverse panel of university resources – and giving her best Oprah Winfrey impression – Cooper delivers a lot of valuable information to students while keeping them entertained.

“We have a panel of students. I may have somebody from judicial affairs. I may have somebody from parking, and I turn into Oprah,” she said. “Now I’m interacting with the students. We’re giving important the information, but we’re giving it to them in a fun way.”

Having fun is one aspect of Cooper’s knack for connecting with students. Embracing change is another. Advisors must continually adapt to new groups of students, trends and technologies. To that end, Cooper intends to make the CES welcome week talk show more interactive. And the Center for Exploratory Studies has begun using social media to reach out to students. Find it on Facebook and Twitter - or It’s an evolving strategy geared toward getting to know students beyond just an academic level. And it’s one that’s brought A&S and CES, some well-deserved attention.

“We’ve already been on the map, because we’ve had previous employees and current employees who’ve done so much,” she said. “It just helps us stand out to show that we’re still doing innovative and different things.”

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