The story that highlighted student-athlete Shiara Robinson for the UK See Blue PR campaign is notable in what (and who) she emphasizes as responsible for her success in persisting at UK. Not only does she describe the supportive infrastructures at UK inside the classroom, but also the co-curricular and outside-the-classroom components of her academic career success at UK.
If seen as just a statistical probability in the UK retention databases, Robinson would be considered an “at risk” student. She’s from out of state – and persistence rates have been low for non-Kentucky residents at UK (see the Institutional Research retention website, table 2.5.1). Many at UK might also assume, because she is an athlete, she would miss too many classes to succeed – or that she had been recruited to UK for her prowess in track and not for her academic abilities. However, most of the staff at UK know and respect the professional academic tutors under the leadership of Bob Bradley, Director of the award-winning CATS. This support service was not featured in the video, but we can be assured that CATS staff have been crucial and among the many reasons Robinson persisted at UK to this point.
Robinson is also an African-American, and the University has traditionally not been successful in retaining African-American students (see the IRPE retention website, table 2.3.1. – while African-American men fare far worse at UK, only about half of the African-American women admitted to UK as first-time, first-year degreeseeking students tend to persist to Robinson’s level). Sadly, the University today still struggles from its segregationist past (see for example, the case of Eubanks v University of Kentucky). One might imagine then, that Robinson would mention the support she receives from the student services units under the administrative oversight of UK’s Office for Institutional Diversity. If she did, these went under the video editor’s radar. The visual images from the video do not correspond to any of these units either – choosing instead to focus only on her athletic endeavors or images from her home college: the the Gatton College of Business and Economics where she is a double major in marketing and management.
When Robinson speaks of her love for her classes in the Gatton College, there is a brief clip of the classroom in the above video showing the highly esteemed Professor of Economics, Dr. Gail Hoyt as she lectures in front of a large class. Dr. Hoyt was hired at UK in the tenure-track Special Title Series, and in 2005 she became full professor though not in the Regular Title Series. Many at UK might consider this an indication of a lesser status, however, for students and staff at UK her research in teaching and learning (and award-winning practices) has been invaluable. Here are only a few of her more recent publications from her c.v. available online:
- “Chicks Don’t Dig It: Gender, Attitude, and Performance in Principles of Economics Courses,” with Chris Bollinger and Kim Marie McGoldrick in Expanding Teaching and Learning Horizons in Economic Education (Nova Science Publishing, 2009).
- “Interactive Large Enrollment Economics Courses,” with Jennifer Imazeki, Mary Kassis, and David Vera in Teaching Innovations in Economics: Strategies and Applications for Interactive Instruction, editors Michael Salemi and William Walstad (Edward Elgar Publishing: Cheltenham, UK and Northampton, MA, 2011).
- Two articles in The International Handbook on Teaching and Learning in Economics that Hoyt co-edited with KimMarie McGoldrick, (Edward Elgar Publishing: Cheltenham, UK and Northampton, MA, 2012).
- “Engaging Large Enrollment Courses in Economics,” co-authored with Stephen Buckles and Jennifer Imazeki
- “Economics Teaching Workshops: Past, Present, and Future,” co-authored with Joab Corey and Jim Gwartney
This kind of active research on teaching and learning set within her academic discipline – and rewarded with publication in peer-reviewed settings, is of great value when Dr. Hoyt speaks in front of the classroom – and with academic staff and faculty about student success. She is also the co-coordinator for the college’s Lab for Economic and Accounting Proficiency which provides free tutoring to students in the principles level courses.
When Robinson spoke in the See Blue video about her gratitude for the excellent academic advising she has received at UK, the images they chose featured professional staff advisor, Matt Waitkus in B&E’s Undergraduate Resource Center. Matt has taken on leadership roles in student support services that are well-recognized across campus. He was interviewed for the 1G Initiative and admitted that coming to UK as a first-generation student himself was “a shock to my system” – a big learning experience. So as a professional advisor at UK now, he knows what it feels like to experience the culture shock most all of his advisees feel. He assures his students that while the classes at UK are terrific, “…the things that are going to make you a better person are the out-of-class stuff and UK has a lot of that…”
His role model for academic advising is his own former UK advisor, Dr. Betty Lorch, faculty in the Psychology Department who now is also the Associate Dean of Research and Graduate Studies in the College of Arts and Sciences. Dr. Lorch is a proponent for the role of liberal arts in the career goals of UK students – especially in connecting with research faculty. A highly respected researcher herself, she is also an award-winning educator, and she has been an important proponent for interdisciplinary and international studies. It’s easy to understand why Matt Waitkus, when an undergraduate student at UK, would look to Dr. Lorch as his mentor.
Waitkus’ warm humor and friendly demeanor is prized at UK, and he served as the elected chair of UK Advising Network. Examples of his self-effacing wit can be found on his @matticusUK Twitter feed: “My desire to look good in skinny, ironic-print t-shirts is at odds with my love for carbs, gravy, burritos, and naps” (24 June 2013). What student today wouldn’t love this kind of repartee via social media?
We agree with Amy Jones-Timony, the UKPR reporter who launched the See Blue video featuring Shiara Robinson, that there is much for us to learn from Robinson’s story. Jones-Timony writes: “From the community of students around her to her experiences in athletics to professors in the classroom, Robinson says UK helped her lay a foundation of success.” We know there are many talented and dedicated people at UK – professional staff and special faculty – who need to be celebrated and valued for their work in supporting students like Shiara Robinson.