Put Knowledge to the Test

The semester has been an interesting transition because I enrolled in the Clinical Leadership Laboratory class prior to knowing anything about a potential leadership position in my future. The class has coincided with a career change as I moved from the Communications Coordinator to the Assistant Director for Academic Coaching & Success. My previous experience with students who require developmental education courses, first-generation students, and students of color proved to be beneficial in the direction of student success at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi; however, there was one thing I was not completely prepared for – applying what I know about change management. Two weeks before I was set to start working in my position, I emailed my new staff of 2 to introduce myself.

On my second day at work, I went into an employee’s office who I approved to be off for one week before I started to deliver their StrengthsFinder book and welcome them back. They said thank you, and then they said, “I am leaving. I have personal things I need to take care of and some family things and I think now is the best time to make my exit. And, you can build your team the way you want to.” I am analytical so while this person believed their explanation of personal situations was the reason they were leaving, I immediately thought it was because they did not want me to be their supervisor. I shared that I understand and I always tell people they need to make the decision that is best for them. Then I asked what their last day would be, I was thinking of the end of the semester, but they surprised me with October 1st (which was one week away). I said, “ok, I will schedule some time for us to meet over the next week so you can share with me what you do.” They said ok and then put in vacation time for the remaining days of their time. So essentially, they quit. They dumped files into a OneDrive folder called “Transition” and shared it with me and two other people.

I had several things racing through my mind about why they quit: one reason was that they applied for the position and did not get the position and they were temporarily in the office that would be my office. As a person that cares about relationships, I actually contemplated not having them move offices and me taking a smaller office at the other end of the hall. But I think that was also me caring more about them than what the office and title symbolize for me. After reading Who Moved My Cheese in my early adult life I learned early that not everyone accepts and moves through change at the same rate. The week before I officially started, I approved for them to be out due and I even put together a “get well, self-care” basket with items that I delivered before they were off. Side note: They left behind the StrengthsFinder book. I chose not to push back on my approval of the days off and let them leave so I could do exactly what they said, create my team, and move on.

While all of this was happening I was in the midst of a hiring process to hire one more Academic Success Coach so we would have a total of 3, but with this new information my new hire would be my second Academic Success Coach and I would need a third coach, again. My experience with the hiring process was not the best. I was questioned several times by the Director of Compliance regarding my selection. I used a matrix, which was provided by Human Resources (HR). The matrix was submitted and approved by HR prior to me extending interviews. I was concerned during the process because one of the applicants, for which the position was posted and closed prior to the position I recently obtained was closed, was one of my former student employees. I interviewed 3 applicants, all three former employees of TAMU-CC. I was questioned with the following:

What constitutes “extensive” for advising students and at-risk student experience? Also what are “elaborate” written communication skills?

I emailed HR back asking what was the above questions in relation to because after reviewing my justification for the selection I did not see that language used. The person in compliance who questioned me stated it was in the matrix. There was a 6 email ping pong regarding the matrix and rating at which time my supervisor had to jump in and state that is the matrix provided by HR with the rating scale and that is what is universally used across campus and it has never been questioned (which that person just posted and hired 6 people within a 2-month period). I was in disbelief that an entry-level position solicited so much attention to the candidate to the point it made me question if it was because I was black in a leadership position selecting new hires. Then I started to think back to my 13 years of experience on this campus and never have I heard or seen anyone questioned in their hiring decisions when the person was white and people hire family members all the time. Once it was revealed that HR created the matrix, then I was questioned on

Have HM specify how they quantify/score extensive.   How many years equals extensive?  Or was it just a subjective determination? 
What is the difference between excellent and elaborate?  How do you know when it is elaborate?  Again, how is this quantified or is this merely subjective. ?

I was in disbelief as was HR reps, my supervisor, and at this point, I included John LaRue. Mr. LaRue coached me in my response to the person questioning my selection, which I did include he was aware of. My supervisor jumped in yet again to provide insight. The response was, “the hiring manager needs to respond to the question.” Internally, I was frustrated, upset, and felt targeted. No one could understand where or why I was being questioned. All I could do was think, “do others experience this type of hiring scrutiny and questioning? Is it because I am black? Is it because I am young? Is it because I am a woman in a leadership position? The final response was, “move forward without my approval.”

After going through this experience and knowing I was still down a third Academic Success Coach I learned about a temporary hire process which allowed me to hire someone for up to four and a half months without needing compliance approval. I took that option because I needed to focus on students and building a coaching program. My role involves taking two separate programs and bringing them together under one umbrella of academic coaching – TSI and conditional admits which were handled by the person that quit and then Academic Collegiate Excellence (ACE) students who have a TAMU-CC GPA under 2.0 and are on probation 1, probation 2, or returning from suspension. Both people operated independently of one another and had processes independent of each other, even though their student populations were aligned and they shared the same students.

This is where I see my strength as strategic comes in because I took a step back and started to run data, cohort information and look for strategies to bring cohesiveness among both areas and their functions. Moving into the spring semester there will not be one person over TSI and conditional admit and one person over ACE students, but the Academic Success Coaches will be assigned a college and work with students within that college regardless of attribute [TSI, conditionally admit, Viking Islander Program VIP, or ACE]. Making a shift mid-semester is difficult and I soon realized I had to go into triage mode and handle most critical functions on a day-to-day basis. In the back of my mind the entire time, I still carried this feeling of being criticized as a leader with people waiting for me to fail. This caused me to stay up late with work and schoolwork and wake up early to prepare for work and balance my new life as a single mom getting the kids ready for school on my own. During the day, I was training my new staff and meeting with students, and having meetings with key departments. At night, I was doing my administrative role and creating the framework for what will become the Academic Coaching Program. What I found while working at night was the justification of why the person put in their notice and used vacation time for the remaining days, so they essentially quit. There was no mechanism in place to track student meetings, student progress, process on how to lift TS holds or CN holds for students so they can drop or register. Essentially, if there was ever an audit, we would have nothing to support student retention efforts, WEAVE, or process for allowing students to register for classes.

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