By Erica Quinones
It was announced on Oct. 13 that Tya Pope, now-former assistant dean for curricular enrichment, entered her new role as assistant dean for student success.
Pope initially joined Washington College in 2016 as assistant director of Intercultural Affairs.
Before WC, Pope worked in community non-profits in Delaware where she was drawn to working with teens and young adults.
“[They] have really well developed personalities, and have decided either I care a lot about xyz, or I don’t care at all about xyz, and I’m going to tell you that. I think it’s the brutal honesty that has really drawn me to teens and young adults, because I’ve yet to run into a student [in that cohort] who hasn’t been honest with me about their feelings,” Pope said.
When she was looking for opportunities to join a college setting, Pope’s friend Laura Gibson, who was working at the College, encouraged her to apply for the assistant director position.
After two years as assistant director, Pope applied and became the assistant dean for curricular enrichment. This was an opportunity for Pope to see the collegiate process from a new angle while focusing on student internship experiences.
During this period, Pope also began considering new ways to increase retention rates with former Dean and Provost of the College Dr. Patrice DiQuinzio, especially over the spring 2019 semester.
“I really wanted to keep everyone happy and excited and wanting to check their email and not wanting to, you know, leave the school,” Pope said.
Entering this semester, Pope said that Interim Dean and Provost of the College Dr. Michael Harvey encouraged her to apply for the assistant dean for student success position.
“I just think it fits. It fits my skill set, my ambitions, I think it’s just a really nice marriage of working directly with students but also working behind the scenes, thinking about students from a different perspective,” Pope said.
In her new position, Pope works with the CARE response team to address student needs and concerns and oversees the academic resource centers, such as the Office of Academic Skills and Disability Services, the Quantitative Skills Center, and the Writing Center, according to the Oct. 13 email.
Regarding the CARE response team, Pope often works with students directly on issues of retention.
While the announcement of her transition came on Oct. 13, Pope has been working with students on retention for a few weeks.
“It’s been really interesting being able to have conversations and talk to them, understand what they’re feeling, understand what they’re going through, and why they’re making the decisions they’re making,” Pope said.
She added that sometimes when people are making tough decisions, it is helpful to have a conversation with someone who is not making them feel guilty for making that decision.
“If I were a student, I wouldn’t want someone being fake with me, I wouldn’t want someone trying to convince me that what I’m doing is wrong, but I’d be happy to hear their thoughts,” Pope said.
Pope’s other work with academic resources and administrative duties provides her an opportunity to improve student success from the back end while mentally resting herself.
“Sometimes you need that mental break, because I think sometimes the conversations I’m having in this role are really heavy,” Pope said. “The administrative side is also an opportunity for me to think about what’s getting in the way of students and how can I fix that…I get to tweak with things in the background.”
Entering this position during COVID-19 presents Pope with a unique challenge of addressing retention at a time when many students are faced with the challenge of learning online.
As such, Pope said mental preparation is one of her most important processes.
She reminds herself that this is a difficult period, that not everyone can learn online or in their home environment, and sometimes people need to step back.
Being sympathetic to those struggles and recognizing that “I can’t stop everything, I can’t fix everything,” is important for Pope. Rather, she focuses on “what I can change.”
Pope said that throughout this process, she grounds herself in her reason for being at WC, “that I love these students and I want to see them succeed, so what do I need to do to see them succeed?”
Pope says she wants to see students having a more active role with her position, asking how students can help others remain at the College and succeed.
One method she’s considered is creating a mentoring program, which is a goal Pope has held since her first position at the College when she established the mentoring program from the Washington Scholars.
Pope also wants her role to be one in which students seek her out, feeling comfortable enough to approach her with concerns.
“I would like to stop being reactive and be more proactive,” Pope said. “I want to stop putting out fires on the backend and help things grow on the frontend.”
Pope added that she wants to see her role become a resource for students.
“I want them to feel comfortable coming to me and feel confident that when they come to me, they’re going to get something out of it…I’ve taken their concerns seriously and done something with it,” Pope said.
Featured Photo caption: Tya Pope, after four years at Washington College, transitioned from assistant dean of curricular enrichment to assistant dean for student success, filling the role of former Assistant Dean for Student Success, which Andrea Vassar left vacant in February after accepting a new role at Temple University. Photo by Mark Cooley.