Getting to Know SUNY Empire State College: Interview with Nikki Shrimpton
By Suzanne Lazar, student, SUNY Empire State College; editor, The Student Connection
October 6, 2016
The interview series “Getting to Know SUNY Empire State College” continues with Nikki Shrimpton, dean of undergraduate studies. Shrimpton’s role at the college has played an integral part in recent changes that put more of an emphasis on areas of study throughout the college. There is a clear message Shrimpton is sending, and it’s providing the best possible experience for student success, from the time a prospect makes his or her first inquiry about enrolling until he or she walks across the stage at commencement.
I had the honor and pleasure of talking with Shrimpton about her role as dean and the positive impact the new associate dean roles will have on all students at SUNY Empire. Here’s what she had to say:
Q: Can you tell me about your role at SUNY Empire and when you joined this educational institution?
A: I began at SUNY Empire in 1998 in Syracuse, N.Y. as a part-time faculty member and mentor in the areas of science, math and technology. In 2000, I took a full-time faculty position, until 2007, when a position as associate dean was created in central New York. I held that title for three years, then became the interim dean and then assumed the role as dean in Syracuse from 2011–2015. When President Hancock joined SUNY Empire, we began to collaborate and share ideas about enhancing what the college has to offer. One idea was to put more of an emphasis on the subject matter expertise of our faculty by area of study. This would give the faculty more opportunity to collaborate and create new programmatic opportunities for students.
As we started down the path of ESC 2.0, one aspect of my role was to hire associate deans for each disciplinary area.
Q: What are your long-term goals for the newly appointed associate deans?
A: There will be ongoing goals and initiatives, but in the immediate present, two things have priority. One is building opportunities for collaborating with faculty in that area of study and building a community of mentors spread across the state, which will provide more people in more places to reach students and fulfill their needs. We want to see whole groups work together. And, we are building more structured programs that can be presented to prospective students, as well as continuing to provide opportunities for students to design their own programs.
The other is to make sure there isn’t a separation into disciplinary groups; for example, science and humanities can be connected through integrated studies. It must be deliberate that associate deans all work together and collaborate across all areas with interdisciplinary programs to better suit the needs of our students.
Q: How will the new role of executive director work in concert with the dean’s office to make the college student-friendly?
A: We’ve created these executive director positions to help focus on retention and student support. Raising the profile of the people who are dedicated to doing that means that students will have a better experience. More reaching out to students will take place. Adult students in an independent learning environment are balancing a great deal and we want to make sure they feel connected and stay connected during their experience as a student. And, with these positions we’re building an integrated relationship between the associate deans, executive directors, myself and the Office of Enrollment Management. Each are key players in the success of student enrollment and retention.
Q: How do you define the new undergraduate (nontraditional)? How is that changing and what is the demographic?
A: The nontraditional is now the new traditional. It’s become a much larger segment than it was in the past in that with a larger percentage of younger students having to balance work, life and school, compared to adult students who do the same.
The nontraditional demographic overall at SUNY Empire has broadened, as we have a larger population of students coming in who fit the nontraditional profile. Students are more diverse. There is more competition for the market we’re in with other schools who are targeting nontraditional students, such as branches of traditional universities and colleges that offer traditional classroom learning, but with nontraditional hours, such as evening classes from 5 p.m.-9 p.m.
Currently, not many schools offer a hybrid of rich online courses and face-to-face modes of study, like SUNY Empire, and our cross-collaboration with associate deans, executive directors and the Office of Enrollment Management will reach more students who fit the nontraditional student profile.
Q: What do you want to tell students?
A: Students will have access to more and new learning opportunities. There will be more student events in all of the statewide locations, so whether a student chooses all online courses as a preferred mode of study versus students who regularly attend study groups and residencies, all will be invited to local events. We want to give students more awareness of opportunities across the college and open more doors to connect and collaborate.
Q: Is there anything else you would like to share or talk about?
A: We evolved in how we are configured and then took a step back to see how we can improve for our students. We are in a moment of creative genius and It’s an exciting time to be a part of the institution.