KUDOS: Center for Academic Success and Achievement (CASA)

KUDOS: Center for Academic Success and Achievement (CASA)

KU’s University Relations (UR) office has implemented a staff and department recognition feature. KUDOS, Kutztown University’s Dedication to Outstanding Service, focuses on university administrative departments and the individuals within them, giving the campus community a better look inside many of the working areas on campus.

This week, we sat down with KU’s Center for Academic Success and Achievement (CASA) to get an inside look at the dedicated individuals who support students by helping them develop the academic skills necessary to take full advantage of the educational and personal growth opportunities the university offers.

UR: Can you introduce yourselves and tell us how long you’ve been with KU?

AK: My name is Dr. Andrea Kirshman, this is my 32nd year at Kutztown University and I’m the associate provost for Retention and Student Success.

VR: My name is Valerie Reidout, I’m one of the coordinators for Student Success in CASA and I just finished my 35th year at Kutztown.

NB: My name is Nancy Brynildsen, I am the administrative professional for CASA and Academic Enrichment and I’ve been here for 14 years.

LG: My name is Lana Gonzales and I’m the graduate assistant for Evening Programs and First-Generation Initiatives at CASA. I graduated from KU in 2018 with a B.S. in psychology and am currently pursuing a master’s degree in school counseling with licensure track.

KH: My name is Kurtis Haynesworth, I’m a CASA student leader and I’m in my junior year.

JE: My name is James Eskra, I’m a CASA student leader and I’m in my senior year.

UR: What is your department’s role and mission at the university?

AK: CASA’s role is to work with students to develop the academic skills and dispositions necessary to be successful. The staff meet with students one-on-one and offer workshops to help build and enhance those skills.

VR: At CASA, our primary mission and role is to assist all students in building the academic skills necessary to be successful in the classroom. We do this by meeting with students to developing academic success plans and workshops. For example, some of our main workshop requests are time management, note-taking and reading strategies. Essentially, just how to be successful and use those skills in the classroom.

NB: CASA helps students develop an academic plan and connects them with resources, like our coordinators for Student Success, to help them get on track and stay on track. We’ll help any student who needs it and we’ve never turned anyone away.

UR: Can you explain your department’s staff make-up and responsibilities?

AK: I currently supervise the Department of Academic Enrichment, CASA, Tutoring Services, the Career Development Center and our grant-funded programs ACT101, TRIO and Upward Bound. All of these different departments focus on student success from different perspectives.

VR: At CASA, there are two Coordinators for Student Success. Our primary role is to meet with students one-on-one to provide personalized academic support. In addition, we go into classrooms and provide workshops and presentations on different student success strategies, as well as offer various academic success programs around campus. We also are involved in the freshman Connections program, so we get the opportunity to briefly meet with all the freshman to discuss our services. Our programs are run out of both locations CASA Main Office in the Rohrbach Library and the CASA Student Success Center in Deatrick Hall.

NB: My responsibilities are to support CASA’s professional staff. I schedule appointments for students, collect and input data, assign students to coordinators and send communication concerning student referrals, among other things.

LG: I work in the CASA Success Center on the residential side of campus in Deatrick Hall, which is our satellite office that is open for nontraditional hours; specifically, we’re open 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and on Fridays from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. While our location is geared toward students living on campus, we’re open to any student. I’m in charge of all evening programming for CASA, so I put on programs, provide presentations, set up tabling around campus and perform outreach to let students know what CASA is and what they can use us for. I also present for the Student Success workshop series on Tuesdays and Sundays, which concern topics like time management, test taking skills and studying skills, among others. Additionally, I assist with our Success Academy in the summer and am in charge of the first-generation interest housing community in Deatrick.

KH: As a student leader, I help students in a variety of different areas. If they need academic help, I try my best to guide them to the right resources, like our workshops, as well as guide them to the best areas for social engagement and staying in the loop concerning what’s going on on campus. 

JE: Student leaders are often in the CASA office or are out taking part in various social or academic programming on campus. For example, in Deatrick we often have seminars on test taking tips and strategies; I generally take part in most of those sessions.

UR: How does your department serve students and the campus community?

VR: Student success is a part of everyone’s mission and role here, but it’s especially key to our office and our mission. We’re making sure that students are not only successful in the classroom, but are also aware of all the campus resources. Our primary focus is on making sure that students are developing and enhancing the appropriate skillsets to be great students here, but we also maintain strong relationships with the other offices so that we can refer students to the office that best meets their need for assistance.

NB: We offer student success workshops and programming throughout the semester to get students involved, as well as reach out to faculty to schedule classroom visits and presentations on time management, study habits or study skills.

UR: What are the points of pride in your department?

AK: One of the basic threads that runs through all of the departments I supervise is how much the staff genuinely cares about our students. Often times, we find ourselves doing things that might not be in our job descriptions to support students. We understand that for many students, even students who are commuters, Kutztown is their home; lots of things can come up at home. Sometimes we’re not necessarily always talking about classwork, but other connections to campus resources that are really important for students. Certainly, we’re also proud of the college students. I wouldn’t do what I do, love my job and have been here as long as I have if it wasn’t for them. During my undergraduate career, I did an internship when I was a nursing home administration major; I eventually realized that death and dying wasn’t for me, so my advisor sent me to the career center to figure out what I wanted to do. Lo and behold, I found out I wanted to work in a career center and got my master’s degree in student affairs. The funny part in reflecting back on that is that I was in the ‘right church, wrong pew’ scenario. I am an administrator and I’ve had the interest in administration for a long time – I just had to find the right place to support that interest. I’ve been blessed to work at KU not only at the Career Development Center, but also as head of the Connections Orientation program. Working in my current position brings together both of those pieces and has always focused on students being successful.

VR: There are so many! CASA is here to help and support all students. For me helping students is who I am as a person and not just a part of my job! CASA has been around six years so long enough to see students walk across the stage and graduate. It’s so gratifying to see those students who we remember working with as freshman that were really unsure and maybe not as developed, or receptive to our advice mature, blossom and grow into the amazing students we have here. It’s very rewarding to receive both written and verbal acknowledgment from the students I have worked with that meeting with me in CASA helped them reach the end goal of graduation!

NB: Kutztown is a great place to work. Each department works together and I think we all work well together as a team in the office. I love that we’re able to maintain a positive atmosphere for students.

LG: In CASA, we just want students to do well and succeed, so we take pride in giving them tips on how to be successful. Many of the students who meet with our coordinators are doing well – you don’t have to be doing poorly in classes to use the CASA resources. I personally take pride in teaching students how to manage their time since college is a new atmosphere. Even if we can’t help students, we’re able to refer them to someone on campus who can.

KH: Overall, our pride comes from the end of the semester when students come in and tell us how much we helped them. A lot of our students are nervous, especially the incoming freshman, due to the fact that this is their first time being on their own. We try to lead those students who do reach out to us to be the best that they can be, and then they come back to thank us.

JE: In our department, everyone I work with loves to see struggling students utilize our services to help them sort things out. We’re happy when our students are happy and quite frankly that’s why I like my job and my co-workers.

UR: What would you like people to know about your department that they may not know already?

AK: I think the most important thing for people to know is that the students who come to CASA aren’t always students who are struggling in their academic experience here. It’s not always necessarily about academic skill development; sometimes its about having a person who’s willing to listen and check in with you, someone for you to bounce ideas off and make sure you’re on the right track.

VR: The first thing is that we work with all students: freshman, sophomores, juniors and seniors. We’ve even helped some of our graduate students. We’re all about helping any student here be successful. The second is that some of our strongest students academically are those who come to seek our services. We’re here to serve students from all majors, years and academic standings.

NB: Some departments may not really know about what we do or our process of how we help students. We hope that if faculty or staff see students who are struggling, they refer them to us even if they’re not familiar with how we operate. Even if we can’t help students, we are willing to find someone who can.

LG: A lot of people don’t know that in both our library and Deatrick Hall locations, you can just walk in. If you’re having a rough day, are feeling unorganized or have a question, you can just walk in – no appointment necessary. If an appointment needs to be made, we’ll make one; but if not then we’ll gladly help you on the spot. We also have plenty of free resources that many students don’t utilize because they don’t know about them. Some of these include free scantrons, handouts on success strategies and our academic calendar, which lays all 16 weeks and success tips out for you.

KH: CASA can help with more than just academics. We have workshops that aren’t directed toward education, like the workshops we offer concerning anxiety. We’re also a resource that can lead you to other resources, like the tutoring center.

JE: We’re located in 26 Rohrbach Library, which a lot of people tend to have issues finding. On top of that, we always tell students that they can come to CASA with any questions because everyone here has a wide variety of knowledge and experience.

UR: How can the campus community learn more or become involved with your department?

AK: We put forth quite a bit of information, whether it’s the weekly success tips or our outreach to faculty and staff about workshops offerings and CASA in general. If they don’t know, give us the opportunity by reaching out to us or inviting us to come and talk. A simple email saying, ‘I’d like to know more’ will always generate a response from us to provide that information. We can’t be helpful if people don’t know what we do or what to use us for.

VR: We have a wealth of information on our website. In the website components, we have a whole section of resources for students, as well as a list of resources for faculty and list of campus resources. We also invite anyone to come over to the center; our main office is in the Rohrbach Library lower level, room 26. In addition, we’re very proud to deliver services on the residential side of campus in CASA Student Success Center in Deatrick Hall.

NB: We have a lot of signage on campus that gives students information about our department. Every week, we also post success tips around campus and put up event posters to let students know that we want them to participate in what we have to offer.

UR: What’s your favorite thing about your KU experience?

AK: I feel very blessed to work on such a beautiful campus and with such amazing students, faculty and staff. I love parking my car in the morning and getting to walk on campus and see the students, especially in the spring when the flowers start to bloom. It’s a good place to be and where so many good things are happening. I also personally think it’s pretty unique that I’ve been able to have three distinctly different careers without having to leave KU.

VR: I have a long history here. I hold two degrees from Kutztown and had the pleasure of getting employed here after I graduated in the undergraduate Admissions Office. Kutztown has been my life for so long and I take pride in the fact that we have such amazing students, faculty and staff here. I truly and completely believe in this university.

NB: The atmosphere. I love that everyone wants to help the students and we all work together to help students maintain a positive attitude, even if they are coming to us because they’re overwhelmed or need help.

LG: I love that I’m able to connect with current students both because I was a student here during my undergraduate years and still am as a graduate student. I’m also a transfer student, so I feel like I’m easily able to connect with different types of students and build positive relationships with them. A big part of my job is all about making these connections and letting students know that while I’m considered an authority figure, I’m also there because I know what they’re going through and can empathize with them. I love KU and the campus community so much that I stayed here.

KH: Second to my major and learning more about psychology, I’d have to say it’s getting involved in different leadership positions. Not only am I helping others, but I’m also learning more about myself and helping Kutztown grow as a community. 

JE: As a student leader, it’s being able to help other students. Personally, it’s interacting with my professors and gaining as much knowledge as I can from them.

UR: What does “It’s Good to be Golden” mean to you?

AK: It’s a point of pride and something that everyone can feel good about. There are a lot of things to be proud of: arts, sciences, liberal arts, education, business. There’s so much here that’s good – that’s golden.

VR: You can shine “Golden” at Kutztown regardless of where you come from and who you are. There are so many opportunities here and if you don’t find one you like, you can create it yourself. The resources here can help you develop and grow into an amazing person and prepare to go wherever you want. I get excited when I come to work every day; it’s such a special place.

NB: It’s good to be a part of the Kutztown community whether you’re a student, faculty member or staff member. You get to meet all different types of people and grow as a person. I think I’ve even grown as a person working here and I like seeing the difference between when a student first comes to us and when they walk across the stage at graduation.

LG: I love that I’m an alumna, staff member and student all in one. My life is Kutztown, so it’s good to be golden means that I’m proud of where I came from and I’m happy that both of my degrees will say Kutztown. If I didn’t love it, I wouldn’t be here.

KH: It means that it’s good to shine and be the best that you can be.

JE: It means that you’re getting the highest quality experience academically and socially within a community.


KUDOS is published twice monthly by the office of University Relations. All issues can be found at www.kutztown.edu/KUDOS. For questions or more information, please contact University Relations at UR@kutztown.edu.