The Real World: Both College Students and Staff Work at a Distance

Times have changed and telecommuting is part of the working world today. In 2012, it was estimated over fifty million U.S. workers (about 40% of the working population) could work from home at least part of the time. In a more recent study in Inc. Magazine, the majority of telecommuters are men. However, just like our students who are at a distance, Diane Wild Smith and Rebecca Barringer work at a distance.

Wild Smith and Barringer explain how working at a distance as an academic advisor helps both of them relate better to their students. There are similarities in both working and being a student at a distance.

Excelsior Life: When did you start working for the college?

Wild Smith: I started in August 1984.

Barringer: I started in January 2004.

Excelsior Life: What was your role originally?

Wild Smith: I advised prospective and enrolled nursing students and was the Clinical Performance Nursing Examination (CPNE) Scheduling Coordinator.

Rebecca Barringer, a senior academic advisor.

Barringer: I started as an academic advisor in the School of Nursing.

Excelsior Life: What is your role today?

Wild Smith: I’m a senior academic advisor in the School of Nursing. I am responsible for working with Veterans Affairs NNEI scholarship students in the BS, RN-to-MS, and MS in nursing programs, and with their respective on-site VA Program Coordinators. In addition, I have a caseload of Associate Degree in Nursing and BS in nursing students.

In 1993, I received a certificate of merit for outstanding advising from the National Academic Advising Association (NACADA). I feel honored that I was recognized by Excelsior College and such a prestigious professional organization.

Barringer: I am a senior academic advisor in the School of Nursing, focused on student evaluations, program navigation, and assisting students with degree planning.

Excelsior Life: How did you get into advising?

Wild Smith (R) with 2013 VA Scholarship MS in nursing graduate, Lordanka Cruz.(L)

Wild Smith: I was working as a substitute teacher for North Colonie Central School District in upstate New York. I was also working part-time with adults in the North Colonie Continuing Education program when I heard about a full-time job working with adult learners at Excelsior College. I applied and was offered a career opportunity. I have loved advising adult learners so much, I never left the college.

Barringer: As a commuter and transfer student in college, I was always more in sync with the academic side of college than the student life side. As a result, I developed strong relationships with my faculty and academic advisors which led to an opportunity to intern in the Schenectady County Community College (SCCC) Advising Center.

I continued my education at Indiana University of Pennsylvania and graduated with my Master’s degree in Student Affairs in Higher Education. After graduation, I worked as a part-time advisor at SCCC for six months until I interviewed with Excelsior College. As a relatively young professional, I secured my first full-time position in academic advising at the college.

Excelsior Life: How did you transition from working on campus to working at a distance?

Wild Smith: I have worked 29 years for Excelsior College and 22 years were on site. For the last seven years I have worked at a distance in South Carolina. At first, the transition was tough. Being away from my friends and colleagues was the hardest part. I’m glad that I knew a lot of people from different units in the college. This had been a huge asset to me. In addition, I attribute my success in distance advising to my direct supervisor, Sandy DerGurahian, and my former team leader, Deb Hodge. These two women were my lifeline to the college – and Sandy still is!

Barringer: I have been with Excelsior College for 10 years and have worked from a distance for over 3 1/2 years. During my time onsite, although I loved working and interacting with my colleagues, I was very intrigued by the idea of working from a distance. Once this happened, I was able to stay connected with my peers and transition into my new role while working from a distance.

Furthermore, as a distance employee, I knew I would need to be extremely self motivated, disciplined and driven in order to be effective in this new role. In many ways, I think these qualities and characteristics are representative of what is needed of our students to successfully pursue education at a distance.

Collaboration and support is key to our success as distance employees, as well as to the success of our students learning at a distance. Yet on the other hand, it also is very important that a distance employee (or a distance education student), have a strong commitment to being self-directed and using of online resources.

Excelsior Life: Do you feel that having worked on campus, and now from a distance, helps you understand and advise the students better?

Wild Smith: Absolutely! I know firsthand what it’s like to learn new things without the benefit of face-to-face communication. Students often comment that I’ve helped them to learn what they need to know and they feel connected with the college – that’s my goal!

Valerie Robinson, 2008 VA NNEI scholarship winner with Diane Wild Smith.

Barringer: I believe my own personal and learning experiences in college prepared me to understand my Excelsior students. As a commuter/transfer student I was constantly juggling demands both inside and outside of college.

However, as a distance employee, I have come to more fully understand and relate to my students now. I have faced the challenge of setting boundaries and creating the lines that separate my home life from my work life to successfully meet the expectations of my job, supervisors and colleagues, yet also regularly achieve and maintain a healthy work, home and life balance.

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