HENRIETTA GENFI, PH.D.
PROVIDING FULL-SERVICE SUPPORT FOR STUDENTS’ ACADEMIC SUCCESS
“‘You know we are not a school that waits for you to ask for help to do things. If you even lift your foot to take a step toward us, we will have 15 people running toward you to help you.’ It’s really true!” says Henrietta Genfi, Ph.D., of the sentiment a colleague shared with her. Genfi is the associate dean of academic support in the Academic Success Center, a campus full-service support area for students that provides free tutoring, a writing center, accessibility services and professional advising. “We have the support programs that are specialized but we [also] have academic coaches that are available to all students … everybody needs help sometimes,” says Genfi.
Since the pandemic, Genfi and her staff have added two new programs after seeing the learning loss high school students experienced from the disruptions of going virtual for classes and back to in-person. “They were not learning in the same way and therefore not retaining information in the same way,” Genfi says. Nexus (Network for Excellence and Undergraduate Success) and SOAR (Student Outreach and Academic Resources) are programs for students with special needs. Nexus serves at-risk students, who meet with an academic coach at least six times a year, attend six workshops on topics such as motivation and procrastination and have tutoring specific to their major. The SOAR program is for students with neurological and language-based disabilities. It goes beyond academic support, encouraging students in social engagement—“how to talk to people, how to make friends, how to talk to your professors,” explains Genfi.
The center also prides itself on employing students as tutors and peer advisors, providing good job experience and that “peer-to-peer connection,” Genfi says. Recently the center added a statistical analyst role, “perfect for a business or math major,” a person who looks at the data from the office, and a student manager, who works with the programming director on event coordination.
Genfi’s passion for academic advising started when she was a graduate intern while at the University of Pennsylvania. After earning her master’s in psychological sciences (already holding a bachelor’s in English literature and cultural anthropology from SUNY Plattsburgh), she went to work at Bentley College in Massachusetts, where she was very happy with her job. “I remember saying to my boss at that time, ‘I’m going to be an academic advisor forever.’ He said, ‘No, you will aim higher.’” The supervisor mentored her, opening the door for her to develop programming for students and direct peer advising. She experienced “the difference students mentoring students makes and how wonderful those connections can be.” Genfi joined the Caldwell team seven years ago. This past year she achieved another milestone, earning her doctorate in educational leadership; her dissertation focused on the influence of mental health disclosure on advising practices. The inspiration for the research, she says, came from her experience, starting from when she was a young professional academic advisor and noticed students would tell her about their anxiety, depression or other mental health issues. “What I was noticing was there is so much more that affects students than just academics. I wondered why they were telling me as an academic advisor
and not speaking to a mental health counselor.” The reason, she found, was because students’ mental health affects their academics. Genfi has incorporated her findings into her work at Caldwell, aiming to make sure her staff members feel supported so they can support students in a myriad of ways and connect them with resources. They all want to do the best for Caldwell’s students. “It bolsters me because I think, ‘You know I’m in a community of like-minded individuals who have the same goal, the same faith and passion I do.’”
Studying in the doctorate program has given her opportunities to hear from professionals in K-12 and learn more about problem-solving and collaboration, knowing there are multiple perspectives and “how everybody contributes to a solution.” She takes those insights into her work now in the center.
Genfi and her team are happiest when students achieve their own academic successes, utilizing the resources that are available to help them reach their individual potentials and work hard to pursue their educational goals. Being in leadership, Genfi does not often meet with students one on one, and if she does “it is usually when they are in dire straits.” Seeing those students get the support they need, move forward and flourish is rewarding especially as she watches them walk across the stage at graduation to receive their diplomas. As she says, “Working with students is such a rush. I don’t ever need to go skydiving!”