Counselor, Storrs Campus
Listening is the key that helps advisor Patricia Harkins discover what each individual student needs to accomplish his or her goals. “I try to probe a lot to find what they’re interested in — what works well for them, what helps with their career plans,” said Harkins, Assistant Director of Bachelor of General Studies (BGS) and Non Degree Programs. When she counsels adult students at the Storrs campus, discussions can cover anything that might make the pathway to graduation easier, from big issues like weighing course load priorities to mundane “nuts and bolts” matters like library resources or avoiding campus parking hassles.
Harkins assures all of her students that they can succeed. Lack of confidence can be a concern for BGS candidates coming into the program wondering if they can handle the competing demands of work, family, and education. “They haven’t been in school for a long time, they’re not confident of their abilities, they have no idea how to do library research, they’ve forgotten how to write a paper – the whole gamut of challenges you would expect an adult student might encounter,” Harkins explained. She helps them work through these common worries practically, adding that she and her students stay closely in touch throughout the semester.
Harkins began her working career in banking, but a desire to teach persistently drew her away from the corporate world. “Probably the most crucial part of my background is the fact that I’ve been in school myself as a working adult almost nonstop for the last 15 or 16 years,” she said, recalling the stress of working while pursuing UConn graduate degrees. The experience left her with a great deal of empathy for her BGS advisees. “I walked their walk for many, many years. So when they say they’re struggling to get a paper written or they’re tired and they don’t want to go to class or it seems like it’s going to take them forever to finish, I know exactly what they mean — I used to think, ‘I am never going to finish.'”
After doing administrative work for UConn’s School of Business and Center for Continuing Studies, Harkins completed her studies in Adult Learning by working on a serendipitous project — a BGS Transitions Course developed to facilitate a return to college by adult students. “The whole purpose of my dissertation was to help students to return to college. I taught that course, I did my research on that course, and that’s also a really rewarding part of my job.”
Apart from Harkins’ work in the BGS program, she also counsels a select number of younger “traditional age” students who are attempting to resume their studies after dismissal from the University for academic reasons. Her charges are especially determined to succeed.
“In order for them to get back into the University, they have to come back as a non-degree student. That’s their only choice,” Harkins said. “I find that because they have done so poorly for so many semesters, they are really beaten down. They don’t see a lot of hope, their GPA has really taken a hit, they’re not sure what they should do, what to do, they don’t know who to talk to. They don’t even know how to go about getting back into the good academic graces of the University.” To reverse the decline, Harkins and her advisees meet weekly to analyze study habits, set immediate goals, and dissect academic history to discover and eliminate what was not working in the past. “We triage things out and we say, what can we work on to make you a more successful student?” Harkins said. The answers frequently involve better planning, enlightening students about available tutoring resources, and identifying study habit problems before they can accumulate to damage a student’s work. For students who are used to living on the academic edge, even completing course work in a timely manner can make a huge difference.
Harkins tries to keep her students focused and on track and feeling successful, so that they can reapply to the University and get readmitted. “It takes a lot of courage to come back and try again, so I try to support them in doing that as best I can,” she said.
Mentoring is also a rewarding part of Harkin’s life off-campus. She is involved with the Big Sister program and annually volunteers to help a Hartford high school senior navigate the process of getting into college.
Despite everything she has taken on, Harkins still finds time to enjoy fitness-related activities like running and yoga. “I’m a basketball nut,” she confessed. “I played on the UConn women’s team in 1975 and ’76 … that was a lot of fun!”