There is little to nothing that the director of student services thinks she “has” to do. She does, however, “get” to do exactly what she loves with exuberance.
April Hamlin doesn’t proceed through her days with of a sense of obligation, but rather a buoyant joy, the infectious kind that brightens a space and likely the days of many students and co-workers. This would seem counter-intuitive for someone who, in fact, has a virtual laundry list of roles to play and things to do on campus. “So far this morning,” she says, “I’ve been working on a grant that provides services for our program, I’ve worked on a drug and alcohol program annual review and I’ve visited the services here in the Student Center to do some advising.”
With 12 vacancies in Student Services at the time of this writing, Hamlin’s priority is to fill those job positions. “It’s one of the big things that have been really driving my energy and attention right now,” she says. Otherwise, she has leadership roles in many departments including the Trio program, Student Life & Campus Engagement, Financial Aid, Admissions and Enrollment, Advising, Counseling Services, Testing and Accessibilities. “I’m also the campus diversity officer, and Title IX deputy coordinator,” she says, without the slightest hint of being overwhelmed.
Education was an unexpected field that Hamlin didn’t initially pursue. “In grade school, I wanted to be an astronaut,” she says, “and then in high school I wanted to be a music therapist; I was going to double-major in psychology and music.” By the end of college, however, she wasn’t so sure about those choices. “I feel so blessed I fell into education,” she says, “it wasn’t on my radar.”
The kind of work she had done prior to UCC provided her with a solid foundation for her present duties, even if the path was unintentional. She spent eight years in youth special education with the Bend-LaPine school district and later went on to be the director of the adult basic skills development at UCC’s Wooley Center, where she took part in G.E.D. preparations, high school diploma programs, English learning and college/career planning for over five years. “It’s kind of a microcosm (of services) here on the main campus,” she says.
Hamlin likes to think of herself as an “agent for change,” and this is even reflected in some of her earliest work. “I did about 10 years in juvenile corrections,” she says. “What I loved is that I worked in both Deschutes and Douglas counties where restorative models of juvenile justice were practiced. Instead of just putting kids in detention,” she says, “we would work with them to find out what was really going on.” During this period she also worked in prevention programs for girls believed to be high-risk for future infractions, headed work crews, led 30-day programs and was involved with behavioral rehabilitative services.
The leadership and supervisory skills she has gained aside, Hamlin believes her most recent duties as a grant development writer have prepared her well for her current position. “I was really blessed because I got to work really closely on several federal grants. I worked with the Upward Bound team on the renewal of their federal grant.”
A recent concept that has entered the national conversation among community colleges also has her excited: “I got to do a lot of work last year with Guided Pathways, a new direction community colleges are looking at in terms of promoting a holistic approach to student success,” she says “and success being measured by completion.”
Though not prescriptive (every college will have to make their own adaptations), Guided Pathways is an idea that aims to hopefully offset some of the dismal statistics regarding college completion. Many students are very clear about their academic and career goals when enrolling, and a reduction of studies unrelated to those specific goals may encourage some to complete their education. “If you have a place that you are aiming at, a place to land,” she says, “we can help you land in the least amount of time”. If students arrive hoping to find a direction, Hamlin indicates that is still perfectly OK. “It’s not about limiting options,” she says; “it’s about defining paths so that you know exactly what you need.”
Part of what keeps Hamlin grounded, healthy and happy is a simple philosophy. She says she could be doing one of many things, but “gets” to be where she is. “One of the ways I think self-care manifests itself is (in) always having a Plan B in mind.” she says, “Have some other thing that you could be doing for your job. I could be a massage therapist (she has been licensed for 16 years), but I don’t want to do that. I get to be the dean of student services. I’m not a victim of my choices.”
Hamlin credits her parents for being her biggest inspirations. “My mom finds treasures in the most mundane places,” she says, “we go for walks and she still picks up rocks and shiny things and is super delighted by it. I want to be somebody who finds treasure in my life, whether it’s in relationships or something shiny off the street.” Her dad, a minister in Hamlin’s youth, also modeled the way for her. “He always had a calling, and I feel like I’ve got a calling. I may have stumbled onto the path, but here’s where I’m supposed to be.”
One of Hamlin’s favorite quotes is from composer Leonard Cohen who once said: “There’s a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.” Perhaps her own, born of the moment, is just as good: “Walk the path you’re called to and look for treasure on the way.”