Retiring Dean Leaves Legacy In SA Program

Lane Barton

Associate Dean of Students for Academic Support Services Clare Carson will retire at the end of the semester after 38 years working on campus. During her tenure, Carson helped create the Student Academic Advisors program that trains peer advisers to help each incoming class make the transition from high school to college.

But when the next batch of SAs begins working in fall 2014, Carson won’t be on campus to see them.

“I was planning to retire last year and I stayed on one more year to get kind of a transition … it’s been a wonderful number of years here,” said Carson.

Although Carson has not worked directly with SAs for a few years now, she was integral in founding what has become a staple of the Whitman experience. She and her colleagues first conceived of the idea of the SA program in 1977, shortly after Carson became the director of the Academic Resource Center, which was then called the director of the Student Learning Center. Their vision became an institutional reality in the early 1980s, after a few years of pilot programs.

The SA program was and continues to be centered around helping first-year students get through the rigor of college courses while providing a peer in the dorms who is easily accessible. It also hopes to give new students the tools to be self-sufficient in finding help once they leave residence halls.

SAs are assigned to live in a first-year section for the fall semester. According to Carson, the residential aspect of the SA program is what truly sets it apart from the tutoring and peer advising programs at Whitman’s peer institutions.

“Being able to merge an academic program with a residence life program was what I think made our program successful,” she said.

This sentiment is echoed by former SAs, such as senior Zoë Erb. She notes the benefits of having an experienced peer to confide in.

“The SA program is … one of the only programs like it around the country where we actually have mentors living in the first-year residence halls, and I think it’s really nice to be able to go [to] someone who’s not an adult,” said Erb, who is currently the ARC intern.

But while the unique idea of peer mentoring in a residence life environment was a contributing factor to the success of the program, Carson’s personal involvement and commitment to the SAs is something that reverberates through campus today. It will be missed by many after her departure, Carson’s coworkers say.

“She just provided incredible amounts of support to the SAs because she knew the job that they were doing was demanding … and she wanted to make sure that they knew that what they were doing was important and that they were making a difference,” said Program Coordinator of the ARC Mary Claire Gegen, who currently supervises the SAs. “So in that regard, Clare was making a difference.”

The impact Carson has had on Whitman College is widespread, ranging from the students that the SA program has aided, to the SAs benefiting from her support and guidance and even to fellow administrators like Gegen.

“Because of [her care for the program], I take my role very seriously and I realize the value and importance of what I’m doing for the college,” said Gegen.

Carson, however, deflects most of the attention from herself, citing the SAs themselves as the part of campus life that she will miss most after retiring. She notes that it is their contributions that have made the program successful and created a lasting legacy on the campus.

“We get students that come in and they are concerned about other students, and that makes it a really good place to work and study through the rigorous academic work that they have to do. It’s hard enough, but when you’ve got people helping you along the way, and students who care about you, it makes it a lot better,” said Carson.