You’re a what?
Director of accelerated undergraduate programs
Janene Petrie — Frederick, Maryland
What do you do?
I advise students in a university’s accelerated undergraduate program. I help those who have some college education but didn’t finish their degree for whatever reason. From their first inquiry to graduation day, I guide them toward completing their bachelor’s degree.
I evaluate their transcript, or transcripts, and we work together to develop a plan for the student to complete their degree. Having a plan makes the student’s decision to finish their degree easier, because they know how much time it actually will take.
I also actively recruit students. I attend transfer fairs at local community colleges and host open houses and instant-admissions events. And I make admissions decisions.
Do you work only with students?
I also have administrative duties, and for a large portion of those, I’m collaborating with other professionals. There are many committees at work in a university, and we learn from each other.
Teamwork is vital in making sure that each student is taken care of: documenting transcripts happens with the registrar’s office, communications to students are generated through the admissions and marketing offices, and scheduling classes involves program managers and deans. Knowing whom to contact and how to help students are part of being an administrator in higher education.
Describe a typical day.
Much of my day consists of replying to emails from students who have scheduling or advising issues. I let prospective students know which credits transfer, how to apply to the university, and how to enroll in the program. And I help students register for classes.
It’s not unusual for me to be advising a student, attending recruiting events, checking transcripts, answering emails, and discussing scheduling with program managers, all in one day.
What’s your educational background?
I have a bachelor’s degree in communications and literature. After earning my degree, I worked as an admissions counselor. I knew then that I wanted to make higher education my life’s work, so I completed a master’s degree focusing on student development.
What skills or qualities are helpful for your work?
People in higher education who work with students need to have very good organizational skills. You must be an effective communicator. And you must love helping people move toward their goals.
Tell me what you like best about your job.
I enjoy developing relationships with the students that I meet and advising them through the journey of earning their degree. I also like making students feel comfortable and encouraging them to realize that a degree can be attainable. But the best part of the job is seeing the students who never thought it was possible to graduate walk across the stage at commencement and turn their tassel.
I love the student success stories: The single moms who are struggling to make ends meet yet are able to complete their degrees. A 60-year-old woman who completed her degree in business. The executive who runs a business and manages people with Ph.D.s but who didn’t have his own degree until finishing our program. These stories are inspirational.
What’s your biggest challenge?
It’s hard to see students who are so close to degree completion stop the program. For them, life while being a student proved to be too taxing with so many responsibilities. I always have hope that they’ll return after a pause in their momentum. I encourage students by telling them that with hard work and perseverance, they can complete their degree.
Do you have advice for someone aspiring to work in your occupation?
Get as much experience as you can, in as many aspects of higher education that interest you: admissions, advising, career placement, residence life. All of these areas are wonderful and fulfilling if you want to work with student development.
Jennifer Chi, "Director of accelerated undergraduate programs," Career Outlook, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, September 2019.