Sara Montiel, Advising and Retention Coordinator for the College of Education and Human Development (CEHD), was the first person I ever spoke with at George Mason University. She made quite an impression with her knowledgeable, friendly demeanor. I was instantly put at ease and knew that if Mason employees were like Sara, then this was the place for me. As it turns out, Sara makes that positive impact everywhere she goes, and her next endeavor will surely be no exception. In January, she will be joining the School of Integrative Studies as their new Assistant Director of Student Services. The CEHD Office of Student Affairs (SAA) wanted to pause and highlight Sara’s contributions to the College before we bid her farewell. While it’s a challenge to get Sara to stop working long enough to chat, especially about her accomplishments, I was fortunate enough to pin her down to answer a few questions.
Yoder: In 2017, you celebrated your tenth year here at Mason. Tell me about your Mason career up to now.
Montiel: In my ten years at Mason, five have been with the Department of Psychology where I served as the Undergraduate Program Coordinator but truly dipped my hand into many different aspects of higher ed. My interest in developing a career in higher ed had its roots in the wide variety of work I did in that office. Simultaneously, I was also pursuing my master’s in educational psychology from CEHD which further developed my interest in the field of higher education and spurred me to obtain a graduate certificate in higher education administration shortly after graduating with my MS. My most recent five years have been split between serving as an academic advisor in the Center for Academic Advising, Retention & Transitions and as CEHD’s Advising and Retention Coordinator. During the past three years I have also been a doctoral student in CEHD, specializing in higher education with a secondary emphasis in educational psychology.
Yoder: Tell me about your new position and how it aligns with your goals?
Montiel: I am joining the School of Integrative Studies to serve as the new Assistant Director of Student Services. This is a great opportunity for me because it will allow me to continue doing what I love – working with and advising students in academic difficulty, and add a new element I’m really excited for, which is having an academic teaching load.
Yoder: How has your time with CEHD helped you prepare for these new responsibilities?
Montiel: I think every position I’ve held at Mason has prepared and positioned me for the next. The opportunities I’ve had in CEHD in particular, such as representing our college in various campus spaces such as the Undergraduate Advising Liaison group, the university Student Experience Redesign (where I served on the 24/7 Student Service team), the Academic Advising Council and the Mason Academic Advising Network’s Steering Committee, have really enlarged my scope of what’s happening at the university and how it affects students, but at the same time, what’s going on with our students and how we can affect change in the university to better serve them. It’s been really great to be a part of those conversations.
My time in CEHD has particularly prepared me for the new responsibilities of an assistant director by giving me an opportunity (along with my former supervisor, Iris Robinson) to develop and run the CEHD Graduate Advisor Work Group meetings where we meet with program representatives across the college to discuss issues, policies, forms, and updates to anything pertinent to graduate advising. This was so needed at the time as there really wasn’t a platform at the university that pertained specifically to graduate advising and our CEHD programs are so unique, Iris and I knew that whatever our solution had to be CEHD-specific. Thus, the Graduate Advisor Work Group was born and it was a necessary first step to put academic advising on our college’s agenda.
Yoder: What are some professional and personal highlights of your time at CEHD? Do you have a favorite memory?
Montiel: Professionally, I’m most proud of establishing the undergraduate Academic Success Program, a requirement for students with a GPA below 2.0 to complete in an effort to support them in returning to good academic standing. Under this advisor-student contract, I worked closely with students in helping them develop their academic goals, identify their barriers to success and connect them to resources and support services on campus. I hope that this can be a sustainable contribution I have made to the college.
The Academic Success Program then highlighted that another area of need for our undergraduates in academic difficulty was supporting those who were returning from first and second academic suspension. The “Back on Track” workshop was created to essentially do that – get students back on track and to help them understand their current academic picture and how they can achieve academic success through tapping into their internal motivations and goal-setting.
My time in the Student and Academic Affairs office will always be near to my heart. While I’ve grown professionally during my time here, I have grown as an individual as well. I welcomed my first child during my first year in the office and have been here during the passing of my mother. I’ve had major life moments occur while an employee in CEHD and a member of the SAA team and I will never forget how warm, understanding, joyful and supportive people have been for me throughout them. I can’t explain how much of a relief it is to have such a human touch at work – it’s a concept I really didn’t expect. That’s my favorite memory.
If Sara has found a warm and nurturing environment in SAA, her co-workers would say that she, too, has played a large part in fostering such a positive workplace. Sara’s supervisor and CEHD Director of Student Success, Dr. Ivory Berry, said, “Sara has been instrumental in representing CEHD on various advising and retention committees and fostering student success. Her passion for students is ever present and her commitment to retaining students who are faced with challenges is unwavering. She has been a great colleague, and I look forward to working with and mentoring her in the future.”
Best of luck, Sara! We will miss you!
Meg Yoder is the Office Assistant for Student and Academic Affairs. She develops and manages content for the Student Success Blog.