Gloria White: Friend to First-Years

In just five minutes, Gloria White's telephone requires her to be a teacher, an administrator, and a mother. She handles each call with a voice that is professional, diplomatic, and calm. She has no need to assume roles: Gloria White is the same person regardless of context. Her characteristic demeanor works proficiently across all her job titles.

And she has quite a few. She is associate dean of Student Academic Services, director of the Learning Assistance Program, instructor of mathematics, faculty liaison for the admissions office, and full-time mother.

White was aware of her affinity for math at an early age. Both her mother and grandmother were public-school teachers, and it came as no surprise when White began her career in similar fashion. She came to Oberlin in 1981 when her husband accepted a position on the faculty, and though she had received other job offers, she decided to try teaching entry-level college mathematics here.

It is certainly atypical for the job of a math instructor to develop into the multitude of responsibilities handled by Gloria White. The explanation is twofold: first, with degrees in guidance counseling, psychological statistics, and higher education administration, her credentials travel beyond the world of mathematics. Second, she finds many parallels between her jobs, which make them seem less scattered. "I think my training in problem solving and being a math person really helps me on the administrative side of things," she said.

Many of White's administrative responsibilities focus on helping students make the transition from high school to college, and she admits to having an affinity for first-year students.

As associate dean of student academic affairs, White oversees a staff of nine people who provide advising and academic support for all Oberlin students. The goal of the office is to maximize students' academic success and retention--some students need the office to survive, while others employ it to become better students and raise their GPAs. White considers it either a "safety net or support net," depending on the individual.

"Oberlin students are bright and talented and gifted," she said. "At the same time, they come to Oberlin with what I call 'differential skills'--they tend to be stronger in some areas and not as strong in other areas. We help students with the gaps that they may have in their backgrounds."

That spectrum of backgrounds has been widening, she said, as Oberlin enrolls increasing numbers of students from alternative high schools or who have been home-schooled. The range of backgrounds that give Oberlin its diversity also give it the challenge of bringing together vastly different college preparations in one classroom.

To close these "gaps," White directs the Learning Assistance Program, which creates and oversees "foundation" courses designed to help students make the transition to Oberlin's academic demands. Taken in the first year, these courses focus on such areas as study skills, quantitative skills, time management, and reading skills.

According to national statistics, the average high-school student spends between six or fewer hours per week studying outside class. Studies conducted by White's office indicate that to succeed at Oberlin, between 25 and 30 hours per week of outside work are required.

This difference produces what White calls "culture shock" for many new students, who mistake their time outside of class for free time. "Oberlin students are so talented that many of them got here without having to really do much heavy-duty work," she said. The Learning Assistance Program equips them with the skills they need to succeed at the college level.

What would White advise her students once they graduate and enter the world of work?

"Always say yes when a supervisor asks you to do something new, even if you're not sure if you can do it. Don't be afraid of hard work, and at the same time, don't be afraid of asking for help."

--Ben Jones '96

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