BROWSE BY:     Title Number Subject Creator Digital Content

Interview with Claudia Stack, November 7, 2006 | UNCW Archives and Special Collections Online Database

pdf icon Get PDF Version
Interview with Claudia Stack, November 7, 2006
November 7, 2006
Claudia Stack reflects on her professional life in higher education. She spent 17 years in higher education, with 14 years at UNCW. Ms. Stack taught in the Watson School of Education and later worked as an academic advisor for General College (now University College). Ms. Stack also discusses her role as co-director of Learning Communities. In August 2006, Ms. Stack changed career paths and now works in marketing and management for a veterinary hospital.
Phys. Desc:

Interviewee: Stack, Claudia Interviewer: Riggins, Adina Date of Interview: 11/7/2006 Series: Voices of UNCW Length: 60 minutes

Riggins: Today is November 7, 2006, and my name is Adina Riggins. I'm the university archivist here at UNCW standing behind the camera. I have here today a very special interviewee who braved the weather to come out to UNCW for an oral history interview. This interview is going to be part of the Voices of UNCW interview series held in custody of the archives. Our interviewee's name is Claudia. Please state your full name for the tape, Claudia.

Claudia Stack: My name is Claudia Annice Stack.

Riggins: How do you spell your middle name?

Claudia Stack: A-n-n-i-c-e.

Riggins: That's a name you--

Claudia Stack: No. It's actually- belongs-- I have a lot of middle names. Do you want to hear them all?

Riggins: That will do it. We have Claudia who is a former employee here at UNCW for a long time and worked in the university college and so we'll hear all about your work in that capacity, but first I'd like to see whether I can get some background information for our information, where you were born, where you grew up, etc.

Claudia Stack: I was born in 1966 in New York City and I was raised until I was 18 in New York City. Then I went to college in Annapolis, Maryland, to Saint John's College and got a bachelor's degree from Saint John's, which is the- is often referred to as the Great Books Program and-

Riggins: I've heard about it and I haven't known many people who went there so-

Claudia Stack: It's very broad-level arts curriculum with a lot of emphasis on philosophy- Western philosophy and also history, math and science as well as Western literature and-

Riggins: Did you have a major there or you-

Claudia Stack: It's not a school where you pick a major. If you've added up the credits, it's- works out to something like a double major in Western philosophy and history, math and science, but we took- pretty much every year you take language, literature, math, science, music most years so it's a very full curriculum. It's non-- And it's not an elective curriculum. Your program is completely set for the four years. You study Greek for the first two years and French for the second two years. And I went on to work at Boston University for three years as a so-called science learning skills specialist. I was assisting the students there who had been admitted on a sort of probationary status to succeed in the university and help them particularly with their science course. They were all required to take a year-long general science course which was very difficult for some of them. Then I went back to school and got a master's in science education from Harvard University and when I graduated the economy in Massachusetts was not good at all and I decided if I was going to make a big move that was a good time to do it and I came south and ended up near Wilmington.

Riggins: Had you applied for a job at this point or-

Claudia Stack: I came down with- only knowing one person and not having any connections at the university or in Wilmington and I was- I did go over to the School of Education at that time in King Hall and gave them my resume and happened to meet at that time with Rich Huber who is still a professor over there and he saved my resume and then when they had- suddenly had a vacancy in the science education methods area, one of their high school science methods person quit suddenly and took another faculty position I think in California, then they called me to fill in that year and that was my first connection at UNCW. Yeah. I taught for a year for the School of Ed.

Riggins: Uh huh-

Claudia Stack: Uh huh. It was all right. The spring component is supervising the student teaching interns in the field, which is really very challenging. You're running-- You're going all over and meeting with all these different supervising teachers, master teachers, and it's really interesting. I got to know a little bit about the county and beyond by doing that. I visited a lot of schools, which was pretty interesting, and the students were really neat. That was a really special group of student teachers who were all very gifted in different ways and a lot of them were mature students who had come back to get their licensure and the sad part about that is that after five or six years I think only half of them were still teaching. Yeah.

Riggins: You kept up with them or-

Claudia Stack: Not all of them but I knew- I heard through the grapevine how it went for some people and a lot of them left the field pretty quickly. After a couple of years they for whatever reason left, feeling lack of support from parents and administrators or also the sort of typical things you hear too, the lack of money in the field.

Riggins: That's pretty much average I would think for-

Claudia Stack: Yeah. The attrition rate is so high.

Riggins: --It's just too bad.

Claudia Stack: It really is 'cause these were really good people but I- through that I got to know a little bit about the university and then I didn't have any work at the university for a while and I was working for my veterinarian friend and doing horse training and horse things and then I saw an ad for adviser for the biology department and applied and got that position and then I pretty much wasn't advising since that point. I was in the biology department and then I kind of took a little break and moved- and then moved over to freshman advising at what was then called the General College and is now known as University College.

Riggins: When did you start with General College? Do you remember what year-

Claudia Stack: Uh oh. I need my resume in front of me. Oh, gosh.

Riggins: We're not supposed to ask dates in oral history but I can't get around it sometimes.

Claudia Stack: That must have been '98 I guess that I came back and started with them. Dr. Siad[ph?] was the director then. It was-- I believe it was '90-- It was '97 or '98 I think, yeah, '98.

Riggins: --before then. That's close enough-

Claudia Stack: Yeah, and now I was part time at- when it was General College and gradually got more and more responsibilities and had to have hours added on and then when Dr. Kemille Moore became director and now dean of University College because the position that's the head of University College wasn't always a dean position-- She was first hired as director and she had brought a new program idea with her called Learning Communities that the provost at that time, John Cavanaugh, was excited about. He didn't stay very long as provost but he did fund this group of chairs of arts and sciences departments to explore the idea of putting together a Learning Communities program and they had gone out to a kind of a retreat, a training program, over the summer one summer to develop a potential program for UNCW where you're combining disciplines and also a residential aspect of it. So this team had come back from that experience in Washington State-

Riggins: And Kemille was part of that team.

Claudia Stack: And Kemille-- Yeah. She was kind of the leader, yeah, and she subsequently became director of General College at that time it was called and nobody in the office really I guess felt prepared to step up and coordinate the program. She had it implemented but she herself of course didn't have time to spend all day implementing one program when she had to oversee the freshman advising and lots of other things. So I went to her and I said I'd be willing to try it, I had a very interdisciplinary background and I'd be willing to try it even though I was pregnant at that time with my second son and I really didn't see how that was all going to work out but nobody else in the office was even volunteering and it seemed like my background was the closest fit. And then the other thing was that we really hadn't had any opportunity to change or grow much in that office and that organization for a long time and I felt like even though I didn't have a deep understanding of what she was trying to do at that point with that program I felt like well, this train is going to leave the station with or without me and let me get on board and see if I can make a difference, if I can grow at all with this position. And so she then changed my position from three quarter to full time and I started developing that program and it was very challenging especially in the first year, trying to explain to faculty and chairs what it was and get them on board to teach and get them cooperating with- in faculty teams because that's the concept. You have two full- two faculty members and then one seminar leader who may be a master's level person who may or may not be teaching a lot of other university courses. It might be an adviser or a library faculty as you know. You taught in that first year. So it was very challenging to get the schedule put together for Learning Communities especially the first year because faculty didn't understand it, chairs didn't really understand it, and then turning around and trying to sell the concept to the incoming students and families and they didn't really understand the concept. The biggest selling point frankly at that point in the first year was probably the- just the notion for them that they would get to live in the brand-new dorm which was Cornerstone Hall. So that was really challenging, just putting it together, implementing it, getting the students enrolled-

Riggins: I know 'cause I taught in that first fall in 2003 so you were in this co-director position-

Claudia Stack: Right.

Riggins: --starting in-

Claudia Stack: It was fall, yeah, late- mid to late fall she finally got it rolling and got me the additional position and further responsibilities.

Riggins: And you had some-

Claudia Stack: I-- Yeah. We had to turn around, get the schedule put together, get the publicity put out. Anyway, it happened. We had nine communities the first year. The program didn't fill completely but it was good. It was almost-- It was about 90, 95%. So that was successful in that sense and of course gradually over the subsequent years-- I ended up putting four years of the program together. Even though I left before this fall of '06 got taught, I had put it together so I ended up putting four years together and it's really challenging because you have to get faculty interested in it and get them to see some advantage for them besides the fact that they'll have this small group of students.

Riggins: Do they get a stipend anymore?

Claudia Stack: They get a small stipend but-

Riggins: That's not enough--

Claudia Stack: Yeah.

Riggins: It's more work then. Do you find that you're getting untenured faculty willing to do it?

Claudia Stack: It was actually a better mix than I thought. I didn't think the senior faculty would be that interested in taking a risk or doing something new but there were a lot of senior faculty who got involved and then some young ones and the chairs were generally supportive, which is really important because you have to of course get the chairs' approval to do this special small course and they're potentially losing seats in their basic study courses which affects their FTEs and the hours they generate as a department. So you have to have the chairs' support as well as the dean's support of course. In general, the chairs were very supportive but it's very complex because you have to get faculty interested in the program or sometimes the faculty will make a proposal together and say, "We'd like to teach to this common theme" and maybe one is sociology and the other is history or something like that or- but more often than not I was on the phone trying to get people interested in an idea or calling one person and saying, "I've got So and So over in history who would like to teach in the program but doesn't have a faculty partner. Would you be interested in meeting with that person and talking about themes and-

Riggins: How would you get their names? Just through talking to other faculty and-

Claudia Stack: Yeah. A lot of it was networking and some of it was just cold calling. The first year I did a lot of cold calling to faculty saying whose interests seemed to me to be maybe something that would interest freshmen. We had a Learning Community that was probably the most popular in the first two years. It was called Behavior, Bodies and Crime. It was a forensic science one. And I had just called Dr. Albert, Midori Albert, who taught the anthropology course which she typically does not do a lower level anthropology 105. The lowest course she does is forensic science, which is I think 207. So anyway, she had to adapt her 105 to make it compatible and that was just a situation where I called somebody who I thought would pique the interest of the students and she was kind enough to go along with it and taught two years. Yeah. So there was a-- There's a lot that goes into putting a program together. It's not really the case, the- you just put the stipend and proposal application form on the web and some- suddenly you get proposals pouring in. The first year I think there was more probably interest, more skepticism and more interest from faculty because the stipend was high the first year. It was $3,000 but then it got reduced to-- I forget what. Two thousand for new and maybe 1500 for returning faculty. By that point in time, you're just paying them for gas and time to drive over there and teach the class in the hall. It's almost to that level. It's more of a gesture than anything. So you can't depend on the stipend.

Riggins: The classes take place in the residence hall-

Claudia Stack: Right.

Riggins: --right there, those classrooms on the first floor, Cornerstone Hall and--

Claudia Stack: Right, and so that's good in the sense that you've got this state of the art classroom in a residence hall and that's interesting and it puts you in a slightly different teaching environment. Well, some faculty liked that and some it turned out that didn't work so well for them but it is extra trouble for the faculty so we tried to recognize their efforts a lot and I tried to facilitate whatever they wanted to do with the students. Whether it was a trip or a meal or whatever, we tried to- really tried to make it as easy as possible for them to accomplish what they wanted to accomplish with the students.

Riggins: The idea is that the Learning Community will do certain integrated trips or activities sometimes to augment their learning-

Claudia Stack: Yeah. The-- And the communities vary as far as how integrated they are I would say. Some professors go to great lengths and have a lot of common readings and activities. Some only intersected periodically but the main feature for the students I think is the fact that they are surrounded by students who also share these other two classes, the two subject classes and then a seminar, and that is a benefit automatically because they have automatically a group of friends and people who can support them in their studies.

Riggins: I remember a few years ago when you were first recruiting for the first Learning Community you said you had to call a lot of families, a lot of students and parents-

Claudia Stack: Yeah.

Riggins: --and do direct to consumer marketing basically.

Claudia Stack: I-- Yeah. I cold called the families too. We were getting lists-- I got lists from admissions of admitted students or students who had made their tuition deposit and I was just cold calling, trying to say, "Look. We have this new hall with this new program and it's going to be great," and it was very confusing for the families because they just had never- a lot of them had never heard of anything like it before. And then we were- I was recruiting at orientation sessions as well.

Riggins: How did that change in the succeeding years? Did you continue to do that or was it more-

Claudia Stack: Not really. I was astonished at how word of mouth works in North Carolina among the- I guess the high school set and the counselors, the parents, the friends. By year three-- By year two, three we had people calling us because they had heard something about this program and that was astonishing to me because people would- students would call or I would connect with them and hear them say things like, "My cousin went here" or "My older-- My sibling-- My older friend, and told me this was something that was really worthwhile.

Riggins: You didn't really have to do that same level of intensive recruiting and the program filled up since then?

Claudia Stack: Pretty much, yeah, and then-- Yeah, pretty much. It's always a little frustrating right at the end when somebody drops out for some reason and then you can't fill that space 'cause everyone else has already been assigned to housing and that's frustrating.

Riggins: I can't believe that that first group of freshmen are now seniors-

Claudia Stack: I know.

Riggins: --if they stayed-

Claudia Stack: Uh huh, in the-- And I'm still in touch with a couple of them. It was funny. You get a lot closer to your Learning Community group than a lot of other students 'cause I was teaching a seminar as well each year as well as coordinating the program and trying to help the seminar leaders.

Riggins: Your advising-

Claudia Stack: I was advising-

Riggins: --students. Weren't you-

Claudia Stack: Not all of them. I had a full load of advisees. They weren't all Cornerstone students but yeah, I had-- Each year I had anywhere from 175 to 220 or so advisees. What's difficult about that is that everything happens at once in the semester. In the fall semester you'd be trying to do your preregistration advising.

(crew talk)

Riggins: --trying to do your prereg advising in the fall, coordinate the program and solicit proposals and get it together for the next fall and that all comes at once so that's- that was always a challenge, not that any of those activities by them-- Any of those activities by themselves are interesting and worthwhile and everything but when you have that kind of crunch it's hard.

Riggins: What has been some of the feedback you've heard now that the program is established and it has been supported all this time, several years? What do some of the faculty and/or students say about it now? Do you have any faculty who have taught it all four years?

Claudia Stack: Yeah. Actually, one person I can think of who's very supportive of the concept-- I think the feedback is-- It's not just unconditionally positive because when you have an environment like that everything intensifies in- both negative and positive. You have-- You do get a real rapport and community feeling with the students, which is excellent, and generally that's good for them too where they hopefully support each other in making good choices but then again it can happen when-- If you get a bad dynamic in your class, that's also intensified and that's-

Riggins: Because it's a smaller class?

Claudia Stack: Yeah, and they can gang up on professors and that's happened once or twice so it's not just unconditionally good. I would say overall the feedback was very good and most professors enjoyed teaching because they got to know the students real-- See, you have to be that kind of faculty person who wants that connection with freshmen but if you are it's a great way to teach.

Riggins: In a way it's being friendly with the students. You're not buddies, buddies, but you have to be comfortable with that. I can imagine maybe some of the international faculty wouldn't be used to that as much where they are-

Claudia Stack: Yeah, maybe.

Riggins: I don't know if you found any international faculty-

Claudia Stack: Yeah, that's a good point. I haven't. I don't know. I think most people have gotten a lot out of it but it is sometimes draining, sometimes challenging. The students do better overall academically. At least that's-- I wasn't ever able to get institutional research to give me full reports but the data that I was able to run myself did show some positive results.

Riggins: These sort of students are not honor students necessarily but some were-

Claudia Stack: Huh uh, especially the first year. That group actually predicted a lower GPA than the general student population and ended up with a higher actual GPA. And the other aspect of the program I think that's pretty-- I don't know. This is interesting and valuable I feel is that program attracts a higher proportion of minority and first-generation students and that's without any special marketing efforts to that group.

Riggins: That's continued for four years.

Claudia Stack: Yes. That was a feature of all the years that I've been involved in and I'm talking about significantly higher proportion of minorities who are attracted to that program. On campus at UNCW, as you know, there's generally around--what--7, 8% minority population?

Riggins: That sounds right-

Claudia Stack: Cornerstone was usually running about double that and again that was no special extra recruiting efforts directed at any particular group so there seemed to be some evidence to support the theory that other research about Learning Communities has shown that that type of environment is attractive to the students and families of either first-generation students or students of other- some other ethnic backgrounds who appreciate having a more personalized approach and feeling more community support. So that's been a very positive outcome I feel and we've had a lot of really amazing student leaders come out of the program, especially students who had been in the SEP, the Seahawk Enrichment Program, in the summer, which is a conditional MET[ph?] program. It's like an extra-preparation program that happens in summer too and the students who moved from that program to Cornerstone especially seemed to benefit and I'm- when I say they were successful I don't just mean in an- on an individual level like they were good students and progressed through their program and got good grades. A number of them became incredible student leaders on campus. There's one girl who stands out in particular. Her name is Jermisha Dodson and she's been an orientation leader. She's been an amazing influence on campus.

Riggins: --I would think a number of them-

Claudia Stack: A lot of them have become RAs or taken other leadership roles. So some of those folks really stand out in my mind and I think that they would have been exceptional people anyway but I think that the program gave them a setting and a support which helps them along.

Riggins: I know when I was involved with it I really thought it was a very valuable program and something that the students seemed to get a lot out of but it certainly was a lot of work too, setting it up-

Claudia Stack: Yeah. It's-

Riggins: --setting it up and getting it going-

Claudia Stack: And just trying to keep it going is interesting but I do believe on balance it's worth it and I hope that UNCW can continue.

Riggins: This was all Kemille and her research at other universities and other group of faculty who got it going at UNCW?

Claudia Stack: Yeah. It was a group of humanities chairs. Part of their intention was to revitalize the teaching of humanities on campus here at UNCW. They felt like humanities had not received the same attention and support that some other areas had, which I think they're right. That was true. And they wanted to revitalize and begin a discussion of the liberal arts mission at UNCW and that kind of thing so it had a larger intent as well but Kemille was certainly important and a leader but there were a number of other faculty chairs who contributed. And then unfortunately a lot of them kind of-- They had formed a steering committee that was supposed to be involved with the program on an ongoing basis but a lot of them just kind of dropped, fell away. Some of them-- One person went out on disability and-- I don't know. Just some things happened and they didn't end up staying involved that much, which doesn't mean they didn't make an important contribution but Kemille I know at times was frustrated because we couldn't get the steering committee to pull together to focus on something or- so eventually she would sometimes just go ahead and make a decision.

Riggins: I don't know but-

Claudia Stack: Yeah, and- but things happened and-

Riggins: Things got done anyway and the chancellor from what you understand has been a supporter-

Claudia Stack: I guess she's supportive. I guess if you can take it as a sign of support that she always seemed to channel her special interests-- Students who were admitted who were of families maybe of special interest to her she would always sort of funnel them from advancement through to me to try to get them signed up for Learning Communities so I suppose that's a sign of support and I think verbally she was. She didn't really attend events over there or anything but I think that's kind of typical of UNCW. I don't think it really singles- singled us out. I think the administrators are very busy and that's just the way it goes.

Riggins: In your time here what has been the role of advising at UNCW? How has it been important to the life of freshmen and to all students?

Claudia Stack: Advising has really gained a lot of prominence since way back, since Diane Jones and Usuri Syeds.[ph?] Well, he wasn't even the first person. It was somebody else who can't-- I'll think of his name in a minute but they started the first General College advising center for freshmen a long time ago and in fact it was here in the library and it's gained a lot of resources, momentum and purpose I think. A lot of people recognize now that that's important. I don't know. I feel like University College has grown obviously, a lot more people, a lot more advisers, a somewhat expanded mission. They also coordinate the freshman seminar program which I was a part of for the last year. Well, I had taught in the freshman seminar program on and off over the years and then this past year I was also part of actually running it, putting it together for fall '06, so again I left in July before the semester began but I had helped put that together.

Riggins: I guess that will be affected by basic studies revision with that-

Claudia Stack: Yeah. It's real confusing. I have to say I don't think the provost and the chancellor gave clear, good direction about how they wanted all those efforts to mesh because they had a basic studies committee going doing recommendations for revising basic studies. They had a first-year experience task force going. They had Kemille and the University College who were not invited to be directly involved. Well, that's not true. Kemille was on the committee and the task force but I guess what I'm trying to say is I think that they of course would say yes, we want a quality first-year experience as far as advising in freshman seminar and Learning Communities, all these kinds of programs, but they didn't really give detailed guidance as to what kind of result they'd like to see or how they want it, who should take priority if basic studies makes a recommendation. Does that take priority over a freshman seminar (inaudible) thing. It's very funny how that all went out and then they appointed Terry Curran to be-- What is his title? He's first-year experience-- He's head of first-year experience. I don't know. I'm forgetting his exact title but then- so then they appointed him over Kemille and I guess that would have been okay but I think a lot of faculty looked at that appointment and they were Dr. Curran, who? Because he had been dean of students and it was just hard for him to step in that role I think and try to create momentum with faculty for a different kind of freshman seminar or a subject area of freshman seminar, one that might be-- For instance, you could have all kinds of freshman seminars. You-- Some university student with a focus on a major- one major or a career choice-- There's lots of ways to do it and there's all kinds of good ideas. There's all kinds of good freshman programming out there but again you have to get buy-in. It's not enough for-- Even the provost or the chancellor can't say- just say to faculty, "Do this," and have everyone jump and do it. You have to build a certain amount of investment and for that I feel that faculty have to feel like that they had a say in the process and that they're not just being dictated to by a higher administration that says, "You will do three credits in your subject area and throw in a few study skills" or-- It just-- It doesn't work-

Riggins: They have to not only be convinced this is a good thing for the students but-

Claudia Stack: Well, they-

Riggins: --somehow-- There is a lot-

Claudia Stack: And they have to feel like it's- and it works for the department and the truth is that UNCW has been so overtaxed by growth and they're just struggling to meet the basic study requirement hours so okay, if you come along and say, "We need a new freshman seminar and it's going to be three credits instead of two and it's going to cover this and we're going to have more intellectual engagement and primary source readings and-- Fine. That's great but you have to release some of those faculty from some of their other teaching responsibilities or come up with a hell of a lot of overtime money and neither one of those things seems that likely so then you're stuck saying, "Well, what you do? Do you want to bring in more master's level people? Do you want to try to make post docs?" Well, okay, well, we don't really have a great support system for a lot of post docs even if we could come up with the money and that kind of- that evades the original point anyway, which was-- One of the original points was getting freshmen connected with faculty. So I'm not saying it's an insolvable problem but it's hard and it is- it- some of it comes down to resources and some of it comes down to motivation and momentum and feeling like everybody is moving in the same direction and focused on a goal and I don't- I may be wrong since I left 'cause I haven't been in the mix of this discussion in the last several months but as of the time I left I didn't feel like there was a lot of- there was consensus or people moving in the same direction in- or- or even for that matter I feel a lot of clarity from the higher administration as to what they really wanted to see.

Riggins: You're raising a lot of questions for me. I haven't been following that. I know there's discussion of basic studies going on but I've been forgetting what has been-

Claudia Stack: So if-- So let's say that one of the proposals was as part of basic studies all students will take some kind of freshman seminar. Okay. Fine.

Riggins: Right now it's optional. Right?

Claudia Stack: Right. It's an optional elective so-- Okay. So if you say that still somebody has to figure it out and implement it. Okay. Well, what do you mean? Does that mean honors seminars? Are they okay? Does that mean athletic sections? We have special athletic sections that cover the CHAMPS/Life Skills requirements because they have a lot of extra things they have to do. Would that count? Those are UNIs. Those are UNI courses. Okay. Are we going to create major and career specific ones? All of that's got to be figured out and implemented. It's massive and I'm not saying it's not a good endeavor. It really is but it's a long way from passing a resolution or something on the senate and then having it go.

Riggins: Kemille was monitoring all of this-

Claudia Stack: And Terry Curran would be the one officially I guess to implement it but again if he wants a lot of faculty teaching it he's got to get buy-in from those faculty and from their chairs and those faculty have to be freed up or they have to be paid overtime so-- I don't know. Maybe the resources are being directed in that way. I'm not sure.

Riggins: Kemille would be working on this as well-

Claudia Stack: Well, yeah, because he- he's the big picture guy and he says what he wants to see and then it's supposed to get implemented and that's actually one of the reasons that I was frustrated because not that I don't have respect for him. Dr. Curran is very smart and very capable but I didn't think that he really appreciated and understood how much it takes to put on a program like that, even a program with a scope of about 200 students like Cornerstone.

Riggins: It took you-- Not full time. You were doing other things but-

Claudia Stack: Well, I-- See, now I didn't even do it to the maximum. There were so many more things that could have been done. I only started a real web page in the last year that got updated with pictures of trips that communities had made. That was only in the last year. There was so much more that could have been with that if someone had had time but Dr. Curran-- He wants things that are very laudable and I agreed with a lot of his concepts but I just didn't think that he really understood what it would mean and one of the last days that- one of the last days of orientation this past summer I had just finally figured out- gotten the placements, running around after students during orientation when I wasn't actually doing my own orientation advising room 'cause I had to run a room during orientation of regular people-- People who needed would go in the marine bio, was my room, bio- marine bio, but I was also chasing after the students who were signing up for Learning Communities or maybe they had signed up online but they hadn't told us which community or maybe they had taken an AP high school course that conflicted and duplicated credit for the community they wanted. There are so many variations and problems that can come up and I'm chasing around trying to fix those problems and he came up to me in the last session of orientation and points his finger at me and says, "Can you double the size of Learning Communities?" And I just looked at him and I was-

Riggins: He didn't know you were leaving or this was-

Claudia Stack: No. I hadn't announced that yet but I was-- I felt like saying, "I don't know. Do you have another new residence hall with state of the art classrooms in your back pocket with 24 committed faculty in your back pocket? 'Cause if you do then yes, I can double it, but otherwise probably not right now." It was just one of those moments where you think we're just not on the same plane right now. So then he proceeded to explain himself and say, "Well, all these parents are coming up to me saying, 'Oh, we really wanted to get our kid signed up for Learning Communities,'" and then it turned out he meant could I double the size of-- We have some other Learning Communities that are not residential. We had created connections between basic study courses and freshman seminars, UNI 101S, and those were Learning Communities also because you share the same body of students and you hope to build connections between the classes. That UNI instructor might go- will go into the basic studies class and create connections so that is a Learning Community. According to the lingo of the first-year experience people, that's a Learning Community but it's not what these parents were asking him for, and I was wondering to myself if he even knew that because I'm thinking to myself I know that when they're coming to him saying that what they mean is I couldn't get my kid into Cornerstone and I really wanted to when I heard about it. And I didn't know if he just didn't understand that or what. Yeah, sure, we had other Learning Communities but it wasn't the same. It didn't have the same- quite the same punch or appeal.

Riggins: Was it a small class or-

Claudia Stack: Well, they're small but it's just not the residential component and that's I think what stands out for a lot of people so- and again I don't mean to disrespect him. I think he's an interesting, intelligent person who probably is going to add a lot over the years. I was just saying[ph?] he was an excellent dean of students but I just didn't think he really appreciated globally what it takes to put on a program like that and it's frustrating when you're-- It just came to a point where I was- I just felt like I fell off the mountain and I just couldn't climb it anymore. It was-- It was too much. I was advising a full-time load, I was trying to put together a regular freshman seminar, I was doing Learning Communities, and it was just all for the $900 I would clear every month after gas and childcare and it was-- I just woke up one morning-- I was in the hospital one time with chest pains and it was-

Riggins: Scary-

Claudia Stack: Yeah, and I was God, I'm insane. I must be-- I am a crazy person.

Riggins: I'm an insane person.

Claudia Stack: I did. I looked-- One thing that happens in the ERs-- You get a lot of time to think 'cause typically it doesn't move as fast as it does on TV and I was lying there on the gurney and I was, "Shit. This is totally crazy. This is so insane for what I get back from this situation for myself and my family." I was "This is insane."

Riggins: Was it stress related do you think? Yeah, but--

Claudia Stack: And that was over the summer and that was right before orientation started. I had come in to do some work. I was trying to-- I was submitting a grant proposal for another project that- an oral history project that I was interested in which was my pet project that I included students on and again that was another example of some kinds of things that- the administrators-- They say they're really supportive of that kind of thing but it's hard to find time or money to do it but I have- I think I had accomplished some things. I made these oral history films with my students and it was gathering local, regional history that I felt was very important.

Riggins: Can you talk a little bit about that? This was something that you're interested in and your boss, Kemille Moore, said, "All right. It's a little bit out there, Claudia--

Claudia Stack: Yeah, she did, and she was very kind to support me. She-- Sometimes I would take vacation time to go do interviews and sometimes if I was- if I had students with me I generally wouldn't but a lot of times I used my own time and money. I probably have-- I don't know how-- I have no idea how much time. I know I have several thousand dollars invested but- not that that's so important but just as a symbol of what it means to me to gather this history from people who won't be with us forever. I was taping histories of rural people, people who live in Pender County mostly, where I live, who had lived through the segregation era, the Depression era, who had attended special schools built by black communities. That history is almost gone from our area now. Not that many people know about it anymore but black families pulled together in the '20s and '30s to contribute to building their own schools and I felt that that was a history that was really worth preserving and I involved students in it because it distressed me to realize that students don't think that- by and large students don't think that things like segregation or the Depression era really have any current relevance and they don't- they think of them as ancient history when I-- Yeah. I feel strongly that they're not and the echoes and the impact of all kinds of things from that era are still here, especially in this region, and so I involved these students and Kyle Holt[ph?] in particular was amazing and still really is because he's the film maker. He was this freshman when I met him and taught his Learning Community and he had already had a film production company before he even came to UNCW but Kyle stepped in and really made the- that part of it possible. We could have been gathering I guess tapes or even videotapes of oral histories but he was the one who made putting the film together possible but we involved other students over the last several years and Kemille was supportive to a great degree. She let me pursue my sort of crazy interests and I taught it as part of a elective seminar in the spring for some Cornerstone students. We were looking-- The theme for the Cornerstone year was regional history and so that fit in but-- I don't know. It just seems like you got to carve it out. Maybe that's just always the way. Nobody's going to offer you- come up and offer support but-

Riggins: You're not the only person sitting in that chair.

Claudia Stack: Yeah. Yeah.

Riggins: If I could just play back the tapes for other people who said, "In the university setting there are so many good ideas and so much support that they voice but when it comes down to actually getting it translated into real time and money it's hard."

Claudia Stack: It's hard and you notice it in little ways. Maybe this is petty and maybe it doesn't mean anything but I would send announcements or press releases or coverage of things that had happened to the online news, the UNCW page or way back when it was in print we used to send stuff. I never really could get anything going as far as coverage for the Cornerstone Learning Communities or any other kind of freshman events and it was like dropping rocks into a well. You never knew where it went or you didn't even- it went down so far you never even heard the sound when it hit but it certainly didn't come back and that was interesting because again it sort of flew in the face of all this support you would hear voiced for different initiatives or different kinds of learning but I know people are busy. And I think what it demonstrates most of all is that there is not a thorough[ph?] going ethic at UNCW of-- There's not a singular sense of mission or a real comprehensive or top to bottom ethic of this is what we're about or this is what we're doing. I think some of the older faculty feel like we used to be student centered and regional service and now we're just- we're everything. We're trying to move in every direction. We're trying to keep the most high-flying faculty with the most grant dollars and we're trying to get the highest SAT students whether or not that really serves the university or the student best. That's the way I feel. In 14 years at UNCW, I feel like- in some ways I think that we've not abandoned but moved well away from a regional service mission because it frustrates me that they just constantly hammer and try to work on getting the higher SAT students in here when first of all those students don't necessarily perform the best. They don't necessarily even want to stay at UNCW. And secondly, they are just so-- It seems to me like that's such a narrow way of thinking about raising standards or being first in something. There are so many ways that UNCW could be innovative and lead certain indicators and not just go after the same old thing, the SAT score. We have an abysmal graduation rate. That was something I wanted to tackle with Dr. Curran. He has authority over admissions now.

Riggins: --graduation rate-

Claudia Stack: Over six years. Oh, it's abysmal. I don't know the numbers but it's terrible, not even for-- No one even tries for four years anymore. It's horrible and Dr. Curran felt the same way and I agreed with him and I knew that I could make a difference with that but I didn't have the opportunity to work on it and he offered to put me on a committee to address it on top of everything else I was doing and I was "No. You don't understand. I can fix your graduation rate problem if you would free me up," but that's another thing. It's just going to take a lot of connections with departments. First of all, you have to make students understand the cost to them when they don't graduate on time. They don't think there's really a cost. Secondly, you have to make students and families understand the cost to the state system.

Riggins: To the taxpayers-

Claudia Stack: You've got people withdrawing from classes repeatedly, that kind of thing. So you need someone who can- who has a lot of connections across campus, who has advising experience, who can pull students in and say, "Look. Your name came up because you've withdrawn four or more times," or whatever you're going to pick, five more times, as a cutoff. "You're really putting your graduation date off. Do you understand what the real opportunity cost is to you to do that?", and that kind of thing. You need somebody who could at every level do education and coordination to work on that problem but I really believe UNCW could be a leader in that sense, okay, the public institution with one of the highest four-year graduation rates. We can do it but it takes work and coordination and it takes support and all of that good stuff but I sort of got off on a tangent there. I'm sorry but I just feel like I guess we could lead in some innovative ways and we do lead in some innovative ways. They're doing the Bolton Health Center with the School of Nursing and that's really neat. So I'm not trying to say there is not innovation on campus. There is the Small Business Center. That's great. I'm just saying that when it comes to the stats and the rankings and all the world- U.S. News and World Report, I feel like that approach has been pretty stale and pretty cliché'd, just we're going after the same things in the same way that most other institutions are and we could be doing so many more interesting and- things to set us apart and also keep our rankings up but it just gets to feel- after a while like it's some kind of ego trip. It's frustrating because I wish there was more a feeling of commitment to the region-

Riggins: That's one outcome you were hoping from your work with the oral histories was to get some of the high school students that you worked with interested in college and UNCW and I remember you talked to some of the administrators about those plans-

Claudia Stack: We brought-- Yeah, and for three years I brought Pender High School students on the campus and we had- the last oral history project we worked with some high school students so that was pretty neat. I felt that kind of work could build a bridge to the region and make people feel better about UNCW 'cause right now I can tell you a lot of people who live in Pender and Brunswick County and surrounding counties don't see UNCW as their university at all. They don't see it as-- If they think about it at all, they probably just see it as some kind of- not a liability but something that takes resources, takes tax money and doesn't give back anything to them or their children potentially. I really feel that that's a sad situation. I think our regional students should be admitted with the same preferential treatment as athletes. I think that there is a lot of ways you can do it and if the SAT average is so darned important then expand the summer program and get them here in summer too and they get around it anyway. That's what they did this year and they admitted a bunch of freshmen and they're going to be coming starting in January. That group doesn't have as high a SAT but they're strong students in every other way. So they're just getting around counting their average in the fall group-- I don't know. I guess I'm cynical but I feel like okay, if you want to play it that way there's ways to do it, keep your regional commitment up and get those high SAT kids in, but you know what. A lot of those high SATs kids just want to transfer to Chapel Hill but maybe some of them get one over. I don't know but it's- I guess that's the price you pay for being- having growing pains. UNCW is definitely in transition and it has been for a while.

Riggins: We're coming up on when you have to leave-

Claudia Stack: Yeah, and it's so--

Riggins: Can you state what you're doing now-

Claudia Stack: Right.

Riggins: --summarize where you're working now.

Claudia Stack: I'm working for a veterinarian. She's a friend of mine, Dr. Cynthia Burnett, and I'm doing a lot of different things. She needed help with her hospital administration and marketing too and I do everything. Yesterday I was helping bathe a dog. Today I submitted an ad to the Star News, Pender Neighbors section. It just-- It varies tremendously but it's getting the sense that it's challenging but it's not overwhelming and it's- I have a lot of flexibility to get my kids in the afternoon and maybe try to do some work at home and do some work at night and so it's a lot more flexible and the salary is better than what I was making.

Riggins: Are you working also with marketing for another group too or-

Claudia Stack: Yeah. I haven't focused on that as much because the hospital is really taking so much time. The hospital is just kind of getting in shape now. We're getting a good- good people in place. We just got a new office manager. So if I get freed up I can go and do some work for-- Dr. Burnett's fiancé is a real estate developer and I can do work for his company as well.

Riggins: After-- What was it? Fourteen-

Claudia Stack: Fourteen years with UNCW.

Riggins: --to tell us to another-

Claudia Stack: Seventeen years in higher ed, 14 at UNCW.

Riggins: Fourteen at UNCW-

Claudia Stack: Yeah. It's hard to believe-

Riggins: --the private sector but I'm glad you were at UNCW and-

Claudia Stack: Thanks.

Riggins: It's really made an impact and I can-

Claudia Stack: Thanks.

Riggins: --tell from all your projects and all the students that you've worked with and the faculty as well so thank you for coming in and sharing your thoughts and experiences with us.

UNCW Archives and Special Collections Online Database
Found in:
Randall Library | UNCW Archives and Special Collections | Online Database | Contact Us | Admin Login
Powered by Archon Version 3.21 rev-1
Copyright ©2012 The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign