Monday Mentors: Meet Faculty Persistence Mentor Michelle Gregoire Fogel

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Monday, December 25th, 2023

A decade ago, when Michelle Gregoire Fogel was a Liberal Arts adjunct professor, she was involved with teaching a Writing Workshop aimed at assisting students who needed extra help with writing and study skills, from grammar to time management. 

“I loved working with those students,” Fogel says, “and, since their learning struggles typically didn’t disappear after two semesters, quite often I’d continue working with them until graduation. Believe it or not, I’m still in communication with a number of them!

“Witnessing their continuous growth with each consecutive semester, I discovered the power of persistence. Having even one consistent “cheerleader” in their lives proved incredibly important. We didn’t have to keep reinventing the wheel; we could instead grow roots and build upon the survival skills or coping mechanisms I shared with them. They trusted that I would be their biggest fan at school no matter what, and I was honored to carry those pom-poms!”

Now, the College makes the most of Fogel’s passion with her position as a Faculty Persistence Mentor. Read on to find out more about what that really means for student success. 

How did the pandemic affect how you handled these responsibilities? 

Michelle Gregoire Fogel: Obviously, PCA&D also persisted from a decade ago, through national and school leadership changes, curriculum evolution, even a global pandemic. Our student population persisted, year after year, replacing the proud, confident graduating students with wide-eyed, introverted, first-semester students who still needed extra assistance with writing and study skills. When the school (and our world) were locked down overnight, the way we were helping students persist had to undergo changes as well. While I would be lost without solitude to refill my wells, I am by nature primarily an extrovert. So let’s just say I spent the first three weeks of lockdown in tears over HOW to perform the super-social endeavor of teaching while talking to a flat screen in a messy house with four loud teen boys nearby. I learned to draw inspiration from new wells and, I suppose, I persisted, too. 

Was that the birth of the full Completion, Persistence & Retention Team?

MGF: The year of Covid, as the world grieved overwhelming loss, several innovative approaches to helping students navigate learning differences in the midst of social distancing were born at PCA&D. I fondly remember working with Caitlin Downs and Mariah Postlewait, Provost Massey and Dean Brown, Maria Provencher and Justin Phillips. We donned funky fabric masks and showed up to echoing hallways and eerily quiet classrooms for those students who truly needed in-person FVC classes and study tables. By the time the masses returned to the school, what had evolved was a Completion, Persistence, Retention Team that focused on a holistic approach to individual student’s needs being identified early, assigning mentors, providing one-on-one assistance as well as follow through. Ultimately, Provost Massey came up with my new title, Faculty Persistence Mentor, plus CPR and related terminology. “Faculty,” because she wanted to stress that I am a member of the Faculty as well; “Persistence,” praise what is working for the student, find what isn’t working, and figure out course-correction strategies (in conjunction with faculty, staff, administration, family and friends sometimes). And “Mentor,” sharing my experience to offer advising (I use the word “guide” in my interpretation). When I was presented with the idea, Provost Massey said, “Michelle, we essentially want to give you a title and pay you for the work you’ve already been doing here.” I have to admit, that felt pretty remarkable. I’m grateful for the recognition. 

How does this manifest in your day-to-day mentoring?

MGF: Since that conversation, I have become full-time faculty after over a decade of adjunct and part-time teaching and several titles along the way. Currently, in addition to Faculty Persistence Mentor (1 quarter time) and Assistant Professor of General Humanities (2 quarters), I fulfill my final quarter of time serving as the Liberal Arts Department Chair. While there are weeks here and there every semester when there honestly are not enough hours to do everything that MUST be done, or even to catch up with the countless things that are already way overdue, I admit that I often prioritize my Mentor work. Maintaining consistency with students is so vital. If I say “I will help you get to the other side of this,” I’d better do everything in my power to make that commitment a truth. The way my brain works means that human interaction will overrule paperwork every time! 

The real value of mentorship role is… 

MGF: Our “Covid Year” feels like either yesterday or 10 years ago, but in reality, the fairly large group of students I partnered with during their upside-down Foundation year will be (gulp) graduating this May, if all goes well. That means a packed spring semester ahead of us! I’ve been gearing up already – getting blank schedules and time management worksheets vetted, planning weekly small group sessions with survival and study skills galore, and just reaching out to make sure they are rejuvenating, replenishing, and refilling their wells when time allows. Not all students will end up tossing their berets as initially planned, I realize; in that case, I will work with the student and CPR Team to determine the next best way to move forward.  No matter what, we get through it together. I stress to them that there are always alternatives, always options to explore, even when all they can see is darkness and failure. (Personally, I’ve always learned far more from things that did NOT go as well as I’d hoped, but youth seems to cloak that truth.)

Our students, especially perfectionists in the throes of crises, need mentors to remind them that wallowing in anxiety, depression, and desperation need only be a brief layover. Again, it’s about shaking the pom-poms and then getting back to work. Thank goodness I’m not the only one – Foundation students have their own (Bridge) Mentor in Sam Schindler to guide them through those first fragile months. Departments are creating positions for PCA&D graduates to share their experience to guide through the major (such as Ashley Bowlsbey in Photo/Film and TA Alisha Groff in Illustration). I anticipate more Mentor positions in future years, especially as our population grows, as well as a network of student and alumni partnerships. 

How I continue learning:

MGF: I do not have an academic degree in special education. I wish I’d taken more than my handful of college classes in the subject. I did learn enough to recognize patterns, identify current issues, and utilize past reactions to predict future strengths and weaknesses in how students’ brains function. I did learn enough that I co-created and directed a successful theater company of young adults with cognitive and physical disabilities since 2007, have done research and curriculum creation for a national program using the arts as alternative communication modalities for at-risk youth, and most recently I have been consuming countless workshops specifically on motivation, perfectionism, and persistence in the college community with ADHD (a common diagnosis at PCA&D). Since being an undergrad myself, I have been fortunate enough to participate in educational opportunities that have taught me so much about learning differences, disordered thinking, executive function gaps, and more. So, I did learn enough to know I will never know everything, I am not a diagnostician, a therapist, or a doctor, and that I am grateful for this opportunity to be the Faculty Persistence Mentor at PCA&D.