Dr. Kathryn Kay Coquemont, associate vice president of student success at Salt Lake Community College, dedicates her life to addressing the most pressing issues getting in the way of student success.
“I am not a boss of students; I am a servant to students,” she said. “I hope that students can learn that and utilize me when they need help, because that’s my number one job.”
Coquemont, who initially joined SLCC as assistant vice president of student development, was promoted to her current position in July 2018 and oversees the seven departments in Student Success: Academic Advising, Career Services, Diversity and Multicultural Affairs, Orientation & Student Success, Student Life and Leadership, the Thayne Center for Service & Learning and TRIO.
Coquemont noted that a lot of her job is addressing the biggest barriers to students’ successes at the college through her supervision of the seven departments.
“It’s a lot of strategically trying to raise attention to and remove the things that are getting in students’ ways so other people in the college are aware and can help with those issues,” she said.
The work of the seven departments consists of providing direct support to students by helping them navigate college, boosting their skills and confidence, and ensuring the best experience possible at SLCC.
“My belief is that higher education should be available to anyone who wants it, and there should be equal opportunities for success,” Coquemont said. “Unfortunately, the barriers to this are not simply on our campus, but in society at large.”
She continued, “I do believe we can try our hardest to create meaningful interventions like the Bruin Pantries, scholarship opportunities, and one-on-one and collective care, to move the needle where we can.”
Last year, Coquemont co-chaired the Pathways initiative, which is a “multiyear initiative college redesign effort to enhance learning and increase student completion,” according to the SLCC website. Since her first year at the college in 2017, Coquemont has also served on the Collaborative Work Team, or CWT, which aims to strategically guide the implementation of Pathways, which should be completed in 2023.
“The CWT will help ensure that there’s coordination across areas and that the work moving forward is strategically in line with the other initiatives at the College,” she said.
Coquemont also serves as the elected co-chair for the Employees of Color Coalition, or ECC, which aims to “provide a forum for dialogue and subsequent action on issues and concerns that impact the College’s minority faculty, staff and students,” according to the SLCC website.
Richard Diaz, director of Orientation and Student Success, explained Coquemont’s position is critical to the success of SLCC.
“She leads a unit that focuses how to support SLCC students to graduate and achieve their academic goals,” he said. “Her skills, passion, and charisma are all integral to helping our institution inch closer to our vision of becoming a model for inclusive and transformative educational experience.”
Coquemont and Diaz are co-leading the taskforce to officially designate SLCC as a Hispanic-Serving Institution (HSI) soon, which would allow the college to receive federal grants that “expand educational opportunities for, and improve the attainment of, Hispanic students,” according to the U.S. Department of Education. These grants would also help strengthen the college’s academic offerings, program quality and institutional stability.
Coquemont explained the importance of this designation: “Not only does it change how the community might see us, but it also allows us to be able to receive grants from the federal government to further create success support to SLCC students.”
For an institution to become eligible, at least 25% of their undergraduate full-time equivalent students must be Hispanic, according to the U.S. Department of Education.
Coquemont also serves on the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA) board as the 2021-2023 Region V Regional Director-Elect as well as a consultant for the External Review program for The Association for Orientation, Transition, and Retention in Higher Education (NODA).
Coquemont said she would love to have more visibility at the college so students understand they have a very valuable resource in her, available to them always.
“One of the things that really causes me a lot of joy is when a student has a problem and they reach out to me directly,” she said. “I think a lot of students don’t know they can do that, but I am absolutely one of the right people who can immediately help them and figure out a way that they can move forward from whatever issue they’re dealing with.”
Following initial COVID-19 lockdowns in March 2020, Coquemont hopes students still feel like they belong at SLCC as they return to the classroom this fall semester.
“My main worry is that students will have twinges of imposter syndrome and feel like they don’t belong here,” she said. “But my team and I are here to remind them how valued they are as a Bruin.”
Coquemont believes the college can learn a lot about its students by seeing how they have dealt with the difficult task of attending college during a pandemic.
“I think we’ve learned how resilient our students are,” she said. “It really shows that even though some of our students don’t have a lot of resources, they have a lot of motivation. They have a lot of belief in themselves and belief in their goals.”
Coquemont advised students who are considering leaving SLCC without a degree to speak with someone from the college, noting that the particular person you choose to speak with doesn’t really matter as long as you talk to someone.
“I think, sometimes students think that the barriers are so big that they’re irremovable, so they just leave and don’t talk to anyone, when in reality, if they had told me or someone on my team, we maybe could’ve found a solution for them,” she said.
For students who are struggling to finish their degree at SLCC, Coquemont noted the importance of the experiences outside of the classroom that are available to students at the college. Whether that be joining a club, getting involved in student government or coming to an event, Coquemont said these experiences can complement a student’s coursework well and add a lot of dimensions to their overall college experience.
“We know that those things help long term with the way that students develop, and the way students start to make meaning of the world and make better candidates for jobs,” she said.
With her team, Coquemont passionately aims to meet the needs of students and help them have a worthwhile experience at SLCC.
“I love students, and I want all of you to be successful,” she said. “Student Affairs staff is here to support you, answer your questions, and connect you to resources.”