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April 1, 2014

Purdue Profile: Dorothy Hughes

Dorothy Hughes

Dorothy Hughes, assistant dean of students and director of Span Plan. (Purdue University photo)
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Dorothy Hughes has a lot in common with the nontraditional students she helps: She used to be one of them.

Hughes, assistant dean of students and director of Span Plan, attended college while also balancing a family and a job. Now she works with nontraditional students to make sure they have a successful university experience.

What responsibilities do you have in your job?

I administer five annual scholarships opportunities for nontraditional students and need-based grants every semester. I also supervise a tutoring program. Span Plan provides individual tutoring in math, science and foreign language for nontraditional students. This requires recruiting tutors, hiring tutors, maintaining the website and the application process. As applications come in, I verify that they’re really students and that the class is registered here. Once all that is completed, I match the tutors and students.

Once a year, Span Plan hosts an adult student orientation program. Span Plan invites all nontraditional students who were admitted in the last year to an orientation just for adult students. We do as much as we can in one evening to give them information they need to know. The door’s open to follow up any time after that. Every month during the academic year, we do a lunchtime learning program where we procure a speaker to do programs while providing a complimentary lunch.

Of course, there’s maintaining the website and outreach to registered students and admitted students as well as collaborating with other people in the Purdue community. I also do all of the PR and see students by individual appointment.

Span Plan also advises the Purdue Adult Student Network, a social organization for adult students, and Alpha Sigma Lambda, an adult student honorary. Each spring, Span Plan invites qualifying students to be inducted into this honor society. This year we are combining the induction ceremony and the Span Plan honors program.

How has your experience as a nontraditional student helped you in your job?

Big time. I just returned from an Adult Nontraditional Students in Higher Education conference. One of the things they emphasize is the difference you make if you’ve had that experience during your own education. The empathy and understanding is just something you can’t learn in a book. It’s something you have to experience. Having taken a toddler to study groups, having worked while I was at school, trying to balance a marriage, work life and family life, I have true empathy and understanding for the students I serve.

What do you enjoy most about your job, and what do you find most rewarding?

In my position, you have to have a passion for helping this specific population. I am a born helper. I know that virtually everything I do related to students is helpful to them in some way. It’s very rewarding to help and make a difference in people’s lives.

What kinds of nontraditional students do you work with?

Purdue defines an adult student as any student who took a two-year break, whether straight out of high school or they started college and came back after two years, a U.S. military veteran or a younger student who is married and/or has a child at the undergraduate level. Two years ago, we began offering services to graduate students, too. Anybody who is a graduate or professional student is eligible for our services.

Sometimes I meet people from the community who don’t know anything about applying for college or what the requirements are. I will explain in great detail to make sure they know what admission requirements are and assess whether or not they have them. The last thing I want is someone to be denied admission when I could have prevented that. I always listen to see what they need.

One of the drawbacks to being a nontraditional student is that they aren’t part of a week-long orientation program like Boiler Gold Rush, so there are details that they miss. I do my best to fill in that gap.

What do you do in your free time?                    

Dancing is my very favorite thing to do; I’m a ballroom dancer. I love to read and belong to a couple of book groups in town. I also love to visit family and go to movies every chance I can.

Writer: Hannah Harper, harper4@purdue.edu