Wednesday, July 13, 2016 Q&A with Charlie Foster
Q: Tell us a little bit about yourself.
A: I’m a transplanted southerner, originally from Alabama, born and raised in Tuscaloosa where the University of Alabama is – “Roll tide!” I got both my degrees there and worked there for 8 years at a facility for emotionally disturbed children.
But we’ve now been here in Nebraska for a long time; long enough for my kids to grow up. They are students here and both play for the football team. So, I have a great love for the students on this campus.
I was hired in as a diversity hire and that has remained very important to the work that I do. I’ve been an advisor to the Afrikan Peoples Union for at least 12 years now. I had the joy of being the advisor when we brought a Big 12 conference with 1,100 people to our campus!
Q: Why do you choose to work in higher education?
A: I’ve had the opportunity to serve on different committees and find that there are some places where a good representative for our students is necessary. My background allows me to understand both: 1) things about student need; and 2) the process of how to get there, which has allowed me to be a good advocate for students. I’m passionate about advocacy and planning for students – which makes for good administration.
Q: What are you most excited about in this new role?
A: I have a wonderful new staff – brand new people who are equally excited and seeking to do something new with their lives too. I think that it’s important we come in sharing a passion but also a level of excitement that might be different than folks who have been in these types of positions for a long time – we’re fresh. I always tell people to “go be amazing.” This is our opportunity to go and be amazing!
Q: What is your leadership style?
A: With young staff the idea is to make sure that they have a professional voice and that they understand their power. I’ll be empowering them the same way that I empower students to learn and to implement those things that they learn. I want to educate, but I also want to help them through this process of doing the small things that bring big things for students.
Q: What do you see as the role of OASIS and the Jackie Gaughan Multicultural Center?
A: We have the opportunity to be both a literal OASIS for students and a place where students can come feel comfortable and confident about having conversations about diversity. They may not feel as confident having those conversations in a department or lab. This is an opportunity for them to ask questions and receive honest answers without a lot of negative feedback.
Honestly, it prepares them for a very diverse world. I think it is disingenuous to say that we’re educating our students if we are not giving them education about how the world is a bunch of different people who come from different places, who look different, who sound different. I’m southern – I sound vastly different than people that I’m around often. Its important for people to get that that’s ok.
This is an opportunity for us to learn how to share information well. I want the Gaughan to be a place where people feel comfortable. Come in, have a conversation, sit with us and feel like the people here care about you.
Q: Are there particular programs of initiative that you are most interested in perpetuating?
A: I’ve had the opportunity to work with the students on social justice, so that will continue to be something that is important. With that, there is an entire community here in Lincoln that we don’t tap into nearly enough. I think it will be very important for students to have an opportunity to put into play some of those things that they talk about by working with community organizations. It’s important for students to have touches – important career-wise, but also for the learning opportunities.
Q: What do you see as the greatest opportunity for the department?
A: We are Student Affairs. This is about touching students where they are. The Gaughan is naturally a part of that. I’ve had the opportunity through CAPS to do outreach and have lots of contact with students, I want that to continue and be a part of what we do at the Gaughan. I know it already is, but if anything I want that to increase.
Q: How will your experience from CAPS help you transition to this new role?
A: I understand when students are having difficulty. I’ve spent my career talking to student who are in distress – it’s sort of a skewed view logically, but I understand how to make referrals to folks when students are having great difficulty. I understand the necessity for making sure that students understand that there are resources on this campus they may not know about. Being from CAPS, I’m from a safe place, too. Students already know my face and that I’m interested in their progress. I think those pieces will help me in this role.
Q: What will success in this role look like?
A: Success means growing a young staff. It means having touches with people who can do big things in our students lives and success means having quiet conversations with students. If I can do all those things and do them well, then I am doing my job and this will be my opportunity to empower those around me to be amazing.
Q: Do you have any tips for connecting with students?
A: Go in with your listening ears on. Very often students have a whole bunch that they want to say and no safe people to say them to. Being that person as an advisor, professor or administrator, talking to them and hearing their real concerns and guiding them in the direction of things that they need makes a difference. We have those relationships, so being able to share that information in a clear way is important for students. I remember being a freshman and not understanding how this process works. Keeping that in mind is vastly important.
Q: What's your favorite place to be on campus?
A: Honestly, I am my happiest when I am standing in the stadium standing next to the field. I’m happy because I’m watching my kids and they are the joy of my existence.
Q: Any fun facts that you'd like to share?
A: My husband has a Twitter thing going – his cousin is Beyoncé and he wants very definitely for her to come to one of the kids’ games.