Melissa Weise was introduced this week as the new coordinator for HCC's New Directions program, but the adjunct professor of sociology and psychology was late to her own welcome party.
She'd been delayed in her office talking to a prospective New Directions student who walked in without an appointment, a mother with one daughter in college and another ready to go. "She said, ‘I want to grow up and be something,'" Weise said. The woman was also trying to convince her younger daughter to come to HCC--and her mother too. "So, we could have three generations of women at HCC from one family," Weise said.
That kind of pre-admission counseling is just part of Weise's new job. As part-time coordinator, Weise will provide wrap-around services for young mothers, non-traditional age women, 24 and older, and female veterans who want to go to college. "I'm sort of a one-stop shop," Weise said, "so students don't have to visit 25 different offices on campus."
New Directions started in the late 1970s. Originally called "Women in Transition," the program targeted non-traditional age women looking to go to college and enter the workforce after raising families. The key to the program's success has always been the network of support services offered as part of the academic package. Over the years, New Directions has introduced hundreds of women to HCC and helped many of them transfer to elite private colleges such as Smith, Mount Holyoke, Hampshire and Amherst and go on to launch successful careers. There are currently 235 New Directions students at HCC.
"I'm excited. I love the program," said Weise. "I love working with that population of older students coming to school to better themselves. I'm also a clinical social worker by profession, so this is right up my alley."
As coordinator, Weise can help New Directions students with financial aid and will provide academic advising, career counseling and transfer guidance. "I can help them overcome any barriers they might be facing to being a successful student, which can sometimes feel overwhelming," Weise said during an open house at the Marieb Center Wednesday, Feb. 8. The small room on the second floor of Frost has several computer stations and also serves as a lounge area and study space for students in the New Directions and Pathways programs.
Weise has been teaching sociology and psychology at HCC part time for four years. She also holds a masters degree in social work from Boston College and is a licensed independent clinical social worker who also works as mental health therapist and clinical care coordinator for children, adolescents and adults. "I have taught New Directions students," Weise said, "and they are amazing."
Meanwhile, New Directions is expanding its focus to include men. Weise will eventually be joined in the program by a co-coordinator who will focus on veterans. The idea is to replicate the success of New Directions by applying the same formula of support services to students who have served in the military. "That population is growing and is in great need of services," said Yanina Vargas-Arriaga, vice president of Student Affairs. "Many are coming back from wars and they need someone who understands the complicated system of benefits."Photos: (Left) Irma Medina, coordinator of the Pathways program, Melissa Weise, coordinator of New Directions, and Elaine Dunlap, Pathways program assistant, gather in the Marieb Center for an open house. (Right) Student Lily Timpane, of Great Barrington, enjoys some time in the Marieb Center with Pathways coordinator Irma Medina during an open house.