Dr. Natalie Brown is the Executive Director of Advising and Access Services, a role that oversees Academic Advisement, International Student Services, Financial Aid, and the Recruitment and Access Center—departments that support students through their academic careers. While her journey to this particular position at TMCC has many twists and turns, Brown came to TMCC to lead the Academic Advising team in 2013. “We had four advisors then,” she said, noting how much the department has grown in the past seven years to include nine academic advisors, three peer advisors and one administrative assistant.
Prior to coming to TMCC, Brown had been working as a part of the academic advising team at the University of Utah, and prior to that, Salt Lake Community College. Originally from Reno, when a position surfaced at TMCC that would bring Brown back to her hometown, she applied. “I wanted to be back home and closer to family, and the institution where I originally graduated,” Brown said. “My passion has been focused on how to help facilitate transfer and how to get students from community college to the universities and having that opportunity at a community college in my hometown was something I just couldn’t pass up.”
In addition to providing leadership and oversight to these departments in TMCC’s Student Services division, Brown is active in the Truckee Meadows community: she serves as the Nevada District NAFSA (National Association of International Educators) Chair. She is also a member of the Nevada District Export Council (NDEC), an organization that works closely with the local business community. She also works within various NSHE groups and task forces.
Getting involved and working across disciplines and departments is an integral part of how Brown sees her role as a leader both on campus and in the community. She also sees herself as a part of a strong team of professionals. “There are members on my teams that are on just about every standing committee that we have on campus. Everyone tries to be really involved, and we collaborate regularly with our peers in academics and working together across student services and across different divisions. But, it’s definitely a team effort. I can’t do it alone,” she said.
A True TMCC Journey
Brown started her academic journey at TMCC High School, where she was a part of its second class graduating students. She also participated in Upward Bound, a program for low-income, first generation college students at the University of Nevada, Reno. “I really love that program,” said Brown. “It opened my eyes to the possibility of even attending college since neither of my parents [did.]”
Brown would work for the Upward Bound program as an undergraduate student at UNR, where she helped high school students to navigate the myriad opportunities available to them in higher education. Brown didn’t know it at the time, but this experience would start a life-long passion for academic advising. Yet at first her life would go in a different direction as she continued her education, earning a Master of Arts degree in Spanish.
“I really thought that I would be continuing on to do a Ph.D. in that, [but] life changed, as it does, and I found myself looking for other opportunities to work in higher education,” she said. One position in particular intrigued her: there was an opening for an academic advisor at Salt Lake Community College in Utah.
However, it required (as most academic advising positions do) experience in academic advising. That wasn’t something Brown had, but the college accepted her undergraduate experience working for Upward Bound as advising experience. “They took a chance on me,” she said. “And I loved it. I loved working with students, and seeing what their possibilities were.”
Brown still remains in contact with her former advisees—one in particular who scheduled an appointment mere months after Brown started the job. When he took a seat across from her desk and said: “I want to be an elephant trainer,” Brown knew she had found her calling.
“I thought: ‘OK, let’s figure this out. I’m going to help him work through this process, and like most students, I’ll guide him on this journey. He may change his mind,” she said.
She helped the student look for volunteer opportunities to gain practical experience as well as looking at job descriptions for elephant trainers, so the student could take classes that would speak to the specific skills required for that career. Brown worked closely with this student for two years at Salt Lake Community College. When he transferred, they continued to work together to ensure his classes and degree choice was aligned with his long-term goals.
“Now he’s an elephant trainer at a zoo, and I love seeing where his life is taking him. [He often mentions] that not many people believed in his dream. And [sometimes] you just need someone to push you and say ‘OK, these are the steps you need to take, and this is what it looks like, and I will help you research this’. We need people in our corner. And if you side-step or falter, you hit a roadblock, you have people who can figure out what your next step is with you. So, you’re never really alone. And that’s one thing I love about Academic Advising,” she said.
When Brown came to TMCC, she worked with the team of advisors to restructure the new student orientation program (SOAR). The department continues this tradition by revising the orientation every year to make sure it is relevant, useful, and that it addresses current issues that new students face. “It’s constantly trying to think about: what’s a better way to do this? And that drive to innovate and make better—that’s one thing I really appreciate about all my teams,” Brown said.
Brown also asked that academic advisors who attend conferences prepare presentations for those conferences they wished to attend. “The first time around, I think they were nervous,” she said. “I think they didn’t believe they could do that, or that they had knowledge to share. Watching them at their first advising conference was a memorable experience for me,” she said.
It has since become a TMCC Academic Advising department tradition: all of the academic advisors present regionally or nationally each year. “TMCC Advisors put on webinars for the Global Community for Academic Advising (NACADA) or present at conferences or submit articles to enhance the field of advising. TMCC has really been brought to the forefront of advising research, of advising information and people know the TMCC Academic Advisors because they are involved in research and sharing information at conferences or online—it’s really exciting to see how the departmental expertise has grown over the years.”
Opening Opportunities for International Students
Brown also has experience working with international students, who often face challenges that those who study in their home countries don’t. When Brown worked at the Advising team at the University of Utah, she was regularly sent abroad to meet with international students who had committed to studying there to help them with their class schedules, secure housing, to talk more in-depth about their degree plans.
“I would get sent to China to work with Chinese students who would be coming to the university,” she said. “This helped to make sure they had a familiar face once they arrived in the U.S. And it’s so interesting how this all comes together in my new role now… having a background in Spanish, international advising, overseeing the international program at TMCC, and watching it grow.”
In the fall of 2019, TMCC hosted a one-day symposium in honor of International Education Week that featured a keynote speaker—a TMCC alumnus who was an international student from Ghana. Brown said the event was definitely a highlight due to the collaboration between TMCC academic faculty and the International Services Team.
Brown has also been integral to other international partnerships that have helped to grow the population of International students on campus. Last year, a group of students from the automotive and diesel programs participated in an exchange to the SENATI Institute in Peru, where they witnessed how CTE education is completed in another country.
While COVID-19 has halted any future exchange programs for the foreseeable future, TMCC and SENATI continue to partner in order to work together to find best practices in terms of offering students quality educational experiences in a remote learning environment. “We are working together with SENATI to assist them in their transition to remote learning with some of their technical classes,” said Brown.
While Fall 2020 would have seen the largest incoming class of international students, Brown continues to work with her team to develop ways of remaining connected to students, near and far. “We want them to know that we’re still here and that there’s no need to delay your education.”
Beyond the Big City: Home Means TMCC
Brown, like many TMCC students, faculty and staff, admits she misses the Dandini Campus where the facilities department maintains a remarkably beautiful campus. Beyond the physical structure and walkways, Brown values the innovation, creativity, and drive of her TMCC colleagues. “It doesn’t matter who you’re working with or what committees you’re on. Everyone is ready to jump on board and will provide ideas and creative out-of-the-box thinking to solve problems [to] respond to the community and our students,” she said.
Community colleges provide unique opportunities for students of all ages, demographics, and backgrounds—TMCC offers this and more to students who may not have otherwise gone to college. For students both near and far, that’s an opportunity worth working toward. “Everyone cares...and works hard and so many hours to help our students, and that’s why I love TMCC,” Brown said.
On July 23, Brown and Amanda Stibick, Program Manager for TMCC International Student programs, will host a Facebook Live webinar on “The Benefits Beyond the Big City” for StudyUSA. The Facebook Live session happens at 9 a.m. PDT.
For more information about Academic Advisement, contact the department at 775-673-7062.