Dr. Candice Baldwin has joined Millersville University as Assistant Vice President for Student Success and Retention.
Her mission is to offer the tools that students need to be successful, which inherently translates into higher student retention at the university. That may sound simple or complicated, depending on how you look at it.
“Student success hinges on the optimal balance of feeling challenged and feeling supported, says Dr. Baldwin, explaining that students need to feel they have new opportunities and challenges to meet, but that they also need support through a safety net of services and coaching that helps them reach their goals.
Dr. Baldwin notes that the idea is to give students at Millersville University the type of experience they would have at a five-star hotel. You would expect excellence in communication, service, attention and resources. Their experiences and treatment they receive from the time they check in until they check out by the various employees would make all the difference in their affinity towards and desire to return to that hotel, she explains.
Growing up in Virginia, Dr. Baldwin went to Hampton University, where she earned her bachelor’s degree in political science. She excelled as an undergraduate, but discovered a more challenging environment when she continued her education at the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Va. She earned her master’s degree in public policy and her doctorate in education policy, planning and leadership.
It wasn’t an easy adjustment initially. She struggled to master the material in one of her courses, and when she sought assistance from a professor, she was surprised to be faced with comments that hinted at stereotypes about her ability as a person of color.
“What I needed from the professor were strategies to master the new material, not hurtful comments about his thoughts about my ability to pass tests,” recalls Baldwin.
After one semester, she found herself on academic probation and she contemplated dropping out of her graduate program. A mentor helped her realize that other students of color were feeling the same way. As a graduate student, Baldwin had already achieved success as an undergraduate. The undergraduates who were feeling the same sense of stereotyping would never get their college degrees if they left. That’s when Baldwin decided to change her degree focus to educational policy. She became more involved in campus life and more engaged with other undergraduate students on campus. Through mentoring and supporting students at William & Mary, she found her passion and calling in life.
“That was the turning point for me,” says Baldwin, who began to see herself as a catalyst for other students. “Since that time, I dedicated my career to making sure that students not only have access to higher education, but they also receive the support necessary to persist and graduate.”
When Baldwin went on to Rochester Institute of Technology as senior director of academic success, one of her most successful programs was known as DIVAS— as in Determined Individuals Victoriously Achieving Success. The DIVAS program was aimed at women of diverse multicultural backgrounds, encouraging them through mentorship, personal development and academic progress.
The DIVAS program was so successful at Rochester that 100 percent of those involved in the program went on to leadership roles on campus in their first year. The graduation rate for these confident, accomplished DIVAS was also an incredible 100 percent.
“I plan to bring this program to Millersville,” says Baldwin, adding that she sees Millersville’s forward-moving BOLD path as taking the right direction for all students to feel like a valuable member of the campus community.
As a positive, visible and supportive leader at Millersville, Baldwin plans to focus on closing the achievement gap between various student populations, working collaboratively with members of the MU community to create an university-wide retention plan, while providing leadership and vision to the new Student Success Center. She sees collaborative partnerships, accountability, transparency, student-centered decision-making, inclusive processes, student engagement and data collection strategies as some of the tools that can help facilitate student success.
As Baldwin points out, feeling connected is the single most important factor in student retention. It may be a professor in the student’s major. It may be a professor teaching a non-major course. It may be a work-study supervisor or a coach or an RA in the student’s residence hall. It can be almost anyone, but that connection is often a critical measure of whether or not a student will feel engaged and connected.
“It only takes ONE meaningful connection to increase the likelihood that a student will stay at the University,” says Baldwin.
She hopes to educate Millersville educators on that key component in student success. Perhaps you will be that one meaningful connection for a student who feels uncertain and unsupported.
Baldwin looks back on her own life as a series of steps taking her in a new direction. She had planned to be a child advocate attorney, but found her passion in education policy, planning and leadership. As the first in her family to go to college, her goal is to have a transformative impact on the lives and success of students.
“Every day, I strive to be a living example of my personal mantra of lifting as I climb,” says Baldwin. “I strongly believe we are given two hands for a reason. One hand is so that we can reach up and the other is so that we can reach back. I stay late and I work hard in hopes of being the cheerleader, advocate, role model or teacher that gives the encouragement for students to persist another day or see all the possibilities ahead in their future.”
As Baldwin says, “I always joke that I never left college.” Now at Millersville University, her warmth, vibrancy and innovation promise to lead the way in Our BOLD Path to success.