Miami Hurricane reporter Alexandra Leon sat down with the Assistant to Vice President and Ombudsperson Dr. Gail Cole-Avent to discuss her role as the overseer of the Ombudsperson and University Troubleshooters Program. Read more to see how she and the rest of the staff members assist students.
The Miami Hurricane: What is the role of an ombudsperson? How many are there?
Dr. Gail Cole-Avent: The role of the ombudsperson is to listen and provide guidance to students. We facilitate a voluntary process to open communication between students and members of the university community in order to resolve concerns and issues. We listen to student concerns, investigate the facts surrounding the matter and make objective recommendations to achieve an effective resolution. It is important to understand that the ombudsperson does not dictate or override existing policies. There are two administrators who serve in the ombudsperson role. I have served as the University Ombudsperson since June 2008, and I oversee the Ombudsperson and University Troubleshooters Program. I address student concerns regarding administrative offices and services. Mr. V. Chunoo serves as the Academic Ombudsperson. He focuses on academic concerns with the schools and colleges.
TMH: How does the Ombudsperson and University Troubleshooters Program work?
GCA: Our motto is “Stop! Come see us first – Student Talking Out Possibilities.” Students should see us when they are looking for guidance on how to address a concern such as grade appeals, class withdrawal, financial assistance, or a housing concern. The program was established to open channels of communication between students and the university by providing an identifiable person to listen to student concerns. The objective of the program is to connect students to faculty and administrators who will listen, answer questions, interpret policies/procedures and provide guidance on the appropriate steps to consider for a resolution.We do not want students to feel as though they are being shuffled around and not receiving answers to their concerns.
TMH: Do different departments on campus get their own troubleshooters? How many troubleshooters are there on campus?
GCA: A University Troubleshooter is designated by his/her department, college or school to fulfill that role. For 2012-2013, there are 18 academic troubleshooters and 20 administrative troubleshooters. All new students will receive a brochure with the University Troubleshooter contact listing in their orientation packets. The listing may also be found at miami.edu/ombudsperson or by calling 305-284-4922.
TMH: What different channels are available for students who wish to contact an ombudsperson or troubleshooter? How does a student get in contact with you?
GCA: I recommend that a student start by contacting the appropriate University Troubleshooter, first. In most cases, a concern can be resolved at the departmental level. A student may find the contact list on the website, which includes email addresses and phone numbers. Once the appropriate troubleshooter has been contacted, you may reach out to an ombudsperson, if needed. You may contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 305-284-4922. We request that students fill out the on-line case submission form prior to meeting with an ombudsperson at miami.edu/ombudsperson.
TMH: What advice would you give to a student placed in a difficult or uncertain situation?
GCA: Do not be fearful, ashamed or too proud to seek help. We are here to provide support so that you will be successful at the University of Miami. Students often do not access an ombudsperson or university troubleshooter until their situation is at “crisis” level. Crisis level means that it has to be resolved in less than 24 hours and that is often challenging, especially when other departments must be included. This is why we encourage students to start early.
TMH: What do you like most about helping students?
GCA: When I was a student at my undergraduate university, I initially had a difficult time transitioning. There were several student affairs administrators who really reached out and helped me identify ways to be successful and continued to provide that support throughout my four years. That same commitment and concern that they had for me is what I strive to provide to collegiate students. I want to see students succeed in all aspects of their life while at UM. I take my time to get know students with whom I am working in one-on-one interactions.