Ann, Yvonne Canada, and Melody Phillips at Ann’s surprise graduation partyAnn Uawithya

Ann Uawithya, student services and instructional support coordinator at Diablo Valley College San Ramon Campus, graduated in October from Chapman University, having completed her Master of Arts degree in organizational leadership, with an executive certificate in public and nonprofit leadership.

Uawithya has been working at DVC since 1995, when she was a student worker in the Admissions and Records Office. When it was time to transfer, she applied for a permanent position so she could continue to be a part of DVC. In addition to her current position, she has worked as an Office Assistant I and II, mentor to PACE (Program for Adult College Education) and a senior office assistant.

“My initial degree was from CSU-East Bay, in liberal studies with a minor in business,” Uawithya said. “That led me to marketing, which I absolutely love. It is fascinating to connect students to programs and services that they need, and to see their faces fill with delight when they know that the support system is there for them.

“At outreach events,” she continued, “I would invite the community to explore options at DVC, ranging from College for Kids to certificate programs, AA and AS degrees, transfer, to Emeritus College or just enrolling in a class or two. My goal is to share that DVC is here for everyone from all ages and walks of life. The name ‘community college’ is so near and dear to my heart and speaks for itself. We’re a place for the community, a college for everyone to explore, learn and grow.”

Uawithya said she had a hard time deciding whether to go back to college.

“A recruiter was at the DVC San Ramon campus and we started talking,” she explained. “It’s been over 15 years since I sat in a classroom as a student, and I went back and forth with the decision. Could I do it? Would I remember how to study? How do I manage my time? One thing led to another, and the next thing I knew, I was at their orientation class and enrolled in the program.

“ It took a lot of commitment and hard work, but I achieved a 4.0 GPA. Going back to school was one of the best things I have done. And I really have to thank Kevin Horan, Yvonne Canada, and my colleagues for their support, understanding and encouragement.”

While at Chapman University, Uawithya said, she focused her research on student success and retention.

“Our students take the time to go through the matriculation process starting from enrolling, all the way through registration, but some drop out and we don’t know why,” she said. “I wanted to use this opportunity to understand and help students stay and succeed.

“I learned that students drop out for various reasons: inability to connect with anyone, no one to talk to. Some find it difficult to navigate the college system, and many enroll in classes that are too difficult, and as a result do poorly and drop from the class and college altogether. Some need to learn about our deadlines and, if needed, drop classes in a timely manner.

“This understanding helped me to create a connection with students, to share with them the many options available and to find ways to stay and succeed. The experience has been just phenomenal.” And as an added encouragement, she said, she was humbled and amazed when the professor for her Research Methods class asked to use her paper on college student retention as a model for his future classes.

“When students found out that I was going to school and working on my homework on the weekends, they were super excited,” Uawithya said. “We talked about our finals, papers, and study skills. Students who were having a difficult time juggling work, school, family and life issues would come and ask me for advice. So in addition to the knowledge I gained, going back to school has helped me form a deeper connection and camaraderie with students.”

Uawithya has been invited to be the student speaker when Chapman University has orientations for new students. “I would congratulate them for being here, and tell them that I, too, was sitting in their chair months ago, contemplating going back to school, and that the golden moment is now.”

Uawithya also noted her interest in the theory of Servant Leadership, a phrase coined by Robert Greenleaf.

“According to Greenleaf, it begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve,” she explained. “That conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. I believe that in our roles at DVC, we all have the characteristics of a Servant Leader– listening, empathy, healing, awareness, persuasion, conceptualization, foresight, stewardship, commitment to the growth of the people, and building a community. The many lives we touch in all areas of the college have changed for the better. Students have hopes and dreams, and in our roles, we help them to realize and at times exceed their own expectations. In turn, students achieve more, accomplish their goals and visions, and will give back to the community, which brings it full cycle. As an example, many students who were awarded scholarships from our Foundation are so grateful for the kindness of strangers who believe in them. They have told me that when they’re in the position to do so, they will come back and financially help other students who are walking in their shoes.”

Uawithya shared her favorite quote: “Education is better than gold. For gold and silver can melt away, but education is always yours to stay.” (Anon)