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Augusta University Director of First and Second Year Experience Elizabeth Huggins, PhD, is one of 10 student advocates across the nation who will be recognized at the 43rd Annual Conference on the First-Year Experiences in Seattle. [Michael Holahan/Augusta University]

A bold advocate for student success: Augusta University’s director of First and Second Year Experiences honored nationally

Elizabeth Huggins, EdD, has been teaching first-year students at Augusta University since 2000. In 2013, Huggins’ role evolved, and she became the first director of First and Second Year Experiences.

All of her hard work and high impact on student-centered programming hasn’t gone unnoticed. This year, Huggins is being honored by the National Resource Center and Penguin Random House annual campaign. She is one of 10 student advocates across the nation who will be recognized at the 43rd Annual Conference on the First-Year Experiences in Seattle.

Huggins was surprised but knew something was up when Lorraine Evans, PhD, executive director of AU’s Academic Success Center, asked her to update her resume.

Evans and Zach Kelehear, EdD, vice provost, wrote the nominating letter, which really got to Huggins.

“It just blew me away. It was really a summary of all the things I’ve done for the last 20 years, but in a way, that sounded kind of overwhelming to me,” said Huggins.

The letter is just a snapshot of Huggins’ career. Kelehear and Evans wrote that a PBS documentary would be needed to capture her contributions to student success during her tenure at Augusta University.

Her office is nicknamed “The Treehouse,” since it overlooks the Summerville Campus. Students routinely stop in to talk or ask for advice. Huggins takes those conversations to heart, and they have often led to new program ideas.

“She is the instigator in the best possible sense. She is ambitious and optimistic all the time. No matter what the challenge, she approaches it as an opportunity and is probably one of the most positive people I know.”  

Lorraine Evans, PhD, executive director of AU’s Academic Success Center

“My mom used to tell me that I needed to stay green. And what she meant by that is to always have a growth mindset, always be growing and trying to improve. Every single program we have put on has been because a student has said, ‘I need this’ or ‘I would like to know more about that,’” added Huggins.

Kelehear said one of the programs she continues to develop is the Jaguar Jumpstart. It’s an opportunity for students who start college in the summer to be part of a small learning community fostering student success. But her office doesn’t stop there; they make sure to check in on the Jaguar Jumpstart students every year until they graduate.

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Zach Kelehear, EdD

“Beth also organizes Freshmen Convocation,” said Kelehear. “She also leads the work around the Inquiry 1000 sequence. It’s a one-hour introduction to college life. Students come in one hour, one day a week for 10 weeks and meet with a faculty member and talk about what the college experience looks like. What is the academic pathway they might be seeking and how do they really engage in this experience called college? Beth coordinates the entire program.”

Huggins has also created book clubs and advises the honors society for academic excellence for both first-year and transfer students.  

If that wasn’t enough, last year she also created the southern city swing tour. The tour came about after students mentioned to her they had never been out of Augusta or Atlanta and don’t know what’s out there or who to talk to about job prospects.

“It’s an opportunity for students to go visit with other young professionals that were hand-selected by the Chamber of Commerce in Savannah, Greenville and Charlotte. We are helping them with their transition into college, and now my office is also helping them transition from college. So it’s the full gamut,” Huggins added.

It doesn’t matter the challenge, Huggins seems always up for it. That’s not lost on her colleagues.

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Lorraine Evans, EdD

“She is the instigator in the best possible sense,” said Evans. “She is ambitious and optimistic all the time. No matter what the challenge, she approaches it as an opportunity and is probably one of the most positive people I know.”  

Even for those seniors going into the work force, Huggins is aware they may feel like first-year students again as they start a new chapter of their lives.

One analogy she uses for students is the story of sharks and jellyfish.

“A lot of times when you come into college, you’ll be like a jellyfish. They kind of float around on the waves according to whatever the current directs. So maybe you’re here because someone said it was a good idea to go to college and you didn’t have anything else to do.

“But at some point, you’ll flip your switch and become more sharklike in your efforts to get out of college and to be successful. Sharks have to be constantly moving forward or they’ll die, but they pivot to move forward. You’ll be pivoting a lot,” said Huggins.

Every year can present different challenges for students embarking on their collegiate career. Huggins makes sure she’s the advocate for the student and can help them with just about anything they come across. She might not know all the answers but will serve as a facilitator so the student can touch base with the right person.

“This award talks about being advocates for students. For me, it’s hard to imagine anyone who is as boldly obsessed with advocating for students.”

Zach Kelehear, EdD, vice provost of Augusta University

It doesn’t matter if you are a freshman or senior, most students have had some form of interaction with Huggins. Evans has seen that firsthand.

“I was out to lunch with Beth the other day and a student came up smiling and said, ‘Hugs! Dr. Huggins!’ When Beth talks to students as they arrive on campus, she tells them, ‘I’m here for you. Dr. Huggins remembered me because of hugs.’ Students meet a lot of people during orientation, but they remember her. Seeing the smile on the student’s face as she talked about her classes and what she was looking forward to this term, really encapsulated the impact she has on students. They remember her,” Evans said.

“This award talks about being advocates for students. For me, it’s hard to imagine anyone who is as boldly obsessed with advocating for students,” said Kelehear.

Even when students walk across the stage on commencement day, Huggins makes sure she is there for them.

“It’s so ironic I married a guy with the last name of Huggins because that’s all I get on graduation day — a ton of hugs from seniors. They’ll be like, ‘I am so happy!’ and give me a hug. I love to celebrate their accomplishments. In fact, I volunteer at graduation just so I can see them after they walk off the stage,” said Huggins, with a big smile.

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Written by
Kevin Faigle

Kevin Faigle is Media Relations Specialist at Augusta University. Contact him to schedule an interview on this topic or with one of our experts at kfaigle@augusta.edu.

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