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NOVA Director's Lasting Legacy

Jane Tinsley

August 31, 2017 marked the end of an era for Eastern Kentucky University and its NOVA program, as Jane Tinsley ended her long, distinguished run with the program. A 1982 graduate of Union College, Jane began working as a Counselor with EKU NOVA in 1989. In the mid-1990’s Jane became the Assistant Director, working for the highly-influential Kate Williams in that capacity for many years. When Kate retired in 2010, Jane became NOVA’s Director, a role she filled until her retirement.

Jane taught NOVA-related courses for more than 20 years, helping to create a freshman orientation course specific to the unique needs of the first-generation students NOVA serves. Jane also helped create and teach the upper-level tutor peer training course that has become a hallmark of the NOVA model at Eastern. These courses weren’t tied to any of the university’s subject areas as much as they taught students how to be part of the university, introducing and supplementing skills such as how to go to college, how to study, how to find an on-campus job, how to adjust socially and personally to a new environment, that other students might bring with them to college. Her goal in teaching these courses was always to help students realize their potential, and she took great pleasure in seeing students grow into themselves and develop from wide-eyed freshmen into fully-prepared professionals. Correspondingly, the goal of the NOVA program, a project whose very mission so closely matches that of the university, has been to be a demonstration program, by employing cutting-edge programming and practices, to simultaneously meet the needs of the student population and set a course for the university as a whole. Jane takes pride in NOVA’s successes on both fronts, as a huge number of NOVA alumni work in influential positions on campus and in the service region, and as the university culture lines up with NOVA values more and more.

In each of her roles with NOVA, Jane embraced the program’s inherent challenges: how to continually reinvent practices and dynamically interpret the theory behind the federal TRiO goal of working with underrepresented populations to provide relevant practices that might not otherwise be available to all students, and especially those who struggle to adapt to the culture of college. Jane learned early on that people move at their own pace, and that an educator is there to make resources available. She learned patience in waiting for students to decide – and figure out how – to make it on their own. She paid a lot of attention to the fine line between empowering students and risking doing too much for them. She learned how and when to step back, but experienced a lifetime of self-fulfillment through helping hundreds and thousands of students.

And as she ended her career, Jane could see her whole staff embracing a holistic approach to working with students, not separating the personal from the academic from the social from the professional. The NOVA program greets every new student with a needs assessment, tailoring programming to meet individual students’ learning styles, career goals, and academic possibilities, and updating plans with every advising appointment. Through this personalization of services, a structured program is proven malleable, blending researched practices and a staff culture of professional development with a deeply student-centered approach to growth and development.

The approach to developing students continues to evolve within the NOVA program, as it does nationally, as career focus is introduced ever-earlier and as peer tutoring and mentoring services that were once unique to NOVA are now outsourced to other areas of campus so that NOVA resources can now be directed toward career shadowing and service learning. Through it all, though, a team approach prevails, with the close collaboration of the staff inspiring a selflessness and willingness to give back among NOVA students.

This attitude is ultimately the legacy Jane hopes she has left on the NOVA program. She hopes students are willing to get involved in meaningful work on campus and in their field; she hopes that instead of staying cloistered on campus they’ll study abroad and throw themselves into service learning opportunities. And she hopes that the program’s next Director will “always have a heart.” Her wise advice is that NOVA staff recognize that the student who seems toughest to work with is the one that needs help most, that the energy and patience required is absolutely worth it, and that there is no substitute for the promise of bright, hardworking students. The NOVA program meets these students where they are. It’s the program’s goal – and the next Director’s job – to know what first generation college students really need when they’re busy wondering whether they even belong on a college campus. NOVA knows they do, and Jane Tinsley proved it to countless students. For them, and for her, that has made all the difference.

Published on September 15, 2017

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