August 15, 2020

Wes Hillyard: Success Story

Wes Hillyard '05 serves as the director of Academic Services. Photo by Suzanne Carr Rossi.

Wes Hillyard ’05 serves as the director of Academic Services. Photo by Suzanne Carr Rossi.

One of Wes Hillyard’s most meaningful Mary Washington memories was his commencement ceremony in 2005. Dressed in cap and gown, processing down Campus Walk behind the Eagle Pipe Band, he was cheered on by faculty, staff and administrators, as well as friends and family, who had all helped him reach his goals.

He’d experience that same milestone a decade later – but this time, from the perspective of an administrator.

“I love how the entire University community turns out for Honor Convocation and Eagle Gathering at the start of our students’ time here, and comes together again when they graduate,” said Hillyard, who directs UMW’s Office of Academic Services.

His team of professional and faculty advisors guides undergraduates as they navigate their college careers. It’s a joy, he said, to watch students, especially those who struggled academically or had difficulty choosing a major, finally earn their diplomas.

“Through hard work, commitment and collaboration among many colleagues,” Hillyard said, “we’re able to help those students re-chart their course and ultimately attain degrees.”

His own positive experiences with UMW faculty advisors led him to pursue a master’s degree in student affairs administration at the University of Virginia. He held jobs at James Madison University and Northern Virginia Community College before returning to Mary Washington in 2015.

He enjoys meeting with students face-to-face, Hillyard said, but was impressed by his department’s transition to virtual advising appointments via Zoom and the EAB Navigate system this spring.

With commencement moving to fall, this semester didn’t bring the same sense of closure, said Hillyard, who’s on track to earn a doctorate from VCU next May.

“But I think it will be even more meaningful when we’ve had time to reflect and really appreciate the opportunity to come together and celebrate.”

 

The Academic Services team prefers advising students face-to-face, but Hillyard said that using Zoom and the EAB Navigate system has worked well this semester. Photo by Suzanne Carr Rossi.

The Academic Services team prefers advising students face-to-face, but Hillyard said that using Zoom and the EAB Navigate system has worked well this semester. Photo by Suzanne Carr Rossi.

Q: How many students took advantage of UMW’s alternative grading scale this spring?
A: They were able to make the switch themselves through Banner, and 15 percent of all spring course registrations were in the Credit/Pass/No Credit grade mode, according to the Office of the Registrar. 

Q: What were some of your favorite Mary Washington traditions as a student?
A: Rocktoberfest and Devil Goat Day. I had a blast competing in an obstacle course against my marketing professor!  

Q: What’s the most rewarding part of your job?
A: Collaborating with colleagues across the University to identify the best ways to support our students. 

Q: The most challenging?
A: UMW is committed to helping all students succeed; however, it cannot be a one-sided process. When students are unwilling to work toward their success, it can be very difficult. 

Q: What do you miss most about being on campus?
A: My colleagues and students who make Mary Washington such a great community. My wife and I have taken our kids there to ride their bikes since we live nearby. It’s still beautiful, but eerily quiet. 

Q: What do you do when you aren’t working?
A: Spend lots of time with my family – our 5- and 2- year-old keep us busy. We also love amusement parks and look forward to going once the quarantine is over.   

Q: What’s your motto?
A: “If you can dream it, you can do it!” – Walt Disney

Brian Strecker: Strategy for Success

As one of UMW's student success coordinators, Brian Strecker helps students who are facing academic probation design strategies to improve their grades and achieve their goals. Photo by Suzanne Carr Rossi.

As one of UMW’s student success coordinators, Brian Strecker helps students who are facing academic probation design strategies to improve their grades and achieve their goals. Photo by Suzanne Carr Rossi.

It’s crunch time at the University of Mary Washington. Students are hitting the books, writing papers, completing projects and downing copious amounts of coffee to pull all-nighters.

The last few weeks of the semester can be stressful for anyone, particularly for those struggling to keep up. That’s where Brian Strecker and the Office of Academic Services come in. As one of UMW’s student success coordinators, Strecker works closely with students on academic probation to help them adopt strategies to improve their grades and achieve their goals.

“I make sure my students know that I care about their success, but more importantly, about them,” said Strecker, whose bachelor’s degree in philosophy prepared him to solve problems, and theatrical work taught him to hone his listening and responding skills. “As we work together, I share in their excitement at their accomplishments.”

Each student’s plan for improvement is tailored to individual circumstances, abilities and needs. But Strecker encourages everyone he helps to attend classes and engage with the network of professors, peer tutors, academic consultants, and personnel from the Writing and Speaking centers who are here to offer support and guidance.

“Over time, our students learn that many people on campus care about them,” he said, “and they become more connected to the UMW community.”

The thank-you notes from students – and sometimes even parents – that Strecker keeps in his office are a testament to his own success on the job and the impact he makes at Mary Washington.

 

Q: Where are you from and how long have you lived in the Fredericksburg area?
A: I was born in Stuttgart, then part of West Germany. Since 2002, I’ve lived in a drafty, pre-Civil War gothic cottage I restored in downtown Culpeper.

Q: What is the most rewarding part of your job?
A: Witnessing the transformation of students, as they begin to realize they can be successful and become more engaged on campus.

Q: The most challenging?
A: Convincing students of their need for engagement and of their responsibility for accountability.

Q: What would people be surprised to learn about you?
A: I’m a trained dancer. I actually shared a waltz with Mira Sorvino shortly after she won an Academy Award for her role in Mighty Aphrodite.

Q: How do you spend your free time?
A: I’m an introvert by nature and value having alone time, but I love being with my friends and family as well. I’m also an active Catholic who prays a lot, and though I’m not a voracious reader, I enjoy books about American history.

Q: What’s the most inspiring book you’ve read lately?
A: The Life of Thomas More by Peter Ackroyd. I also just started reading The Slaves’ War: The Civil War in the Words of Former Slaves by Andrew Ward.

Q: What’s your motto?
A: I’ve never thought of having one, but I live by the words, “Do not be afraid to love.”