An empathetic trailblazer tackles student concerns

4/2/2008 - By: Patrick McDonnell

Fabienne McPhail Naples welcomed more than 25 mentors participating in 7:30 a.m. training sessions for the University’s second-year ASCENT program with Reno’s Hug High School April 2. The program, All Students College Educated in Nevada Today, matches high school sophomores with professionals in the community to help the young people reach their goal of attending the University.

“I’ve got a real sensitivity to underrepresented, low-income and nontraditional students,” said the campus’ new associate vice president for Student Success Services in an March 20 interview in her Juniper Hall office. “I certainly came from that background, and that’s one of the reasons why I’m attracted to the University of Nevada.”

Naples, who began her new job March 3, said the thoughtful relationship-building that unfolds individually between the 70 campus-affiliated mentors, the 120 community mentors and the total of nearly 200 students they are matched with will quickly make a difference in college-going rates among families hoping to send a son or daughter to college for the first time. Mentor Days are planned on campus this fall, and the program may expand to involve as many as three other northern Nevada high schools soon.

Naples replaces Angela Taylor, who retired in summer 2007 after helping to reshape Student Support Services. “I don’t mind at all if people call me ‘the new Angie Taylor,’” said Naples, who came to the University from UCLA, where she was associate director of admissions and special assistant to the vice chancellor.

Student Success Services is one of three units in the Division of Student Services, along with Enrollment Services and Student Life Services.

Naples leads nine programs, including Career Development and Counseling Services, the TRIO and McNair Scholars programs, the Academic Skills Center, the Nevada Promise and ASCENT programs, the Center for Student Cultural Diversity and Parents’ Network.

“They’re my dream team,” said Naples of her staff of 47. “The staff and directors in Student Success Services are outstanding. You can’t get any better.

“I love working with these professionals and I like the community here. I hope to stay a long time.”

Her higher education background is filled with both success and variety. She served as a faculty member for 12 years, was a dean of social sciences and held student services leadership positions in admissions, residential life and student conduct during a career that spanned from 12,000-student Moorpark College to Stanford University, Santa Monica College, San Francisco State University and then UCLA.

“The University is proud to have attracted a higher education professional such as Dr. Naples,” said Shannon Ellis, University of Nevada, Reno vice president of student services. “She has an exceptional background in both academic and student services leadership. Fabienne has innovative ideas and fresh perspectives, and those strengths are already helping the University achieve recruitment and retention goals for our students.”

Naples earned her bachelor’s degree at the University of Iowa, and she described Iowa City as a place where she was nurtured educationally and intellectually. She said her early impression of Nevada has reminded her of the way she felt at Iowa.

“I worked for the Women’s Center as an undergraduate there, and that influenced me more than probably anything,” she said. “I got such an education through the student services component and the academic component. It gave me a good foundation in both areas for my career.”

Naples earned an interdisciplinary master’s degree in history and literature from Emory University in Atlanta and her doctorate in education from the educational leadership program at UCLA.

She said the challenges of improving student retention at state-supported higher education institutions are daunting.

“Financial aid is always at the heart of the matter,” she noted. “It’s a tough challenge for students, not just in Nevada but nationwide.

“The economic challenges are tremendous to overcome because many families can’t afford to take on the debt (from student loans).”

The West Coast has the most challenging environment for working and studying simultaneously, Naples said. Some students are fighting rent increases while accumulating as much as $50,000 or $75,000 in debt upon graduation, she noted.

“That is the biggest challenge — the finances. Once we can help them figure that out — and we’re getting help from Enrollment Services, they’ll be a strong partner in bringing together financial aid — all those elements are critical. But, like I say, it’s how a student can make a living separate from their family that really interferes with their education. And that’s particularly challenging for low-income students or those who come from first-generation families.

“Students feel that they cannot bring all of these elements together for success. That is what I hope to contribute to the University — showing them the way.”

Naples said she will find success by “casting a wider net,” especially to encourage more students to use the University’s Student Success Services unit and benefit from the talent of the professionals she oversees.


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