10 Things to Know about Barbara Cass
- Barbara Cass is online coordinator for Business Administration, which includes two concentrations — Business Administration Comprehensive and Business Administration Management. Counting students who are in the process of enrolling and students in the program, she responds to around 250 students on a regular basis.
- She was a nontraditional student at UIS, so she’s like a lot of UIS online students. Barbara began her undergrad degree at UIS in her 40s after a store where she was working in Springfield closed. Through the Job Training Partnership Act — JTPA — she had an opportunity to go to college so she enrolled at UIS: “It was an amazing thing to get to go to college at that age,” she says.
- Barbara calls herself a Business/English “mutt.” As she was going through her undergraduate business major, she happened to take an English class. She loved it and soon decided, “This is where I should be.” So when she finished her management program, she went right into a master’s degree in English, and she’s never regretted it. She uses the writing skills she acquired all the time, she says, especially as she corresponds with students: “I’m a writing fiend!”
- She considers herself a “touchstone” for her students. A touchstone is a test for judging how genuine something is. As a touchstone, Barbara proves every day to online students that UIS’ commitment to personal, individual attention is genuine. “Students know they can always contact me about anything,” she says. “Schoolwork, problems with faculty or classes, personal problems, or just to discuss something. They can’t come to campus, but they can always contact me.”
- Barbara loves solving problems for students. “As an online coordinator, over the past 13 years, I’ve had lots of experience solving problems for students,” she says. In fact, it happens almost every day. “Sometimes students get so locked into a problem that they can’t see solutions, but I can be objective — I’m not in their heads — so I can usually help them.”
- Barbara welcomes calls from students about personal problems. A student might be going through a divorce, for example, or moving or experiencing a difficult pregnancy. Issues like these generate a lot of anxiety for students, and Barbara is always ready to encourage them, even when there’s little she can do to fix the problem: “All I can do is say I’m sorry, that I hope things will turn around soon and that they should let their faculty members know as soon as possible.”When students realize they need to take some time off, this generates even more anxiety. What if UIS won’t let them back in? What if this ends their dream of a degree? “Life happens,” Barbara says. “I tell them, ‘Your place is secure. When you’re ready to come back, let me know.'”
- Her goal for students? Success — in whatever shape that takes, even if that involves switching from business to another major. “I tell them, ‘Do what you love because then you’ll be more successful.'”Faculty members share this goal, according to Barbara. “I don’t know of a faculty member who I work with who hasn’t come to me either by email or phone with concerns about online students who aren’t going to succeed not because they can’t but because they’re just not showing up.” For these students, Barbara calls and then emails and then calls again in an effort to draw them back in. “The bottom line for me is their success.”
- Barbara has a deep respect for online students. “Most of the students I work with,” she says, “have families and jobs and other commitments, and they often take one class a semester for a very long time. I think that is remarkable. They have to be focused. They have to shut everything else out, and I really admire that.”Because of this, her favorite event is the online brunch that precedes commencement each year at UIS. At the brunch, she can celebrate with the students who have gone all the way through the long process and made it to the end. That’s when she knows they have succeeded and so has she. “It’s the best time ever,” she says, “with lots of hugs and tears.”
- Barbara’s a Faulkner nerd. “I was in a William Faulkner seminar,” she explains, “and had to read The Sound and the Fury [a novel by Faulkner]. I fell asleep on each and every page for the first go through. Then I got to the end and said, ‘Oh, my gosh, that’s the most amazing thing I ever read.’ I went back and read it again, and then I just didn’t stop. I read a lot of Faulkner and just fell in love with him.”Anybody on her floor at UIS will agree — she insists they celebrate Faulkner’s birthday with her every year.If you’re interested in reading something by Faulkner, she recommends Knight’s Gambit, a book of short mysteries. As you read, she suggests you take special notice of Faulkner’s language, the way he structures his sentences and the way he teases a story out: “You’ll think you know where it’s going, but then it goes in a different direction.” She especially recommends the short story “A Rose for Emily” from the book.
- Barbara loves doing home repair. Really! “Many years ago,” she says, “my friends and I bought a house and remodeled it top to bottom, inside and out. So I have hung siding, I’ve done roofs, I’ve put in windows, I’ve redone floors and I’ve put in kitchens. I do plumbing, wiring. I’ve done all that stuff, and I love it.”One word of warning, however: “I’ll tell you this now so you know — don’t learn to do any of it, because if you do, you’ll never have anyone in your house to do anything. They just won’t be able to do it as well as you can!”
If you’d like to meet Barbara Cass (at least virtually), she recently appeared in a video titled Meet Jason Blake: A UIS Online Student. You’ll hear from Barbara and have a chance to meet Jason Blake, a UIS business alum.