The Interview USA
Austin Community College
Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor for Academic and Student Affairs

Monique Umphrey

Higher Education (HE) Student Affairs teams are tasked with supporting students outside the classroom to ensure they achieve success within it. However, for Monique Umphrey, the Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor for Academic and Student Affairs at Austin Community College, the relationship between the academic and social sides of college goes both ways. 

Monique took the time to speak with Chris Mansfield, Co-Host of The Interview, to discuss why academic success also drives social success, and how her team enables faculty and staff to support diverse students in all areas of college life. 

Monique's Journey

Chris: Let’s start with a brief introduction to yourself and your institution… 

My name is Monique Umphrey, and I’m the Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor for Academic and Student Affairs at Austin Community College. We serve 70,000 students across eleven campuses, and we recently passed a $770 million bond to reinforce those campuses and build two new ones. Also, due to our dedication to the region’s workforce, the Mayor of Austin recently chose us to be a partner in a regional infrastructure project. We have the complete confidence of our community, and form a significant part of the region’s economic backbone.

Chris: What made you want to work in Academic and Student Affairs?

During my first year in college, I felt like I was tolerated rather than celebrated. From that experience, I decided I wanted to create a college community wherein all students could thrive because they were championed as individuals, no matter their identity. Many people think that Student Affairs deals with those issues, while Academic Affairs is more about installing rigor in the classroom. I think you can marry the two, and support students in both their social and academic endeavors simultaneously. I don’t want anyone to feel like they have to fight for their education, so my work is becoming increasingly important with the various challenges that modern students face. I was drawn to Austin Community College because, instead of being a diploma mill, we teach students to advocate for themselves and others, and help them rise above their constraints. I’ve worked my way up in the world of Academic and Student Affairs, and I’m still in awe of the positive changes we make to students’ lives.  

Chris: How do you create a positive campus climate for students? 

We run a lot of awareness-raising campaigns for issues like mental health, not just for our student body, but for our faculty, administrators, and staff. Our staff need to understand students' issues because they’ve changed beyond recognition in the last few years. Students can no longer get a part-time job to support themselves through college and have money left over for pizza. They're up against housing, food, and financial insecurity, alongside other challenges that have created a HE environment in which it's exceptionally hard for non-traditional students to earn their degrees. For example, only 2% of our parent scholars are able to earn a bachelor’s degree by the age of 30. We do whatever we can for our staff to help them grasp the realities facing our students, whether it’s sharing such statistics or putting them through a poverty simulation. With that knowledge, they can form the foundation of a positive community that understands and supports students, whatever they might be going through. 

Chris: How do you engage time-poor students with your initiatives? 

It all comes down to increasing the visibility of our clubs, societies, and communities, and the many support resources we offer. For example, we have the ACC NeuroBats, an initiative that pairs neurodiverse students with transformation coaches to help them overcome challenges. The group focuses on awareness, advocacy, and support, and it’s really helped our neurodiverse students blossom. A NeuroBats student recently presented at South by Southwest (SXSW), advocating for themselves and their entire student body. That spread the word around our campuses so that other students learned about the NeuroBats, saw how much they can help, and knew how to access that support if needed. We also work with professional organizations such as Generation Hope, a support network for parent scholars to whom we regularly refer our students. When students seek support from these groups, and aren’t afraid to share their stories of growth, they lay the foundation for future students to engage with our initiatives. 

Chris: How do you support students during their transition to college?

Our motto for onboarding is ‘start strong.’ We’ve learned that, if students have just two visits to their academic advisor during their first semester with us, it increases retention by 13%. So, we are redesigning our orientation to make it more engaging and exciting, but we are  also making sure it signposts students to advisors and support personnel. We work hard to normalize help-seeking behavior so students aren’t afraid or embarrassed to access those resources. Since the transition to college is a significant change, I tell my team that we have to be the bumper rails around our students. That means ensuring they have everything they need, from their degree maps to our contact details, to ensure they thrive socially and academically.

Chris: What’s the best advice you’ve received during your career?

Most of us pursue HE work because we want to positively impact students’ lives. However, if you have just one bad day, you can forget all about that goal. When faced with negativity, I always ask myself, ‘Will this matter in six weeks, six months, or six years?’ If it won’t, I don’t let it bother me, and I certainly don’t let it affect my work. My father told me that our legacies aren’t based on the day-to-day, but on how we shape those who come after us. Remain positive even through trying times, focus on your goals, and you’ll be surprised by how much impact you can make. 

Curious to see what the future of training looks like?
Chris Mansfield
Client Services
Chris is one of the Client Service leads at GoodCourse, dedicated to helping institutions better engage their audience to create a more inclusive, safer, and more successful environment. To request to be featured on the series, get in touch at

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