College is an important and sometimes difficult experience for students, but it is also rewarding and full of growth opportunities. The Office of Student Success and Inclusion (OSSI) at BYU works to give students the help they need to be successful and to feel a sense of belonging on campus.
Assistant to the President Vern Heperi, EdD ’02, who leads that office, feels that it is important to work with all different types of students. “We're very interested in students from different populations who really find themselves on the periphery of many of the activities and services on campus; for example, our multicultural students, our first-generation students, and students from the LGBT community,” he said. “We want to direct all of those students to student services on campus and have them be supported.”
Heperi has been in this position for two years after serving as dean of students for 15 years. Meeting with students and helping them succeed is something that he has enjoyed in both positions. An important role of his current office is to point students toward resources that will help them graduate, and sometimes that is as straightforward as making students aware of all the resources and advisors available to them. “Something as simple as a writing assignment for English 150: a first-generation student, compared to a traditional student who has had education in their background, will react differently to the frustration of writing a paper. Trying to close those equity gaps is something that's really important.”
Helping students to feel included and fostering a true sense of belonging on campus is another important role of Heperi’s office. One strategy to achieve this has been to hold panels and discussions about issues students are facing. Heperi noted the particular success that LGBT-centric discussions have had, saying, “I'm very, very supportive of engaging discussions, especially about hard subjects—subjects that we might not be familiar with, subjects on which our thinking might not be fully developed.” These activities have been well attended and allow for learning and understanding among students, faculty, and staff.
Although there have been limitations to these activities due to COVID-19, Heperi is optimistic about the ability of his office to continue its work in a socially distanced way. “What’s interesting about this time with COVID is that contact with students has increased because of the availability of technology that puts advisors in contact with the students. We're finding ways to continue to stay in contact with students, which I think is going to be important, especially following Thanksgiving, when they're all going to remote learning or staying home.”
Heperi attributes a lot of his own success to support that he received from his advisors as an EdLF student. As a first-generation student himself, Heperi knows the importance of support from faculty and is eager to pay it forward to current students. “My employer felt like receiving my doctorate was important because it gave me an opportunity to serve students, but really . . . I was giving back to those who have given to me by helping others along the way. I’ll always be grateful for the type of mentoring support that I've received from them.”
Writer: Camille Ladd
Contact: Cynthia Glad 801-422-1922