“You only get one chance to make a first impression” and new Vice President of Academic Affairs Dr. Beth Norton remembered her first introduction to Chattanooga State culture and its impact upon her about five years ago. “I enjoyed the interaction I had with the faculty and staff. Everyone seemed hard-working, student-centered, and down-to-earth,” stated Norton. “When I saw the job advertisement for the vice president of Academic Affairs position, I was eager to apply because of the experience I had there several years earlier,” she continued.
“Chattanooga State is excited to welcome Dr. Norton to the college family. The experience she brings from the Kentucky Community and Technical College System as well as from within the College System of Tennessee will help the College move forward with meeting our student success and completion goals,” stated Chattanooga State President Dr. Rebecca Ashford.
With 29 years of experience in higher education, Dr. Norton says that her goal is to make a difference in the lives of others. “Perhaps that is why I have had such a long career in community colleges. Our students have so many obstacles in their lives and there is no better feeling than seeing them persevere and reach their goal. That is why I love graduation so much. Each student who walks across the stage has just opened up doors to improve his or her life,” shared Norton.
Norton’s first order of business includes listening. “I want to develop a sense of culture and expectations at Chattanooga State, and in the community,” she said. Next, she would like to build relationships with the academic leadership team and the other departments throughout the College and familiarize herself with processes and procedures. “Finally, I would like to study the academic offerings to learn how Chattanooga State is meeting the needs of its diverse population of students,” she added.
Long-term, her immediate priority is preparing for the upcoming Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC) reaffirmation in 2021. SACSCOC is the regional body for the accreditation of degree-granting higher education institutions in the Southern states. “My second long-term goal is to continue to grow in my position to better serve the College and the Chattanooga community,” stated Norton.
One of the most important words on the minds of all educators is retention, which is the percentage of a school’s first-time, first-year undergraduate students who continue at that school the next year. Dr. Norton feels that retention is everyone’s concern. “Our students come to the College with academic and personal barriers that prevent them from succeeding. Removing as many barriers as possible for these students is imperative. Further, students need to feel that they belong at our College. That means we have to have places where all students can feel a connection to someone. Retention is not just an academic side of the house concern or a student affairs side of the house concern; it is a College concern,” she commented. Her plan involves working across institutional silos to identify barriers, specific to our students, and then developing and implementing strategies to eliminate those barriers.
Statistics show that Chattanooga State has slightly more part-time than full-time students. Norton says that educators tend to focus on pathways to graduation for full-time students, but that pathways to completion for part-time students is not spelled out as well. She says that there is a need to ensure that we are scheduling courses in sequences for all students to complete in a timely manner. “The same would be true for online students, since online programs are growing. Having clearly established pathways, in varying formats, with deliberate scheduling to meet those pathway requirements for high school students, and adult learners, coming to Chattanooga State (and beyond) is one way we can move the graduation needle upward,” explained Norton.
Previously serving as assistant vice president for academic affairs at Pellissippi State, Dr. Norton had success in supervising an academic cohort program, which provided very high completion rates, especially to adult learners who are drawn to such programs. She said it might be a program she would like to see replicated at Chattanooga State because the cohort brings two important aspects to the students’ experience. “Students feel a sense of belonging with their cohort group as they move through the accelerated curriculum and they have the cohort director as a source of support to help remove some of the barriers they face during their time at the College,” shared Norton.
Beth and her husband Don enjoy boating and are very excited to be close to beautiful lakes located in this area. They are the proud parents of three girls between therm. All three girls have graduated college and are gainfully employed. Kaiti is a social media marketer for a company in Nashville, Madison is a nurse in Kentucky, and Lauren is an event planner in Kentucky. They recently welcomed a son-in-law to the family who is in school to become a nurse anesthetist.