Administrator Irene Robles-Lopez hopes to create a more proactive system for students
By BRIANNA HERNANDEZ
Pima Community College administrator Irene Robles-Lopez was surprised when her colleagues nominated her for the National Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education Region VI award.
The nomination in itself was rewarding even more so when she grabbed the win.
“Anybody who knows me knows that I’m pretty quiet and focused on my work,” Robles-Lopez said. “It was two of my staff that nominated me, and campus president Lorraine Morales was in complete support of this.
“It was humbling that two of my staff members would be glad to nominate me.”
Robles-Lopez’s position as vice president of student affairs doesn’t allow her to work personally with students. Instead, she is tasked with supporting PCC staff who work with students.
“I’ve been working to try and support the staff that work one and one with students because it’s such an important component,” Robles-Lopez said. “I work very closely with the student service managers at all six of campuses as well as student affairs colleagues to make sure that the processes and ways we are doing things are meeting the needs of students.
She also makes efforts to attend meeting and functions in order to meet with Pima students. Every semester, she spends a day at each campus to observe students and staff in order to identify challenges that they are dealing with.
“Even though I’m at Community Campus, I definitely try to go out to the brick-and-mortar campuses to make sure that I am able to talk with students and staff to see what is working and what is not working so we can try to revise,” Robles-Lopez said.
In Spring 2017, Robles-Lopez was at the center of a new initiative at PCC to take old vacant positions and repurpose them to create 13 new program advisors at Pima.
“These new program advisors are more subject matter experts,” Robles-Lopez said. “They are liaisons to the different divisions we have here at Pima.”
Previously, PCC had advisors who were considered generalists in all degree programs and certificates. However, feedback from staff and students indicated that this model was not effective.
“For example, if a student wants to go into a STEM area, we have two advisors,” Robles-Lopez said. “One is at the Northwest and the other one is at West Campus. They have all the different information and subject matter expertise because they are meeting with the deans and faculty in those divisions.
“Therefore, the advising they are able to offer those students are top notch because they are the experts in that area opposed to having to be a generalist in all areas.”
Robles-Lopez’s goal is to create a system that is more proactive in reaching out to students.
“What was done in the past is the onus was put on students,” Robles-Lopez said. “Like, if you have a question, you need to come into see us.
“Students won’t always ask for help even though they need it. It’s not necessarily that they don’t know where to go; it might be that they are fearful.
“We want to be proactive and ask students if they want to come in to talk. We want to let students know we are here for them,” she added.
PCC Campus President Lorraine Morales wasn’t surprised that Robles-Lopez received the award.
“She has developed and led collaborative, cross-functional teams in order to achieve program goals and objectives for student affairs for the college,” Morales said. “She has proven skills working with students from diverse academic, socioeconomic and cultural backgrounds.”
Morales praised Robles-Lopez for consistently being selected to serve on various national commissions.
“Irene recently co-authored a book chapter in the book ‘Race and Colorism in Education’ and was chosen as a participant on a student panel led by world-renowned philosopher Professor Noam Chomsky,” she added. “All while completing her doctoral studies at the University of Arizona.”
This award has only inspired Robles-Lopez to continue her work in higher education.
“If you’re in higher education, it’s actually an honor because you’re supporting and empowering students to move forward to meet their degree,” she said.