Kerra Russell has spent her life pursuing one goal: to help people.
Over the past five years, that’s exactly what she has done in three positions with the Office of Academic Achievement and Intercultural Services at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Russell, currently Senior Associate Director of OASIS and the Jackie Gaughan Multicultural Center, uses her own life experiences and passion for student success to empower first-generation and under-represented students to achieve remarkable things.
Russell is one of 977 employees honored at the celebration of service on November 18, 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Coliseum. Lunch and the open house are for all employees.
Russell is originally from Mississippi and spent Kindergarten to Grade 12 in Lincoln Public Schools. After graduating from Tennessee State University with her BA in Criminal Justice with the dream of becoming a lawyer, she was offered the opportunity to attend the Gallup Leadership Summer Institute in Nebraska.
âBy taking this program, I realized I had a passion for education, and even when I wanted to be a lawyer, my reason for wanting to do it was because I wanted to help people,â Russell said. âNow in higher education, I still help people and it feels good to give back to students like me who are first generation students and students of color. “
After completing the program, Russell went on to and eventually earned a Masters of Education in Educational Administration – Student Affairs in Nebraska.
With her masters she got a job with OASIS, where her own experiences as a student of color motivated her to support her students in any way possible.
“Students of color who attend ONE, a predominantly white institution, doesn’t have a lot of faces they can really relate to, but I can be that person, âRussell said.
Russell said she had good and bad mentors who shaped her take on how to treat students. For example, after a counselor answered a phone call in the middle of a meeting about her research project, she vowed that if ever she was able to help students, she would treat them with more. respect.
âSo I make a point of putting my students first and doing what I can to help them, for example by coaching them in a conversation with their advisor, because some low-income first-year students of color generation may not know how to have these conversations, âshe said.
Russell also assists students with campus resources and leadership opportunities and has written letters of recommendation for students who are currently in medical and law schools, as well as for internships and scholarships. She sees her efforts as a way to give back to how she received mentors when she was younger.
“Kerra has always been a great help to me since my first year of college, and whenever I need help with classes or have a problem with a teacher or counselor, she is always there to give me the best advice possible, âsaid Isaiah James, a senior criminal justice expert. âI remember the times my friends and I would sit in his office for hours on end joking and laughing about a lot of different things. I am very grateful to have met Kerra and that she is part of my academic career here at ONE. “
Russell typically meets with students as part of the OASIS Student Success Program, which includes an 11-week seminar for the first-year students she supervises. In the seminar, students are to meet Russell or their instructor and a peer mentor. Seminar modules focus on common challenges faced by first-generation and under-represented students, such as financial literacy, study skills, time management, and other areas to ease the transition from high school to college. . Russell found that one requirement in particular, six hours of recorded study per week, greatly contributes to success.
“What makes or breaks students is whether or not they step out of their comfort zone, acclimatize and adopt a good study routine,” she said.
Russell has worked with student programming since his freshman year with OASIS, when she was a program coordinator. In this role, she organized monthly social events to give students the opportunity to relax and distract a bit from academics. At the events, students would do crafts for local nonprofits such as the Friendship House, Meals on Wheels, and the Military and Veterans Success Center.
After working as a program coordinator, Russell held the position of Acting Deputy Director of OASIS in 2019, then became Associate Director before being recently promoted to Senior Associate Director. Russell loved working with OASIS because of the diverse and family atmosphere.
“OASIS is one of the most diverse offices on campus. We are fortunate to have a staff of different ethnicities, cultures and identities who offer diverse perspectives on the life and work we do, âshe said. âIt’s very tight-knit and feels more like family than work, so it’s easy to wake up and come to work every morning. I also like being able to express ideas openly and be authentic myself when I come to work.
Over the next five years, Russell wants to continue advancing his career in higher education by earning his doctorate. No matter what position she takes next, she wants to work in student success and retention initiatives and stay in touch with students. Russell’s desire to stay connected was inspired by the late Juan Franco, former vice chancellor of student affairs in Nebraska, who was one of the people who gave him the opportunity to work for OASIS.
Even at this level as Vice-Chancellor, Franco always took the time to attend evening events, he always took the time to go to student meetings if they needed him, arguing RSOs, or he would just be there, âRussell said. “This is what I would like to model.”