July 25, 2016

by Bob Keyes

PORTSTMOUTH – The best part of Deanna Friedman’s job is changing people’s lives.

“I love working with students one on one,” said Friedman, who became director of advising at Great Bay Community College two years ago. “It’s my favorite part of the job. Oftentimes these students are first-generation college students. The idea of an associate’s degree is a big deal, and the idea of a four-year degree is even bigger.”

It’s an honor to help an 18-year-old navigate college for the first time or an older person choose a degree program as part of the path forward for a better life, she said.

Friedman leads a six-person advising team on the Portsmouth and Rochester campuses. In addition to Friedman, the advising staff includes Maggie Duffy-Durkin, Erica Brown, Kathy Yazinka and Sarah Follansbee in Portsmouth, and Jenna Anand in Rochester.  The job of a community college advisor changed when the economy tanked in 2008, Friedman said. The economic crash provided a reset for American families and shattered a long-held view of a four-year college as the best way forward toward a life of prosperity. Families began questioning the value of a four-year degree given the cost of college and the amount of debt is takes to finance it, Friedman said.

“We saw that as our opportunity, and my department ran with it,” she said.

For years Great Bay has been promoting the value of a two-year degree as an economical path forward toward a four-year degree.  The College has created transfer agreements with four-year schools across New Hampshire and northern New England, including the University of New Hampshire at Durham and Manchester, Plymouth State College, Granite State College, Keene State College, Southern New Hampshire University, University of New England, Maine College of Art, New Hampshire Institute of Art, Colby Sawyer College and Franklin Pierce College.

Now, much of Friedman’s work involves helping Great  Bay students figure out where they want to go to school next. This spring, 71 of Great Bay’s 324 graduates applied for admission to UNH, the largest number and highest percentage ever. And Great Bay is #1 out of 351 colleges sending transfer students to UNH. Those numbers attest to the success of Friedman and her staff.

“Our advisors meet regularly with students to understand goals and ultimately create a strategic plan for course selection,” she said. “ In addition, they also work hard to build personal relationships with colleagues, not just from UNH, but a host of other four year colleges and universities to gain a full understanding of transfer requirements. Even if a college doesn’t have a formal transfer pathway for the program the student is interested in, the advisors here at Great Bay can help them customize a plan to transfer just about any major.”

Changes in the structure of the advising office reflect its expanded role in the success of students. Friedman is its first full-time director. In the past, one person on the advising team specialized in transfers. Now everyone on the advising team is versed in the transfer process.

Alexandra Lemerise of Brentwood started at Great Bay as a liberal arts major, largely undecided on her career path.  “After I took an elective in sign language, I loved it and decided I wanted to go on to a bachelor’s program,” she said.

She worked with Friedman to find a program at UNH-Manchester.  Friedman advised that she take both the general education requirements to fulfill her Great Bay degree, as well as credits to fulfill the bachelor’s program at UNH Manchester.

Ryan Place-Beevers, a 2014 graduate of Portsmouth High School, came to Great Bay unsure what he wanted to study. His summer work routine showed him what he didn’t want to do, but he needed time to figure out how to shape his life.

He knew a college was part of his plan, and Great Bay offered a path forward. At Great Bay, he improved his study habits and loaded up on classes he knew would transfer to another school when he settled on a specialty. “I knew I needed a degree but tuition at the big schools was ridiculous.  At Great Bay, I figured I could use the time to earn credits and take general education courses,” he said.

By the end of his first year at Great Bay, he settled on music composition, with a goal of making soundtracks for movies. In August, he begins a bachelor’s degree in film scoring at Berklee College of Music in Boston, having transferred 23 credits from Great Bay to help make it happen.

He credits his work with the Great Bay advising team for his decision. “My advisors, Maggie and Erica,  were really supportive of what I was going after.  They always remembered who I was so I didn’t have to explain my plan to them over and over.  They helped me choose the classes that would transfer towards the degree I was looking to pursue.  I realize how valuable that was now.”

Kirk Lufkin of Exeter came to Great Bay in 2014 with the long-range goal of getting his chiropractic degree.  With advising, he was able to work toward his degree while supporting himself financially. It wasn’t easy, he said, and he might not have done it if not for the support of Friedman and her staff.

“My plan went through so many phases.  She helped me confirm it was the right path and helped me come up with a strategy for earning my massage therapy degree to make money while I was in school,” he said. “The program also fulfilled many of the prerequisites for a chiropractic degree. It was a hard thing to figure out.”

This fall, Lufkin begins his doctor of chiropractic degree at Texas Chiropractic College.

Friedman is pleased with the work of her office, and proud of how her staff has adapted to students’ changing needs. “With close advising, we get our students to anywhere they want to be,” she said.