The African American Student Academic Services (AASAS) is an essential campus agency that provides support services to African and African American undergraduate students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Karla Foster is the coordinator for AASAS, which is housed under the Center for Academic Excellence (CAE) in the College of Letters and Sciences.
“I love to be able to interact with so many students at such an important and influential time in their lives,” Foster tells The Madison Times from her office in Bascom Hall. “Basically, I enjoy being that person on the ground who is having that face-to-face contact with the students and actually being able to not just offer them volunteer opportunities but be able to do those volunteer opportunities with them ... not just point them in the direction of an academic advisor, but be able to talk to them about their career plans, educational aspirations, and more. I love the hands-on approach and being able to work with the students directly.”
UW-Madison, like many universities throughout the nation, has struggled to retain African American students and see them through to graduation at a rate comparable to whites and this is where AASAS can be a big help. All students benefit from a culturally, economically, geographically, and academically diverse campus, and AASAS does its utmost to foster such an environment for African and African American students.
“I do a lot of different things — academic advising, career advising, helping students secure undergraduate research opportunities, helping students travel abroad, mentoring, advocacy, and support for personal, academic, or cultural challenges,” Foster says. “What I like to say to sum all of that up is that I help students navigate the university system — especially underrepresented, minority, first-generation, low-income, or marginalized students.
“Especially students who may be from the inner city or from a small town and may not be sure of themselves and just coming into thier own and discovering themselves,” Foster continues. “We can be a big help. I feel very privileged to be able to make such a big impact on a young person’s life at this time because they are going through all of these changes. I’m able to hook them up to a student organization, a professional or graduate organization geared towards their major, or even just towards outreach like with the MLK Day of Service.”
As important as AASAS is to many UW students, it is unfortunately not particularly well known yet. Foster is hoping to change that with a series of initiatives and events including an upcoming AASAS Meet and Greet Jan. 30 at the Virginia Harrison Parlor of Lathrop Hall. The event will be a great opportunity for students, faculty, staff, and the community to learn about everything AASAS does. Foster has been in contact with many people through e-mails and list-serves, but the AASAS Meet and Greet will allow people to finally put a face with the name.
“I’ve reached out to a number of African Americans faculty and staff of color to come because I’ve invited all 1,300 undergraduate and graduate African American students to come,” Foster says. “It will be a great networking opportunity and a chance to learn about my office. It’s a chance to be in a space with peers, faculty, and staff who resemble them so they can make those connections and form more of a sense of community here on campus.”
As coordinator for AASAS, Foster has only been at the job for six months. She did her undergraduate work at Indiana University and her master’s degree work at Indiana State University. When she recently came to Madison, Foster didn’t know anybody. So, in a lot of ways, she knows the trepidations and insecurities of the students that she helps every day as they get acclimated to UW-Madison. She can relate. “I definitely understand their story or their travels and where they are coming from being plopped into that new space and not knowing anyone, being away from home, etc.,” Foster says. “I can definitely connect with the students on that level.
“I was just talking to [UW-Madison's chief diversity officer]Damon Williams about [how] it’s all about the relationships and how it’s not just all about walking across the stage —graduating — but all of the things that you did while you were here and what you are able to take with you when you walk across that stage,” she adds. “Your experiences here will help you be able to land that job in the current challenging job environment in the United States.”
Foster’s hope is that in the near future she can help organize a Men/Women of Color Leadership Conference. “That’s what I have in the works and right now I’m just trying to tap into my resources and networks to see who is willing to work with me to get the ball rolling,” she says.
“My ultimate goal is to ensure that African American students and students of color are on the right track,” she continues. “I want to be able to help the students navigate the university and not get lost in the academic system. Lastly, one of my goals is for students and faculty and staff on campus to know that I’m here to help them and to collaborate and to co-sponsor activities that they are trying to do on campus and in the community.”
Come join the AASAS team for an event of networking, food, and fun at the African American Student Academic Services Meet and Greet Wednesday, Jan. 30, 4:30-6 p.m. in Lathrop Hall. Learn more about the AASAS office and meet with various student organizations, professors, and staff.
For more information about the event or about AASAS, call (608)263-2698 or e-mail email@example.com.