The College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources at Texas Tech University has a reputation for taking care of its students. Perhaps that is why the college holds the No. 1 spot in academic retention within the university. Stephanie Legako, the new academic specialist for student retention, plans to use her experience in psychology to help the college maintain its high standards.
“I have to keep retention up,” Legako said. “Currently, CASNR holds the No. 1 spot for retention across all 10 colleges at the university. We are No. 1 in first-year retention, and so I work with professors, I work with students, I work with other staff members in CASNR and across campus to keep students in school.”
As the academic specialist for student retention, Legako is focused on the advancement, satisfaction and overall success of current CASNR students to meet personal, professional and academic goals during their time at Texas Tech. Additionally, she is responsible for coordinating all student retention activities, including Ag Awareness Week and Winter Welcome. She has also taken on the advisory role of Ag Ambassadors.
Legako received her bachelor’s in psychology from Texas Tech and master’s degree in human development and family science from Oklahoma State University. She said she always felt led to help others but wanted to find her own niche, which is how she became a family therapist. Upon, graduation from OSU, she moved with her husband, Jerrad, to Utah, where she served as a therapist at Blomquist Hale Employee Assistance and lead therapist at Capstone Counseling, both in Logan, Utah.
This past year, Jerrad accepted an assistant professor position at Texas Tech in the Department of Food Science, and Stephanie looked forward to returning to their alma matter. At her previous employer, a spousal support program was offered, allowing spouses to interview for open positions. Upon their return to Texas Tech, Jerrad asked about a similar program to find that the academic specialist for retention position was vacant. Micheal Orth, Ph. D., Chair and Professor in the Department of Animal and Food Science, encouraged Stephanie to apply as her therapist license would greatly compliment the role in the department.
Legako received the job offer and began the position in October. Utilizing her therapist licensing and previous experiences to compliment her role, she plans to highlight and compliment what those before her have completed with a new angle. She has been able to use her experience and knowledge of the Lubbock area to benefit students and promote success in college.
Legako said she believes her ability to work with students in a “one-on-group” manner set her apart from most academic specialist for student retention.
“[Family therapists] are systemic thinkers,” Legako explained. “When you look at somebody like a psychologist or a professional counselor, they work one-on-one with people. Social workers and family therapists work one-on-groups.”
Within her role, if a professor notices abnormal performance or behavior from a student, she is notified. From this notification, Legako meets with the student to help him or her find the best way to avoid academic probation based on his or her individual circumstances.
“I don’t look at a person who’s having a problem with a class,” Legako said. “I look at a person who’s struggling in their system, and so it’s rarely about the classwork.”
She compared students’ success to an injury needing crutches. While one part may be injured, all parts can be affected and initially prevent the body from working in tandem. Similarly, all aspects of a student’s life have to work together to reach success. If one piece isn’t functioning properly, it can mess up the student’s entire success system.
With my skill set, ideally, we’re going to start meeting with people before they fall out, coming at retention from a prevention standpoint.Stephanie Legako
Legako has enjoyed her role within CASNR. She said she likes the family-oriented atmosphere within the department, which is a prime reason why she is not just a therapist anymore. With a young daughter at home, she truly values the family-like atmosphere that CASNR both houses in the office and promotes outside of the office.
“We have a very family feel,” Legako said. “It was so much easier to know that I would be supported as a mom and a wife in CASNR, than as a therapist. It’s just really nice to have the opportunity to be a mom.”
Legako said she enjoys using her skillset in her role as the academic specialist for student retention and feels this has been a good fit for her as she has transitioned into having a family.
Cindy Akers, Ed. D, Professor & Associate Dean for Academic and Student Programs within the Department of Agricultural Education and Communication, is enjoying watching Legako excel and improve the college.
“I’m really excited about the addition of Stephanie to our staff,” Akers said, “we have always been one of the highest retention colleges in the university, and I think some of the things that keep retention high is we push involvement, we have faculty advising, but there is that other piece, the helping students understand the resources, and that’s where Stephanie comes in.”
Akers said the department is excited to watch Legako grow in this position and is ready to see where she can take academic retention and her preventative measures for academic probation. Legako has plans to work with the university on lessening student’s time in college while keeping students feeling at home within CASNR.
Legako said the retention specialists before her left a sterling reputation. Following their lead, she wants to continue what they have done by adding her own personal touch to the role. She is currently working on building a peer mentorship program, similar to Ag Pals, to work toward a “trickle-down” retention effect from upper to lower classman. She hopes to see students more engaged to encourage a four-year graduation rate instead of five and six-year graduation rates.
“With my skill set, ideally, we’re going to start meeting with people before they fall out, coming at retention from a prevention standpoint.”