Jason Schulte works in the Student Services office at UW-Platteville Baraboo Sauk County, where he serves as athletic director and student life and activities director, as well as an academic advisor to students. He first joined the campus in 2003 as the coach of the men’s soccer team, and in 2013 became athletic director. His work on campus expanded in 2016 to include technology and other support services, and then in 2018 he moved over to the campus’ Student Services office.
In his multiple current positions, he serves as a focal point for many aspects of students’ lives on campus – advising student clubs and student government; working as athletic director advising and recruiting coaches and mentoring student-athletes; providing academic advising and other support to students as they balance their obligations and learn to be successful in college; and multiple other roles visible and invisible throughout each year.
What makes working with branch campus students, and student-athletes, satisfying for you?
Students here are really discovering where they want to go in life. They’ll plop down in my office and share a moment of clarity with me – telling me about how a class experience has made them look at their own future differently. “Why shouldn’t I be a veterinarian?” And I get to see that moment, and help them figure out a path to achieving it.
With sports, it’s the same, often – the students are wanting to keep learning, to keep playing, to improve, and maybe see if they can move into another school, and keep advancing. The students who I’ve seen start out unsure of their goals, but then after time here are really locked in on where they want to go and what they want to do – that’s really special to see.
It took me awhile, personally, to know what I wanted study in college, and I tried several different things. I think that helps me appreciate that you don’t always know what you want, or what to do, and that life throws wrinkles into everything sometimes. But we can be a starting point.
I’ve been working with a lot of students on registration the past couple weeks, and when we finish up, and I say “Congratulations, you’re a college student,” the smiles I see are irreplaceable. It lights up the room – or now the Zoom screen. Many of our students don’t have a lot of family experience with higher education, and we serve as a really important source of help for them as they make their way.
You talk to students all the time – what were you hearing were their biggest challenges pre-COVID? What do you think the campus’ big challenge is this fall?
All the time, it’s learning how to balance. A lot of students think it’s going to be like high school, with a 20-minute lecture, maybe, and the rest of class time doing the work. That’s not reality in college. Suddenly, going to class, doing the homework, probably holding a job, and fulfilling family obligations, and then trying to have some time to socialize, too, is a lot more to balance. We’ll give students a clock to map out their time, and it’s often a surprise how much time everything takes. We have many students whose paid work helps support a family, and they need to figure out how to keep it all going. A branch campus like Baraboo Sauk County is an access point for students, and I think we serve an important role.
Then last Spring, everything goes out of whack. Honestly, overnight, a lot of our students became “essential workers.” So now they have employers who are putting a lot of demands on them to work more, and because classes were online, and schedules were different, when something had to give, it could seem easiest to let school go. And students are trying to figure out a new balance going forward.
Students I talk with are trying to figure out, like all of us, what are the circumstances of life now, and what’s the future? How do I handle what the pandemic has imposed on me, with more demands at work, less time, or no time with friends like before, more time spent at home, and classes feeling even more demanding than before. It’s amazing to hear students say they’re tired of being online all the time!
I am very confident that we are more prepared, and students are more prepared, for what happens next, though, in terms of instruction. We’ll be able to offer options now that can serve students well and help them find success.
In years past, we’d have students on campus for New Student Registration, where they all came together, and met each other, and met all of us. We’d take their picture, get them over to the library and around the rest of the campus, and all get to know each other. We’re not able to do that this year, and I do worry that we’re going to lose some of those connection points we have with students. A lot of non-teaching staff on campus help students on those NSR days and become friendly faces that support students in all kinds of ways down the road. And this year those students are just seeing me, or another advisor, in a Zoom box, and those connections to the rest of the campus won’t be able to happen in the same way.
What do you think being a branch campus of UW-Platteville has brought to the Baraboo Sauk County campus?
The biggest thing has been the new associate degrees – in food and agriculture, and business administration, and now pre-engineering – that have really opened up more options for what you can study at our campus. And the seamless transition between Baraboo and Platteville is a huge boon to students.
You get involved with so much on campus – what do you wish you had more time for?
Things move so fast – I always wish I just had more time to spend with students and get to know them as people, learning more about their stories. Students may not realize how much we enjoy them just dropping in, having some friendly banter and sharing themselves with us. Those connections to people are important for a balanced life, like I try to remind students.