One day a student came into Niki Dixon Harrison’s office ready to quit school. Harrison had called him to her office to talk. At the end of the session she knelt down next to him and told him that he was going to get through this. The student ended up staying at PCC.
“Not everyday do you have those opportunities to intervene in someone’s life,” Harrison said. “Not on my watch am I going to let you walk away from something.”
Harrison’s duties haven’t changed much from that day she intervened in a student’s life while she working as the interim director for the Extended Opportunity Programs and Services (EOP&S), Cooperative Agencies Resources for Education (CARE) and the foster youth programs. Recently named as the official director for the EOP&S and foster youth programs, Harrison still takes the time to advocate and listen to students who experience financial and educational disadvantages.
“I was interim for almost two years,” Harrison said. “I was essentially doing what I was doing today.”
Harrison may downplay her new role as director, but the fact remains that she has been instrumental in developing the foster youth programs and bridging the gap between faculty and students.
“I think she is a very student oriented person,” EOP&S adjunct councilor Asya Nagabedyan said.
“She’s pleasant to work with,” PCC alum and tutor coordinator David Mejia said.
And her work doesn’t just extend to her students. According to Nagabedyan, Harrison has also improved the office environment.
“She emails and responds very fast,” said Nagabedyan who appreciates the timeliness of Harrison’s replies.
Harrison, alum of California State University Northridge, started working at PCC in 2012. Her work prior to coming to PCC has helped her prepare for the work she’s done at the school. At Northridge, Harrison oversaw a number of financial aid awareness programs for 10 years.
“Prior to coming to PCC I was very involved in student access programs to ensure that all students, regardless or your income or zip code, had access to quality education,” Harrison said.
Today, as director Harrison and her staff provide service to PCC students who need help financially.
The EOP&S and CARE programs offer resources to students that they need to succeed at a community college, such as support from counselors, financial assistance and tutoring.
“Our philosophy is not to duplicate what the college already provides,” Harrison said. “What difference would that make? Our goal is to go over and above for all our students here at college.”
Harrison is particularly proud of helping to centralize the foster programs through the Scholars Transitioning and Realizing Success Program otherwise known as STARS.
“You’d be amazed about how many students are hungry. You’d be amazed about how many students don’t have stable living conditions,” Harrison said.
Although STARS provides current and former foster youth with much needed school supplies and access to printing and computers, it is the emotional support that Harrison stresses the most.
“Our expertise is to support our students through this process, walk with them side by side and give them all the support, encouragement and direction that they need to succeed here to complete their educational goals, graduate and to transfer,” Harrison said.
Harrison was excited when the Board of Trustees approved her new position in March. According to Harrison, the chance to stay at PCC as director gave her more time to fund more programs and help more students.
“I really wanted to be part of the future,” Harrison said. “Not just lay the groundwork.”