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Crees receives Durham Freshman Advocate Award

crees_t.jpgBOONE—Nikki Crees, director of orientation at Appalachian State University, has received the university’s 2011 Harvey R. Durham Freshman Advocate Award. The $1,000 award and a plaque is presented annually to a full-time university employee who has contributed significantly to improving the freshman experience on campus. Crees also will receive a University Medallion at convocation in September.

The award was created by Susan and Harvey Durham. Harvey Durham served as Appalachian’s chief academic officer for 24 years, and was acting chancellor from May 2003-July 2004.

Also nominated for the award were Dr. Joe Gonzalez, coordinator of the university’s First Year Seminar Program, and Elizabeth West, a lecturer in the Department of English and a consultant with the university’s Writing Across the Curriculum program.

Crees has been working with freshmen at Appalachian in a variety of capacities since 2001.

She was a graduate assistant in the university’s Learning Assistance Program, a program coordinator for Freshman Learning Communities, assistant director of Freshman Learning Communities, assistant director of orientation, and since 2007, director of orientation.

She was praised for her advocacy for students. Fellow nominee Gonzalez wrote, “Whenever Nikki is in the room, so are the needs of the incoming freshmen.”

Another nominator wrote, “Nikki is a visionary who constantly develops more effective and efficient tools for the orientation program in an effort to engage and empower new students.”

Crees managed implementation of an early registration advising system that helps incoming students and their parents understand the university, the curriculum and campus resources. She also hires, trains and supervises student orientation undergraduate leaders who assist with new student orientation.

“The heart of what I do every day on campus begins with the drive to make each student’s experience a better one,” Crees wrote in her philosophy of teaching. “The first year experience is especially significant because new students need to make meaningful and early connections in order to succeed in college.” Crees said being able to connect early with their peers, faculty members, advisors, academic services and co-curricular opportunities help round out the college experience.

“We admit students to our university with the expectation that they have the skills and ability to be successful in college,” Crees wrote. “It is our job as first-year experience professionals to connect them to the resources that will support them in that endeavor.”

Crees has a Bachelor of Arts degree from UNC Chapel Hill and a Master of Arts degree from Appalachian.

Chancellor Kenneth E. Peacock praised the nominees, as well as other faculty and staff for their work supporting freshmen. He said Appalachian has a freshman-to-sophomore year retention rate that puts it at the top of the UNC System schools, and credited the vision of former provost Durham in creating the First Year Seminar program, formally Freshman Seminar, in the early 1990s. While once an optional course, it is now required of all freshmen at Appalachian.

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