New Director of Student Success and Advising Niki Weight describes herself as a small-town girl, growing up, as she did, in tiny Driggs, Idaho. It’s one of the things that drew her to Monmouth and her new position at Western Oregon University. The move was a return to her town-size comfort zone after years living in bigger cities such as Provo and Logan, Utah.
Weight and her family—husband, 4-year-old daughter and now newborn daughter—arrived in the Mid-Willamette Valley in August, not far from where her husband grew up in the Wilsonville/Lake Oswego area.
“I didn’t really understand what being in a place with lots of green trees looked like until I came to Oregon,” she said with a laugh. “What I love about Monmouth is that there are big cities nearby, but I don’t have to live there. I don’t mind the rain here, and the beach is so close.”
Of course, the small-town atmosphere was not the main enticement for Weight. Her background in advising makes her the perfect fit for the director position, and the demographics of many WOU students match her own background. Though she is not a first-generation college student, she knew from an early age that she alone would have to foot the bill for a university education.
“Education was always very important to me because of my mom’s background (as a teacher), and while my dad was a photographer by trade, he had to do other jobs as well to make ends meet,” she explained. “So in high school, I was very motivated to research scholarships and find scholarships. That journey helps me in my new position at WOU.”
She entered university at BYU Provo with the thought that she might want to be a high school counselor. By her junior year, she’d decided that working with college-age people was a better fit for her than teens. That’s ultimately how she discovered the profession of advising, an option that had not been on her radar in the past.
When she graduated with a sociology degree, it seemed advising was one of the career opportunities in front of her. She applied at Utah State University and took a position at the Logan campus. It was a learn-as-you-go situation, she said.
“As I was in the role, I realized just how much that contact with a student over time—it’s not a one-and-done thing—helped me develop a relationship with the students,” she said. “Then I was able to help them navigate the entire college experience, not just help them pick classes for the semester.”
During her seven years at Utah State, she earned an M.S. in academic advising from Kansas State and went on to oversee the Aggie Prep program for students whose GPA or test scores were too low for traditional admission to the university.
“We gave them parameters to help them be successful as well as additional advising support and resources,” Weight said. “I learned that everyone had some similar challenges, but everyone also unique challenges that pertained just to them. Trying to really understand students for who they were individually and not tell them ‘You’re a first-gen, so you struggle with A, B and C,’ was a big lesson I’m bringing to WOU with me. It’s important to let students tell their own stories instead of projecting a stereotype on them.”
Weight said she was surprised at the sheer volume of WOU students being served by campus programs such as SEP, Multicultural Student Services and other support options. One of her goals is to ensure students are getting consistent, unified advising across campus, whether it’s coming from faculty, staff or her department. Weight said when she came to campus for her interviews, she was struck by how deeply the campus community is committed to student achievement.
“The people here really care about the students,” she said. “They really, really do. I was excited to be able to come to a campus where the size makes it possible for students to get that personalized support.”
Associate Provost for Program Development Sue Monahan expects Weight will be a leader in extending that support, both from the advising office and throughout campus.
“Niki brings a passion for meeting diverse students where they are and helping them navigate their own paths through WOU,” Monahan said. “Also, I’m looking forward to future collaborations with other areas in the university. For example, Niki has been working with Interim Associate Provost Erin Baumgartner to offer regular workshops for faculty on advising topics like tips for career advising. Niki is committed to helping all of us support our students’ success.”