By Bill Sweet
The Center for Student Success and Engagement may be new to Westfield State, but its mission is anything but, according to its first director, Azanda Seymour ’93, Ed.D.
Since 2008, she has been lifting students here just as her mentors lifted her when she first arrived on campus as a student in 1988.
“Westfield State is just home for me, and I really enjoy it,” she says. “Westfield State is a diamond in the rough, a hidden gem.”
The irony is that, as a student, she missed out on the Summer Bridge Program, a crowning jewel of the Urban Education Program (UEP) now under her leadership. The Summer Bridge Program is a series of workshops, seminars, and classes convened to prepare admitted students before their first fall semester.
A Springfield native and graduate of the High School of Commerce, she turned to Westfield State after plans to attend another university fell through.
She had been accepted, but the Bridge program had already concluded.
In an unprecedented move, Dr. Carlton Pickron, the counselor who had interviewed her for admission — who would later become Westfield State’s vice president for student affairs— recommended that the UEP admit Seymour, regardless, citing her academic excellence.
She was a first-generation student having to orient herself to new circumstances late in the college-entry process. She soon learned, however, that this apparent deficit would not hold her back. Urban Education, then under the directorship of Joan E. Fuller ’77, became a home for her.
“The Urban Education Program was and is very much a family for the students,” Seymour says. “At a time when there was an exceptionally low percentage of students of color on campus, it was our safe space where we felt connected.”
She warmly cites Fuller’s credo: “Each one, teach one; Each one, reach one.”
“We’re here for you. We’re all here for the same reason, and we’re going to help each other get through this,” she adds.
After graduating with a degree in mass communication, the path that led her away from Westfield brought her back. Visiting campus after having moved to Georgia, Seymour was approached by the director of the Alumni Office and her former work-study supervisor about a counseling job in Admissions. Seymour grabbed that opportunity and when the term of that position ran out, Fuller hired Seymour as an academic advisor.
The years brought more moves, but the road wound back to Westfield. In between jobs in San Diego and North Carolina, she was back in the area in leadership positions at Mount Holyoke College and UMass Amherst, the latter where she earned a master’s degree in higher education administration. She holds a doctorate in educational leadership from the University of Hartford.
In 2008, she returned to Westfield State, where she has remained ever since.
“People care deeply about each other here,” she says. “I’ve worked at many colleges and universities, and there’s nothing like working at Westfield.”
She would eventually return to the program that started it all, taking the position of assistant director for the UEP.
During a critical period in the University’s history, she was asked to serve as executive assistant to interim president Elizabeth Preston, Ph.D. In 2016, Fuller chose Seymour as her replacement to lead Urban Education upon her retirement.
“It was both bittersweet and a real honor, because we all looked up to Miss Fuller,” says Seymour.
The Center for Student Success and Engagement, which Seymour was hired to head last year, was created to address three paramount goals of higher education in a diverse and just society: increase the number of students who continue through graduation, attract more students from underserved populations, and close the achievement gap among students of diverse backgrounds.
Support services and programs will reside in the Center, including the Academic Advising Center, TRiO Student Support Services, the Banacos Academic Center, the Reading and Writing Center, and the Honors Program.
“They’re committed to supporting students in their academic success from the time they enter the University until the time they graduate,” she says.
With the awaited reopening of Parenzo Hall in 2023, most of the services under her leadership will be
in one location.
Students will be able to find all their needs for academic success served under one roof, she says.
“We often walk students from one program to another. ‘Oh, you need a tutor. Let’s walk down to the tutoring center.’ I want to help them through the process of signing up. We want make sure that we close the loop.
“We’re a tightly-knit community,” she adds. “Everyone keeps the students at the center of what we do. We also have respect for each other as colleagues, which makes it such a nice place to work.”