Story Student Success

Beyond Applications, CSU Outreach Efforts Help Prepare Students for Graduation Success

Lorraine Crawford

 

​Gina Geck

 

 

​California State University campuses staff work year-round to reach out to California high school, community college, and even middle school students, encouraging them to apply and preparing them to be academically successful once they are enrolled.

In support of the Graduation Initiative 2025, the outreach officers work with the schools and communities to ensure that students are not only applying and taking the entry exams, but share specific high school data that provides school personnel important academic patterns of students from their schools that attend the CSU.  This information serves to support improvements in advising, curriculum and programs, says Carolina Cardenas, CSU Director of Academic Outreach and Early Assessment. "There's a big difference between students being college eligible and being academically prepared. Our outreach efforts stress both to ensure student success."

CSU's outreach officers are especially passionate about their role in encouraging underserved and first-generation students to complete their college educations. Gina Geck, Sonoma State University Outreach Director, is exemplary of CSU's outreach, sharing her passion for college education, connecting with schools, communities and students throughout the state.

Like father, like daughter 

There was never any doubt that Mid​​dletown High School, Lake County student Gina Geck would be going to college. Her Latino father – a first-generation college graduate who also happened to be her high school counselor – made sure that not only his daughter would enroll, but that her friends would too.

Hence, the seed was planted early for Geck's future 17-year career in outreach and recruitment for Sonoma State University.  After graduating from California State University, Chico with a bachelor's in ethnic studies, Geck eventually found her way to Sonoma State, where she was hired as a financial aid representative. When a position in recruitment opened, she says, "The job description seemed to be written just for me." With her exuberant passion for recruiting and taking on new projects, she was steadily promoted, becoming director of student outreach and recruitment in 2012.

 "What I love about my job is that it's different every day.  My small-but-mighty team oversees student outreach, recruitment, the visitor center, student tours, Early Assessment Programs, and statewide and community outreach. Whether it's big events, reports or community presentations and workshops, we all roll up our sleeves and cover the whole spectrum to get it done."

The main goals of CSU's outreach and recruitment departments are two-fold – get students to apply, and then, after the admissions department accepts them, get them to enroll.  Geck says that the target new enrollment numbers for Sonoma State are an estimated 1,850 freshmen and 900 transfers.  Her team's community outreach efforts encompass Sonoma, Napa, Marin, Solano, Lake, Mendocino and Marin.  However, since most of Sonoma State's students come from beyond the six-county area, the staff spends much of its recruiting efforts up and down the state, as well as out of state.

Geck stresses, "Sonoma State is a residential campus. We are not a commuter school, and not just a continuation of high school. We provide the traditional college experience where students come to meet new people with new ideas, and build new relationships."  About 3,100 Sonoma State students live on campus, or about 45 percent of its estimated 7,500 undergraduates.

The campus is one of CSU's smaller campuses, and provides a real feeling of community, Geck says. "Our tight-knit community creates an environment where students feel safe to step outside their comfort zone and become the people they're meant to be. We bring out the best in our students, and foster their leadership potential."

As most CSU's campuses experience, spring is the peak time for student tours.  "At our big event, Sea Wolf Decision Day, we host about 2,000 admitted students and family members, showcasing the best we have to offer, helping them determine whether Sonoma State is the right fit for their college education and experience. We invite our academic departments, student affairs, clubs, everybody, to talk to our prospective students and give them a good overview of our university's experience."

A big focus for her team's recruiting efforts is encouraging first-generation and underserved students to enroll, and understand that yes, they can be successful college graduates. Being first-generation college graduates themselves, the recruiters easily connect with the potential students, following up with personal phone calls to answer any questions they may have.

Spring is also busy booked with outreach programs to counselors, parents, students and the community. Her team hosts 200 Bay Area high school counselors for the Western Association of College Admissions Counselors conference and an annual Latino Family Summit in March. The event draws some 500 parents and students for workshops, in both Spanish and English, on the value, cost and how-to's of earning a college degree. The team is also holding its first student summit and workshops for Asians and Pacific Islanders, working with campus clubs to host the event for Solano County students.

Always promoting Sonoma

Quick to volunteer for taking on new responsibilities, Geck is very passionate about her job. She laughs about calling herself, 'The Queen of Sonoma.' "Whenever anybody needed somebody to step in for outreach, orientation, tours, the multi-cultural center, or whatever, I have been the go-to girl.  But," she adds, a bit sheepishly, "I have respectfully relinquished my title because we now have a new queen – Sonoma State President Dr. Judy Sakaki –  who took over the title last summer."

While embracing her current strategic and administrative responsibilities as Sonoma State's director of student outreach and recruitment, Geck's favorite part of her day is still connecting with students. "I have a cohort of 'mentees' now. When I get to personally talk to students and share the possibilities of going to college, and then, actually get to see them here, it feels amazing."

​Geck finds herself promoting the Sonoma State wherever she goes. She attends meetings with Los Cien, the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, the North Bay Black Chamber of Commerce and is an advisor for her Latina college sorority.  Although her immediate staff is small, Geck says, "In essence, I have hundreds of recruiters. We are all outreach. We all represent the university; wherever we are, we all have an opportunity to say what's great about Sonoma State."

Whether she's at a soccer game with her two young sons, a PTA meeting or the grocery store, Geck is always out there promoting the value of a college education -- just like her father did. ​​

Community; Access