PUC’s Student Success Center Supports and Empowers All Students

By Laura Gang on February 12, 2024

Share this


In the realms of professional sports, health care, education, and beyond, learning and the pursuit of knowledge are constant. Whether it involves embracing new techniques, adopting fresh strategies, or seeking improvement, the journey toward personal development and excellence remains ongoing.

Pacific Union College’s Student Success Center, formerly known as the Teaching and Learning Center (TLC), is committed to providing personalized support and enrichment for every student. Its primary mission is to aid students in discovering, exploring, and building upon their God-given, unique strengths and gifts—not only in academics but holistically, across all facets of their lives.

The newly appointed director of the Student Success Center is Kharolynn Pascual Smith. With extensive experience as an educator and advisor, Pascual Smith brings a multifaceted perspective to her leadership, further building upon the groundwork laid by the TLC. Her vision and commitment focus on reshaping the role of the center and enhancing its impact on the diverse needs of PUC’s student body.

Pascual Smith, who previously served as PUC’s director of orientation, transition, and retention, said her passion for Adventist education is the message of grace and the truth about God’s design and purpose for each life. “Our value is not outside of ourselves. We are already created with value, ability, and strengths,” she said. “Our goal here is to help students discover and apply these qualities in many areas of their lives, even if they aren’t struggling academically.”

Regrettably, the center sometimes acquired a certain stigma, primarily because students believed it was only a place for students facing academic challenges.

Pascual Smith and her team are determined to reshape the narrative surrounding the Student Success Center. They aim to clarify its mission: to support all students as much as possible. While part of its operations still involves supporting students on academic probation, efforts are underway to collaborate with other campus departments and students themselves. The goal is to offer new tools, strategies, and workshops beneficial to a wide range of students.

Pascual Smith points out that a straight-A student may not immediately consider the Student Success Center as a resource. But there are resources available for them to strengthen their gifts, strengths, and abilities.

“Wherever we are, we don’t want to stay static; we always want to continue to grow,” Pascual Smith said. “We are looking to somehow impact that idea of lifelong learning—particularly about yourself and how God equips you to do what He calls you to do and be in this world.”

Pascual Smith said several new initiatives are already underway, including: 

CliftonStrengths for Students Assessment: This online tool helps students identify their unique talents and gifts. Through a series of questions, it analyzes patterns of thinking, feeling, and behaving. The resulting report instills confidence and enhances self-awareness, which can support students academically, socially, and in their future careers. Notably, the faculty and staff at PUC recently participated in this assessment, fostering personal growth and contributing to team and departmental development. Students can inquire about this assessment through the Student Success Center.

Supporting Specific Student Groups: The center continues its strong support for student-athletes, particularly under the mentorship of Ellen Balk-Dick. Pascual Smith is actively pursuing support for first-generation college students. On Nov. 8, National First-Generation College Celebration Day, the center hosted a dessert celebration for PUC’s first-generation students. Forty students completed a survey, and 15 expressed interest in participating in a focus group.

“It’s not just about identifying their needs,” Pascual Smith said.” First-generation students have different perspectives, and we want to know what things they can bring to the table. Many of them have resilience and persistence down in a way that other students may not. What can our other students learn from them and their strengths?”

Student-led Workshops: Pascual Smith said that upon becoming the new director, she wanted more input from students about where they needed more support and tools. She chose Akemi Ohara, a sophomore honors student studying pre-med and exercise science, to help form a student advisory group. The group has been meeting to share and discuss ideas over the last several months. They have generated many ideas for workshops and taken the initiative to lead these events, covering a wide range of topics. These workshops, called “15 at 5,” are short, 15-minute sessions at 5 p.m. and provide tips or advice on a host of topics. The first one is called “Hidden Gems to Take Your Hidden Gem” and gives date night ideas for Valentine’s Day. 

Collaboration with Other Campus Departments: Other departments on campus are collaborating with the Student Success Center. One idea is to host a workshop on identifying and utilizing spiritual gifts. Other workshop themes include student growth, student wellness, and mental health. 

Still, academic support remains one of the top priorities for the Student Success Center.

Coordinator Cheryl Rick oversees tutoring services, including group study sessions led by students for various classes—especially ones offered every quarter. The groups are often small. These sessions are available to any student enrolled in that specific class.

The Writing Lab is also accessible to all students. Pascual Smith notes that it’s a misconception that the lab’s tutors only work with students taking English classes. Writing is important in all classes, and student tutors can significantly help others to strengthen their skills. 

The Student Success Center remains committed to supporting students on academic probation. However, the model now focuses on strengths and self-advocacy. Instead of signing a mandated contract, Pascual Smith and her team now support students in creating an Academic Success Plan. They help students set goals, choose strategies for success, and identify the resources they need.

She said the students on academic probation she worked with during the first quarter returned to regular status.


Pascual Smith asked the students if the new success plan approach was helpful for them in their academic journey. They all said yes. Many cited how they better planned and regularly met with professors to ask questions—rather than trying to figure them out on their own. 

“'I'm hopeful now that they're on their own, that they will be able to continue that,” she said. “We really want students to advocate for themselves and to understand their success is within their control.”