Hall guides first Nebraska College Preparatory Academy class at UNL


Nebraska College Preparatory Academy retention coordinator Jeff Hall works from his office in the Jackie Gaughan Multicultural Center.

Story and photo by Molly Young

Jeff Hall’s days are blue. The colored blocks line his digital calendar with appointments and meetings. White space – free time – doesn’t last long, the retention coordinator explains.

Then his cell phone buzzes, like it does at least 15 times every day. This time, it’s a text message from a student needing help with philosophy. Could Hall meet this afternoon? Yes, he replies. Come on in.

Thirty-two University of Nebraska-Lincoln freshmen know they can come to Hall with any concern. The Nebraska College Preparatory Academy retention coordinator helps the program’s first class of UNL freshmen navigate college.

“I’m helping them with the stumbling blocks that a lot of freshmen run into,” Hall said.

When students call, Hall answers questions about bills, housing and even philosophy.

The academy began first at Grand Island Senior High then at Omaha North High Magnet School, targeting high school freshmen and sophomores. The UNL academy aims to help low-income and first-generation students complete high school and college degrees. Its first high school graduates arrived at UNL in August.

Hall moved in a month earlier, filling an office in the newly completed Jackie Gaughan Multicultural Center. His office door opens to the lounge, where students gather to watch TV, eat and finish homework.

“I don’t feel like I’m working in an office,” Hall said. “I get daily interaction with students.”

Before the start of the school year, the lounge sat quiet. Hall didn’t. He logged dozens of phone calls, Facebook messages and e-mails to students.

“I wanted to explain why this over-caffeinated short guy is calling them about how they are doing,” Hall said. “They have an ally, someone they can go to with any concern.”

Hall’s own experiences as a recent UNL undergrad help him relate. When he graduated in 2009 with an education degree, his position didn’t exist. Neither did his office, which was in the early stages of construction. He taught high school for a year, but disliked the discipline – all those “silly tardies and bathroom passes,” Hall said.

“It wasn’t the subject matter I liked; it was the interactions with young people.”

He continues to teach a weekly seminar to the 32 students enrolled in UNL’s Institute of Excellence, the college portion of the academy. He doesn’t hand out hall passes. Instead, he offers advice, including his biggest tip: the 2-to-1 ratio.

“If you’re in class for 15 hours, expect to be studying for 30,” Hall said.

Next semester, one more academy student plans to begin classes at UNL. Freshmen classes will continue to grow for the next four years, when Hall expects the UNL students to number 200. For now, Hall keeps a daily journal of students’ questions and needs to prepare for next year.

“This is our first class, so it’s kind of trial and error,” he said. “I’m always looking at what students need.”

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