Human Resources > ​Faculty and Staff Spotlight

​ Faculty and Staff Spotlight

​​​James Stewart - Former Director of Academic Continuity and Engagement (ACE)

James Stewart

James works within the Division of Student Affairs. He provides support, tailored resources, advocacy and events for veteran, commuter and adult student groups.

Could you talk about your office and the different student populations that you serve?

Having an office dedicated to these groups (Commuter, Veteran and Adult Students) can be very beneficial for them. Our office can help better connect them to advocacy and resources. If there’s anything we can do to help these groups stay here and be successful, that’s the epitome of DePaul’s mission in my mind.

We want to facilitate the achievement of their goals through education, which can really change their lives. A lot of our adult students were not successful at a first attempt at college. If this is a second opportunity, we can help hopefully get them across the finish line.

Adult students are often juggling multiple life demands. One of the things that our office is trying to impact most is adult students taking breaks from class. Once you take one quarter off, it can quickly become two quarters. Before you know it, you’re taking a year and one year becomes five years. So we’re really looking at ways we can stay in contact with that student and encourage their return.

We try to figure out what resources they might need that could help. As an adult student, there’s a barrier to returning to classes that we all can imagine. You re-acclimate to adult life and the thought of being back in school becomes more difficult.

What are ways that we can help get them back on track? How can we get in front of adult students to let them know that we’re here to help them navigate those issues? These are the challenges that our office is focused on.

DePaul believes that education can make the world of difference for this adult student population. How can we help address some of those needs to keep them here and successful in achieving their goals? My parents were both non-traditional students. They were laid off of factory jobs. I saw what it was like as a kid when my parents were trying to juggle all of their responsibilities and commitments. Twenty percent of our undergrads are non-traditional age. Many people don’t realize the number is that high. I think they make DePaul better with the experience that they bring.

What are some of the challenges veteran students can face? How do you work with them?

Veterans bring discipline, worldliness and professionalism to the campus and the classroom, they’re a positive influence on the students around them. I think they are a group of students that, if you are around them, you have the highest respect for them.

That being said, we do know that a transition from a military life, which can be very regimented and scheduled, to the freedoms associated with civilian life can be a big adjustment, so we certainly try to help with that in a variety of ways. We have five veteran liaisons who are current students that work with our office. They help other veteran students navigate the transition, since they have done it themselves.

Some of our veterans choose to stay very connected to the veteran community and are active with charities and our office. And some veterans really want to become a civilian and just want to be a DePaul student. And there is a large continuum in between. We want to be here to help wherever they want to land on that continuum.

DePaul has a lot of commuter students. How are you working with them?

Commuter Services is the newest part of the office. A large group of our students are commuters so we really focus on their needs. We do presentations at orientations to help students plan their commute, but we’re really there addressing any needs or issues related to commuting.

We are constantly looking at data from our commuter population. It’s almost ninety percent of the student population. We focus on potential challenges for commuter students that may lead to less student retention. We are always looking to add extra services and resources to target commuter students. A lot of support can happen virtually.

How have technological changes affected your job?

In terms of off-campus housing, technology has replaced a process that used to be pretty hard and frustrating. A lot of our students can’t afford to live in an apartment by themselves, and our website can help them find a roommate.

Our off-campus housing website can also help students find a roommate based on variables like cleanliness, sleep hours and features of the apartment. You can search by college, gender, grad student, whatever filters you want. And hopefully the website helps them manage some of the challenges of finding the right, affordable housing.

I think technology has dramatically changed the commuter experience too. At a previous employer, we hosted a workshop that helped students use transportation apps, but I’ve found that we don’t need that here anymore. People are so tech savvy now.  They don’t need any additional instruction in terms of using a bus tracker or rideshare program. Students know how to do it. But only seven years ago, you needed a tutorial.

I think there is going to continue to be changes in this area. Commuting is one of the most stressful things we—as adults—do. I think technology in our lives will continue to look at ways of making commuting easier.

Can you talk about your experience working at DePaul University?

I think that a difference at DePaul is that we succeed as an office because of our collaborations with other offices and networks across the university. I have found working together with other offices to be an absolute pleasure at DePaul. As long as the goal relates to the success of our students, I have never encountered departments not willing to partner with us.

From its beginning, DePaul has served students who were not necessarily accepted by other institutions. We have had a college dedicated to adults for over four decades. We have a much higher percentage of non-traditional students than a lot of universities. We have one of the bigger veteran populations in the Chicago area. By working to figure out how to best serve these groups, I think we’re also exemplifying Vincentian values.

I am continuously inspired and motivated by DePaul students. It drives me to work even harder on their behalf. I find the drive, dedication, and motivation even stronger with our adult and veteran students and that makes the work I get to do all the more fun and worthwhile.