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Great Falls College dual-enrollment coordinator works to help students, parents, and schools

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Posted at 11:14 AM, Aug 17, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-17 13:14:21-04

GREAT FALLS — Jessica Dykstra is in her sweet spot. After a few years as an academic advisor at Great Falls College MSU, she is excited to couple her experiences as an English teacher in area schools with her advising experience as she takes on the role of dual enrollment program coordinator.

“I’m working again with the population of students I’ve always wanted to,” said Dykstra, a 2005 graduate of Simms High School who taught in Vaughn Schools, Hillcrest Colony and Dutton-Brady High School. “I’ve always wanted to work with high schoolers. That’s my sweet spot.”

Long hours coupled with a commute helped Dykstra decide to look for something else when she was a school teacher, so she ended up in higher education – first with what is now the University of Providence before coming to Great Falls College.

She enjoyed her role as an advisor, where she was able to build relationships with students, but she missed high-schoolers, so when the dual enrollment job came open with an increased emphasis on advising, she knew the job was for her as she would be able to bring all of her experience with advising and her passion for high-school students together.

“It’s been really fun,” she said a little more than a month into her new job. “I like working with high-schoolers. A lot of people think you are crazy, but I enjoy them. I think they are fun.”

Dykstra’s job will encompass a lot, including helping dual-enrollment students find a plan and path so when they are taking college credits in high school, those credits will fulfill requirements.

“That’s a newer thing that Shannon (Marr, director of recruitment and enrollment) has brought in is using advising more to support the schools,” Dykstra said. “I like fostering those relationships. I like working with parents and students, especially.”

She also will be responsible for building relationships with counselors and administrators with area high schools to familiarize them with Great Falls College’s offerings.

“I’m really excited for this position because it will bring more awareness of dual-enrollment opportunities to families in northcentral Montana and more support to dual-enrollment students and area schools,” Marr said. “And Jessica’s familiarity with local school districts as an educator, her passion for high-school students and her experience as an advisor make her the perfect fit. This is such a win for students, high schools and Great Falls College.”

She also will be doing outreach to the schools in the region as a liaison between them and Great Falls College.

An area she is exploring is creating academies for dual enrollment students, so students can concentrate on areas of interest such as health care, business and accounting, education and computer technology, for example.

“It’s a great way for students to be able to build expertise and demonstrate a higher knowledge that they can put on college applications or their resume,” Dykstra said.

She also is interested in creating an early college academy for students who are working to take college credits in high school with the aim of attending a four-year school.

“My job is to help students develop a pathway to their future career ambitions,” Dykstra said. “Whether their vision leads them to becoming a registered nurse, welder, or cybersecurity professional through the Great Falls College or an engineer or psychology major at Montana State, I am here to support them as they begin the journey.”

Regardless of where they end up, she said Great Falls College is a great place to start.

She cites the small class sizes, affordable tuition, sense of community, campus engagement, and the support services from admissions, financial aid, advising and tutoring.

Dykstra’s appointment to the dual enrollment program coordinator job is part of a terrific summer for the admissions team at Great Falls College.

Connor Frakes, an admissions representative, was honored with the Rising Star Award at the statewide Montana Post Secondary Educational Opportunities Council, and Laramie Smovir, an enrollment specialist, was elected to the organization’s board.

“This recognition speaks so highly of the great work of our admissions staff, and, in fact, our entire support services staff,” said Mary Kay Bonilla, chief student affairs and human resources officer. “Whether they are traditional, non-traditional or dual-enrollment high school students, our students know they will be supported.”

Students, parents and high schools can reach Dykstra through the dual enrollment team at dual@gfcmsu.edu or 406-771-4390.