A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of meeting Gisi Thompson, the new Student Services Coordinator at Cogswell, during a Q&A session with a group of students. Gisi’s answers left a lasting, positive impression. A few weeks later, I was delighted and surprised to see her name posted in front of her new office. I knew that I would be working with Gisi a lot, as she would become the new Associated Student Body (ASB) Advisor, so I decided to invite her for coffee and get to know her. Here’s how it went…
As soon as I walk into Starbucks, I spot Gisi in line. She is wearing a light gray sweater over a bright, orange top. She notices me and greets me with a wave, letting some customers in line cut ahead as she walks towards me. We exchange greetings and talk about our days as we wait our turn to order.
Gisi orders a Peach Citrus Green Tea refresher. When the barista asks her for her name, she says, simply, that she goes by the letters G and C. I flash her an interested, half-laughing look. “It’s easier to say,” she explains, “ but they’re still going to get it wrong.”
As Gisi claims a small table near the window, I order a Pineapple Black Tea refresher and a warmed, chocolate muffin (it’s cheat day). Just as I join her and begin our conversation, the barista calls out an order.
“I have a Peach Citrus Green Tea for... J.C.?”
Gisi looks at me, nods, and gets up to grab her drink. “That also happens,” she remarks jokingly.
Gisi fell in love with California during a trip to San Diego exactly eight years ago from this month. The scenery, culture, food, and weather made her promise herself that she would move to the Golden Coast someday. Six years later, an opportunity came, and she happily followed her dreams to California.
Working at Cogswell, her responsibilities include managing disability services for academics, advising Cogswell ASB and student clubs, and developing programming initiatives that promote student success and retention.
Recalling how Cogswell came to her attention, Gisi says “I’ve always been drawn to the culture of [close-knit] institutions. I started my career in higher education at a small private institution and really enjoyed it.” A sense of community, according to Gisi, present opportunities to connect with students, faculty, and staff - something harder at larger institutions.
“It’s easier to make an impact, put a face to a name, walk by someone, and say ‘hello’ knowing exactly who they are.” She adds, “I want my students to feel like they aren’t a number. That’s important to me.”
Over the last few weeks, Gisi has gotten to know the Cogswell community. In her first week, she attended ASB’s Cogswell Summerfest, where she met much of the student population. She has also been attending ASB’s Executive Board meetings every Monday, as Dean of Students Brittany Bogle prepares to transition her role as the ASB Advisor to Gisi.
“The student voices drew me in,” she recalls, “I read about Cogswell and what students had to say about the college was just so positive. It really stuck with me.”
This is Gisi’s first time working in a creative arts institution. “It’s infectious,” she tells me; “that’s what I like the most. It’s a tight-knit community. Everyone seems so invested in what they do. I see students in studios so passionate about what they’re doing, and faculty passionate in helping them succeed. It’s been amazing and I’m happy to be a part of it.”
At last week’s ASB Meeting, I noticed Gisi making a remark about a Naughty Dog sticker on a student’s laptop. When I asked her to talk about it, she began to laugh almost timidly.
“I love Naughty Dog.” she admits, giggling as she motions for me to wipe some chocolate off my face from sloppily eating my chocolate muffin, “my husband is a big gamer, and Uncharted was the first game I ever finished. Right now I’m halfway through Uncharted 3 and we’re playing The Last of Us.”
“Do you have a closet nerd in you?” I ask. Gisi leans back, sips her refresher, and nods with a smile.
Gisi and I begin talking about our nerdy obsession with movie soundtracks. Growing up, she was a big movie buff. She recounts many nights in Orlando spent watching and analyzing movies with her friends and family. This passion would later propel her towards her Bachelor’s Degree in Telecommunications with a concentration in TV and Film from the University of Florida in Gainesville.
“When I was at Universal Studios,” she recalls, “the sorting hat said I am a Hufflepuff.” As a loyal Slytherin, I find myself instantly offended. But before I can make a comment, she corrects herself. “Wait! No, I’m a Slytherin. My husband is a Hufflepuff.”
We high five to solidify our Slytherin bond.
“What’s your Patronus?” I ask
Gisi squints in concentration as she fixes her golden, hexagonal earrings.
“I think I’d be like… a hippopotamus? Or a sloth?”
I ask her if she’s ever found out her official Patronus on Pottermore. She shakes her head in embarrassment, prompting me to pull out my computer so she can formalize it by taking the quiz.
The Patronus quiz on Pottermore is timed; her Patronus is selected based on her selections from duos or trios of words or phrases. As the quiz’s pace increases, she remains calm and collected, enjoying the activity and making remarks about how excited she is to finally connect to her inner Patronus, solidifying her wizardry.
As she reaches the end of the quiz, she looks at me, takes a deep breath, and drags the mouse over the screen to release her Patronus. “The suspense!” she says excitedly. The glimmering white light begins to take form from a cloud of smoke into…
I laugh hysterically. We’d both expected her patronus to be something majestic, like a lioness. She is staring at the screen in shock. I ask her what she thinks about her newfound Patronus.
“I feel like...” she begins to explain, still confused, “I should have had a Patronus that reflects my personality and how I like to help people. Like a dolphin.”
I agree. A dolphin would make more sense and reflect Gisi’s fun, yet calm, collected, and ready-to-help personality (dolphins are known to help stranded people get back to shores). Although Gisi practices high-adrenaline activities like powerlifting, she is someone who can remain calm in a crisis or emergency situation. Once, she witnessed a car accident, and was immediately able to pull over and offer assistance, acting as a calm mediator, calling for assistance with detailed information on the street, cars, and location. “These situations are relaxing to me, actually” she explains. At her previous job, she helped an international student who was struggling with communication by finding a translator to resolve an issue between roommates.
“I want to help people,” she shares in an assuring tone. “I’m not okay with the bare minimum. I believe in quality and commitment.”
Growing up, there were no indicators that she would enter this career: her love for film was always the focus; she wanted to be a big Hollywood producer. Education was never on her radar. Yet her will to help people led her to find a career in student services. Her experience as a Student Financial Affairs Officer ignited her spark to obtain a Master’s Degree in Higher Education from the University of Central Florida in Orlando.
“Right now, my biggest goal is to kick off a few high impact practices that promote student success in and out of the classroom,” she says with confidence. “I’d like to pilot several initiatives and experiences that are sustainable, long term, and will really engage students while they’re here at Cogswell.”
By next year, for example, she hopes to have everything in place to finalize her vision for a strategic plan that will add structure to how co-curricular activities are implemented on campus. Her goal is to focus on student organizations serving the diverse population at Cogswell.
Although she’s only been working at Cogswell for a few weeks, Gisi has a way of making you feel like she’s been your mentor for years. Her passion for finding efficient ways to help students is a driving force.
“I got into Higher Education because my goal has always been to help students navigate their college experience and get the most out of their four years at any institution,” she remarks excitedly, “I’m excited and happy that I’ll be able to do that here at Cogswell.”