Record keeper to tassel turner: UMMC Registrar gets doctorate
Since taking the reins as Registrar at the University of Mississippi Medical Center in 2019, Emily Cole of Madison estimates she has accepted about 1,000 new students into various academic programs at the state’s foremost academic health sciences center.
On Thursday, she will proudly stand shoulder to shoulder with many of them at the Mississippi Trademart to receive her Doctor of Health Administration.
A staff member in UMMC’s Office of Student Services and Records for 18 years, Cole is usually seen on the commencement stage handing diploma covers to each school’s dean who, in turn, presents them to each newly minted graduate. This year, she will be on the receiving end of a handshake from Dr. Jessica H. Bailey, dean of the School of Health Related Professions.
It’s an experience that is sure to leave an indelible mark on the affable executive director of enrollment management.
“It gives me a greater appreciation for the type of students we have at UMMC and what they’ve gone through to receive their diplomas,” Cole said. “It gives me a fresh perspective for my job in student services.”
Cole’s perspective on commencement has been carefully cultivated during a career that has progressed from admissions staff member to assistant registrar to associate director to director.
Through the years, she has spent countless hours working behind the scenes at UMMC’s graduation ceremony to help make sure the event is memorable for the students and their families alike.
“Typically I would gather all the diploma covers, meet our entire staff early at the Coliseum, set up the stage, pass out name cards for all of the students and help get them lined up for the ceremony,” she said. “Then we would hand out the actual diplomas after the ceremony.”
Because of COVID-19 restrictions, UMMC’s traditional commencement has been divided into several smaller sessions for each school spread over a two-day period. Needless to say, Cole’s participation as a student - and responsibilities as a registrar — have made 2021 all the more challenging.
“We were implementing a new student system,” she said, “and being a wife and a mother, it was very challenging to me to take on a doctoral-level program. There’s a lot of work that goes into it.
“I have such an appreciation for the DHA faculty and the program as a whole. I understand UMMC better and have a better perspective for my role and the potential my office has to serve the Medical Center.”
Dr. Elizabeth Franklin, associate professor and admissions chair of the DHA program, served as Cole’s advisory committee chair for her research. She credits Cole’s temperament and talent for her dual success as registrar and student.
“Emily has an uncanny way to stay calm and focused on her academic goals, even when her important position at UMMC requires a lot of attention,” Franklin said. “I don’t think Emily had any idea when she entered the DHA program that the last year would be so challenging. Because she is so calm and not easily rattled, she displayed to her fellow cohort members an example of strong leadership during trying times.
“Not only did Emily and her team ensure student records were maintained and students graduated on time with all the proper documentation — during the pandemic — they also were instrumental in the smooth integration of Workday Student.”
The unique collegial aspect of the three-year DHA program at UMMC also played an instrumental role in Cole’s decision to pursue her doctorate.
“The exciting thing about the program is you’re in a cohort with the same people every semester,” she said. “We were kind of like a little family. We would get together and really encourage and inspire each other at various points throughout the program.”
Dr. James S. Miller, director of nursing for Children’s Hospital Services at UMMC and a member of Cole’s cohort, said he drew inspiration from his classmate
“Emily Cole is a value to the University of Mississippi Medical Center in that she is a global thinker and not afraid to push boundaries to challenge the status quo,” Miller said. “Emily wants the best for all involved and is the type of leader who teammates can depend on. She works diligently to achieve results and rallies behind those who are struggling.
“Emily was the perfect candidate for the DHA program because she is not only invested in her success, but she is also invested in the success of her cohort and UMMC.”
Perhaps that investment is best demonstrated by her doctoral project, the crowning achievement of any DHA candidate. Cole was able to use her real-world experience on a mixed-methods study that, despite its straightforward name, “Implementing Co-curricular Transcripts at an Academic Medical Center,” required long hours of research.
Cole surveyed other medical schools to see if their students were offered co-curricular transcripts or any other type documentation of a learner’s involvement in educational experiences that take place outside of the regular classroom. Then she conducted interviews with and led focus groups of medical students and administrators to obtain their opinions about co-curricular activities.
“We have many of these activities already occurring on campus,” Cole said. “I knew from my perspective that they could be best documented and best utilized if they were captured on a co-curricular transcript.
“Students document a lot of these activities on their CVs or resumes, which is then utilized for medical student performance evaluations, or their involvement is something they would talk about in their residency interviews.”
Cole said she focused her study on the School of Medicine because all of its students are required to participate in some manner of postgraduate training. She wanted to see if co-curricular transcripts would benefit them during the residency interview process.
“Not just the School of Medicine, but UMMC as a whole is already building a catalog of co-curricular activities,” she said. “This is about being very conscientious and intentional with how we move forward with this documentation.”
According to Franklin, Cole’s project could benefit the Medical Center for years to come.
“This type of student record can demonstrate to postgraduate programs, educational programs and potential employers how diverse and prepared UMMC students are,” Franklin said. “It provides a way for them to distinguish themselves from other students from other universities. By participating in activities that may not be included in the formal curriculum, students can reap the benefits of the skills gained and also show to others the full picture of their fitness for further training or employment.
“This is a very new concept in academic medical centers, but Emily was willing to find out what has been done in this space by other institutions and explore practical ways our students can benefit from a transcript that includes multiple levels of their learning and skills development, not just their academic grades and hours earned. Her willingness to start the conversation at UMMC, based on her knowledge of previous research and her own findings, may pave the way for greater student success.”
Cole said the doctoral project provided her an opportunity to make a real impact on the lives of students that doesn’t come along too often.
”It’s a very satisfying achievement for me because, in general, you don’t really hear about our office,” she said. “We’re meant to be behind the scenes making sure processes are being maintained. To know you’ve contributed something that will benefit the students is very rewarding and gratifying.”
Cole said she plans to have a couple of the “stars” in her office — Dr. Christi Hardy, director of student admissions, and Lauren Nichols, associate director of curriculum management - take on her usual responsibilities during SHRP’s commencement on Thursday. As for UMMC’s graduation exercises on Friday, she will be back in her usual position on stage.
“Christi and Lauren will do a fantastic job, but it’s back to reality for me after Thursday’s ceremony,” she said.
Which is a reflection of their leader, according to Franklin.
“Emily’s candor, honesty and empathy for others are factors in her success — both in the DHA program and in her position as registrar,” Franklin said. “She has a bright future in her role, and we feel confident the DHA program has played an integral part in her success.”