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Thursday, May 13, 2021

Q&A: Cyndie Shepard to leave Compass 2 Campus

Photo courtesy of Cyndie Shepard
Photo courtesy of Cyndie Shepard


Cyndie Shepard, the executive director and founder of Compass 2 Campus, will be leaving at the end of the year along with her husband Bruce. She’s served the Western community for the last eight years after moving from the University of Wisconsin Green Bay.

Q:  How did you start Compass 2 Campus?

A: Compass 2 Campus is the sister program to the program I started at the University of Wisconsin Green Bay. That all started when I went to Green Bay with my husband Bruce as he was becoming the chancellor of that university, I gave up my career in education not thinking I was giving up my career.   

Q: What are the differences now then when you started Compass 2 Campus?  

A: When we first started it was mainly an introduction for students in underrepresented populations. We basically go into Title I schools, which are low-income schools where most of the under-representation is. Many times these students aren’t encouraged to go to school. What we were trying to do was to bring college students in to talk about how important higher education is and learning all through your life is. So that’s where we started with the vision of the program.

But it has become so much more because what we have realized is that not only are we benefiting the students out in the schools that we are going to with our students but our students are learning at incredible high rates becoming mentors. The skills they are learning are employability skills that they can use for the rest of their lives – things like learning how to communicate, how to develop their own leadership and how to take care of themselves in a way that they are able to be enthusiastic about education.

We really believe that we  are coming to work and serve the children we are going out to, while at the same time our students are learning at very high and very different levels than we originally started with.  

Q: What is your daily role?

A: I teach full time in this program, most of the time. In the last year and a half before this year, I began to develop a social justice class that went along with Compass 2 Campus with a lot of help from people on campus and a lot of my colleagues here in Woodring. We now have a GUR in diversity and that’s the “Compass 2 Campus: Youth Mentoring Toward Social Justice” and I am just so excited about that. It’s different in the fact that it really focuses on helping students understand who they are and who they’re working with.

So I run the program and I also teach in the program.

Q: Can you describe what kind of student has success in Compass 2 Campus?

A: That’s easy – any student that we get.

Q: How have you documented the successes of Compass 2 Campus?

A: We’re a longitudinal program so we are doing longitudinal research from the beginning of the program. We’re now seven years old and next year will be the eighth year and that’s the first graduating cohort of fifth graders that we brought. We follow all of our fifth-grade cohorts. When we bring them on campus, we introduce the students to the program. All of the fifth graders in the participating districts get to come on that tour. We then follow those fifth graders as they move into middle school and high school.

We keep records on who we work with and what we’re working with them about. What we hope we’ll be able to do is look at graduation rates in Whatcom and Skagit county districts that we’re working in. We’re hoping that our research shows that we’re increasing the graduation rates because we’re trying to hold them in school and keep them interested and enthused to become lifelong learners.

We are developing scholarships for the students who have been involved in Compass 2 Campus and they can write for those scholarships if they want to come to Western or to any form of higher education. We are just encouraging them to continue learning throughout their lives.

Q: What were the bumps in the road?

A: Bumps in the road is always money—like everything else. We’re not huge, we don’t take a tremendous amount of money, but people cost. The people that run the program, the people that we have to have to support the program always are costly. That’s the hardest thing of all.

We’ve been trying for years to try and get the legislature to set aside some funds for mentoring, especially since we are the pilot for the state. That hasn’t happened so we keep working on that. We do a lot of fundraising. I think one of the most frustrating things for me is the fact that some people still don’t understand what we’re trying to do. They think it’s just this fifth grade tour that we do, but what they don’t see is that we have done almost 180 thousand hours of work in the schools in the last seven years.

Q: How has the program played a role in your time at Western?

A: It’s the biggest role I have, however, I also have the role of the first lady. But also I think that’s a combined role, because bringing this program is an adjunct to what my husband has been trying to do with the campus and really pay attention to the needs of diverse populations coming to school. This whole idea is to encourage the diversity that would like to see at Western come here. We do want to make sure that all students have the opportunity for higher education if they wish to have it. So that’s a pretty big role.

Q: How do you think the program will grow in the future?

A: First of all, we’re looking for a new director because I’m retiring. Whenever you bring in new people—that’s new thoughts, new visions—so I’m really encouraged to think that I may have started something but it might just evolve into some other thing and I think that’s exciting. Compass 2 Campus has always been evolving; we’re not the same program we were when we started. I think we’ve made lots of significant changes.

Growing into our first cohort of graduating fifth graders, we do hope that some of come to Western and one of my visions for that is once they get here some of our mentors turn around and mentor the freshmen so that we make sure we keep them here so they can be successful.

A year and a half ago we transported Compass 2 Campus to Central Washington University so they now have a program. I would love to see this program be transported across our state and we’re beginning to get a lot of support for that, working to get a number of other students involved like Huxley and college of Business and Economics and science and engineering. If we had Compass 2 Campus in other schools, they could be encouraging students as well so that might bring the educational level of our state up. I would really love to see that happening more. And we’re encouraged that Central’s got their program.

Q: Can you tell me about a time you were proud of Compass 2 Campus for something in particular?

A: We have several people who have started in their freshman year and they stayed with Compass 2 Campus for the whole time they were here and have graduated. We even have a few students who have gone into their master’s programs here and they’ve been staying with their students from fifth grade, followed them all the way through and they are now in 11th grade and they will be staying with them when they graduate.

We know for a fact that three of those students will be applying to Western and will be coming because of the mentors. I can’t be any more proud than that.

Q: What’s next for you?  

A: Rest! I need a little rest. I will still be involved. For instance, I’ll come back to give the very first scholarship next year. I would love to hand the very first one to the students and say, “You’re coming to Western because you wrote this essay about Compass 2 Campus helping you get here.” There are a number of ways that I intend to stay involved—it’s my baby.


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