Focused on Student Access and Success: Cutler Center Director Chris Berry

April 6, 2022

Cutler Center entrance in Stockwell Library, Albion College

The entrance to the Cutler Center on the first floor of Stockwell Library.

By Jake Weber

Chris Berry came to Albion for a job—and seven years later, he’s found both a career and a passion.

Berry began his work at Albion in residential life, and his talents have led him through multiple roles in student development and academic affairs, to his current role as assistant dean for student success and Cutler Center director.

He’s enjoyed all those jobs—but as the new director of the Cutler Center, Berry is pretty sure he’s found the challenge that will hold him for the next several years.

Chris Berry, Albion College

Assistant Dean for Student Success Chris Berry joined the Albion College staff in 2015. He came to Albion from Ball State University, where he received his M.A. in student affairs administration in higher education.

Berry’s work with the Cutler Center actually began in 2019 when he joined the team that designed the Center’s mission and vision. The short description? “We’re in the business of supporting students and removing barriers to their success,” says Berry.

The longer version, of course, is a lot more complex. The Cutler Center is a multiprogram collective, including accessibility services, peer tutoring, writing consultation, fellowship advising, TRiO student support services, the First-Year Experience, peer mentoring and more. Some 100 student employees work with the staff of 11, and Berry estimates that this year, at least half of the students on campus will participate in a program managed through the Cutler Center.

Working as one office also means the Cutler Center can better identify and address concerns affecting students. As an example, Berry notes that over the past few years, many of the Cutler Center staff noticed a rise in disengagement—students missing class and not completing work. This year, working as a team, they implemented one ingenious part of a solution to keep students from falling into the disengagement spiral.

“With the support of faculty, we’ve created a system to encourage students to attend every class and prevent them from falling behind,” Berry says.

Starting next year, all first-year seminars will meet at the same time, a move that makes going to class a social activity. Additionally, if students don’t show up to class, their seminar instructors will partner with the Cutler Center team to get them reengaged. Berry says that he and his staff—with the assistance of the Office of Community Living—are prepared to knock on doors in Wesley and Seaton halls to make this happen.

It may seem like a labor-intensive solution to reach the relatively small number of struggling first-year students—but Berry points out that class attendance is a major predictor of student success. And while the Cutler Center staff works to keep those few students out of serious academic trouble, all students benefit from the collective and collaborative message: Go to class.

Berry points out that the Cutler Center also helps Albion “walk the walk” on educational equity and the honest examination of historic privilege.

“Our most successful students have always used resources like tutoring, writing support and engaging with a faculty or staff mentor,” Berry says. “Success isn’t about being a ‘good’ student or a ‘bad’ student; it’s about whether a student has access to resources and support networks that allow them to engage in the strategies that successful students use. Our job at the Cutler Center is to make sure every student has this access.”

“The College is doing great work moving toward equity and belonging,” says Berry. “I’m grateful to be able to do my part to continue that work.”