Sabrina Benedict-Monteverde feels a strong connection to the Arizona Online students she serves.
She knows each of them are on complex journeys—navigating the challenges of being an at-home parent while taking classes, for example—and works to ensure they feel connected and supported.
“It’s a population I hold near and dear to my heart because of the obstacles they face,” Benedict-Monteverde said. “There’s something really special about online students; they are often working full-time, or raising families, or they are military spouses, or first-generation, and you add the pandemic and I can really empathize.”
In her role as co-director for the Student Nutrition Advising Center (SNAC) in the School of Nutritional Sciences and Wellness, Benedict-Monteverde leads academic advising for more than 400 Arizona Online students.
Described by her nutritional sciences and wellness colleagues as a true “servant leader,” a “trusted advisor” to students and faculty alike, and a “fierce advocate” for the online student population, Benedict-Monteverde received one of two Division of Agriculture, Life and Veterinary Sciences, and Cooperative Extension Outstanding Staff Awards in 2022.
“I’m just grateful,” she said. “I truly work with the best people. Our online team and on main campus, they have all helped us get to where we are.”
Since Benedict-Monteverde joined CALS in late 2019, the online student population in Nutritional Sciences and Wellness has grown from 115 to nearly 500, roughly 300 percent, the largest at the university.
That growth could have swamped her and the NSW advising team. Instead, she embraced an opportunity to work with a broad and diverse student population.
“Our online programs have grown exponentially and the rapid growth tested us and threatened to overwhelm us to the point that we could not enroll interested students in a timely manner and service them,” School of Nutritional Sciences and Wellness Director Scott Going noted in his nomination letter. “Through a Herculean effort (Benedict-Monteverde) was able to clear the backlog and since that time our online program has nearly quadrupled.”
Benedict-Monteverde said one of the areas she’s focused on is strengthening connections between advisors and faculty, which has led to improving curriculums and student experiences.
“Our advising staff and faculty work really closely together and that’s different than other departments across the university,” she said. “For example, an advisor can tell a faculty member that students are struggling with X, Y, and Z, and the faculty say, ‘That’s an easy fix.’”
Benedict-Monteverde also developed FLOURISH, a peer ambassador program for NSW online students, who she said often feel disconnected not only to main campus but even other online students.
Her empathy for the students she works with comes from a series of personal challenges. Benedict-Monteverde is mother of two, one who is a special needs child, and her husband was diagnosed with cancer during the first year of the pandemic.
“We’re not able to participate in a lot of things that other families do, and I’ve had to negotiate flexibility with every job I’ve had,” she said. “So I really feel like I connect and empathize with these online students and I’m determined to deliver services to them that will eliminate barriers.”
Wrote Kellie Kirsch, an online student in pre-nutritional sciences and psychology: “As a non-traditional student, the idea of coming back to school or switching careers can be extremely daunting. While looking at different nutritional science programs, I was met with little feedback and help. Within five minutes of my first meeting with Sabrina I felt welcomed and heard and knew this was going to be the right program for me.”