Finding the Sweet Spot

Donna Musel
Donna Musel
Kosuke Fukuda

Everyone in their college experience has people who make an impact on both their schooling and their life. For many Buena Vista students, both past and present, one of those people is Donna Musel. Musel, who is the Director for the Center for Academic Excellence (CAE) has been making an impact on BVU students’ lives for over 22 years. Every year, students come in and out of her domain in the CAE and look for help in different ways. Whether students need help with organizing a schedule to keep them on track, finding a tutor in a specific class, a quiet place to sit down and get work done, or someone to talk to, thanks to Musel, a number of options are available.

Musel’s history at BVU comprises two different roles: student and professional.

“It goes back a long way, to when I was a BV student. I was a tutor and that was my income during undergrad.” explained Musel. “My undergrad degree was English and education. So, I went out and I taught in a couple of different school districts. After I finished my master’s degree, this position opened up and they wanted something different with the academic center, but they didn’t really know what. The guidelines were to come up with a vision and make it happen.  And I just gradually have tried to push it every couple of years to be better than what it is at the moment.”

The CAE today is something that has come a long way since Musel took over.

“When I first started, I had four writing tutors, and none of them ever showed up for work. I had one science tutor and one math tutor,” she said. “So, from the beginning, the goal was to find enough tutors so we could really have a tutoring center and to have students realize that tutoring was a good thing. Along the way, my big goal was to move from the basement of Lage … then we moved into the small room in the forum before moving into the space that we’re in now in the library.”

Although Musel does a lot in the CAE, she definitely has help from her coworkers including Vice President of Student Success, Jamii Claiborne.

“I couldn’t even imagine measuring the impact that Donna has on the students. I think one way you could maybe measure it is that when alumni come back for homecoming, they are all trying to see her because she has made a huge impact on their lives,” Claiborne said.

Students repay Musel’s help by always making sure to say hello and talk to her every time they see her. Whether they are still in Storm Lake as a student or returning as alumni, they always make a point to say “hi,” and Musel loves it.

“I just think BV students are pretty special people. The fact that I get to work with them is what brings me back every day. I love the relationships that I get to make with students. I love the impact that I can have. I love to hear their stories. I enjoy watching them come out of their shell and become better at what they do. … I also have great satisfaction when I see a student with any kind of disability figure out how they learn and then figure out processes so that they can learn to their best ability and go on to be successful,” Musel said.

Donna Musel working in her office (Kosuke Fukuda)

Claiborne elaborated on why she thinks it is a relationship that goes both ways.

“Donna and the workers in the CAE, and the CAE as a whole, are a safe space for students when they need help of any kind. They have become a hub of helping students find academic success, but they do so much more than that by always directing students in the right direction,” Claiborne said.

Although the CAE has changed a lot during Musel’s tenure, that does not mean that she and others in Student Success are sitting back and resting.

“Right now, we are looking to add another person who will be here for ELL (English Language Learning) [to] work with some of our students, especially our Spanish Speaking students. They will have a dual role that they’ll help with writing, but they’ll also add that ELL component into it. … But also, keeping good quality tutors here and finding ways to pay them better is another big goal that I have. Lastly, to get the management system here so that we can move things with disability services more into the digital realm,” Musel said.

While Musel and the others in the CAE are always looking to help BVU students, there are only so many hours in a day. “I would say the biggest [challenge] is having enough people to meet the demands of the students. Because we have more students than ever with testing accommodations, they need to test there,” explained Claiborne. “There are more students who come for tutoring or even for help with time management. So being able to meet the need with the students we have is an issue. But I am sure if you ask Donna, she will say she just wants to keep helping more and more students.”

This is something that Musel acknowledges. “My favorite part obviously is meeting with the students because that’s a lot more fun than doing paperwork. I would always prefer to work with a student versus working with a stack of papers.” Musel said.

But if you were to ask her if she would change anything she would most likely say no.

“I can’t imagine finding a job that would fit my strengths any better than this one. I think I’m where I’m supposed to be. I think I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing,” Musel said. “I think I’m in the right place working with the right people. I think this is my sweet spot.” 

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