Maria L. Ugarte

May 10, 2024

Maria L. Ugarte is the Student Success Center Director for St. Augustine College, a higher education institution in Chicagoland, prioritizing Spanish-speaking students and other students who are returning to school to obtain a degree and advance their careers while working full-time or raising a family. With a focus on flexible classes and in-demand programs (such as a B.A. in Early Childhood Education or an A.A.S. in Respiratory Therapy), St. Augustine offers a variety of resources not commonly found in a more traditional college experience to guarantee students walk away from St. Augustine with a degree.

Maria L. Ugarte has spent most of her career as a “wearer of many hats” and this vivacious energy is an essential part of her day-to-day work as the Director of the Student Success Center. With previous experience as a social worker for 30 years and previous experience working as an adjunct faculty member at DePaul University, she has combined these job experiences to help develop her talents. “It’s so rich to have both of these worlds, I’m able to look at the big picture and still do the daily grinding.”

Award winner of LaRaza Newspaper’s 2015 Distinguished Woman for Community Leadership, before joining St. Augustine, she was the founder and CEO of FAMA Bilingual Center for Family Caregivers providing online bilingual resources since 2011.

Q: Can you tell us about yourself and your role as the Director of the Student Success Center?

A: I’ve been at St. Augustine College for about two years now, and I’m in my element as the Director of the Student Success Center. With my background as a social worker and my experience in administration, I’ve always worn many hats, and this role lets me use all those skills to benefit the students here. I thrive on communicating with and supporting the needs of our students, who are the center of everything we do.

Q: What are your main responsibilities as the Director of the Student Success Center?

A: My biggest focus is supporting student life by providing resources. I try to decide what will work best for them and strive to ensure they have all the information they need. From e-blasts and Canvas communications to event planning and newsletters, my job is about bringing students into the community, informing them of available resources for students, and promoting the services we offer. I also serve on several faculty committees, work with the student council on strategic planning processes, and collaborate with the adult education department and workforce education to offer career development workshops. Everything I do is focused on ensuring we provide the best resources for students at St. Augustine.

Q: What are the main resources the Student Success Center provides?

A: We offer various services to support all facets of job planning through our career & transfer center either through career workshops or one-on-one support that covers job searches, resume writing, and interview preparation. Many students approach us saying, “I need a job.” We then guide them through creating polished resumes and preparing for job interviews. Our career development resources include workshops that provide resume-writing tips, interview skills, and more. I also tap into my social work background to offer health and homelessness prevention services. I keep the community informed about these resources through our bilingual newsletter, which features our event highlights and photos.

Q: How do you help students with career planning and development?

A: I love working directly with students through our appointments to help with job searches, resumes, and internships. I always tell them if they need a resume quickly, we can help them go from nothing on paper to having a polished resume in an hour. Our career week events are designed to help students understand key aspects like creating a LinkedIn profile and networking. This ensures our students have the tools they need to succeed. We aim to have one of the best job placement rates for colleges in Chicago by offering valuable resources and personalized guidance.

Q: What challenges do you face in your role?

A: I juggle multiple tasks and often don’t have time to go through all the data I’d like to review. I need to go with the flow and focus on what is needed most. I have to prioritize students’ immediate needs while also organizing events and keeping them informed about the resources available to them. A major challenge is ensuring I am creating impactful messaging that gets students to open their emails, which contain important information about the available resources for students. It’s a constant juggle, but the reward of seeing our students succeed is worth every effort.

Q: How do you envision the Student Success Center evolving in the coming years?

A: I’d love to see the center grow into a vibrant hub where students regularly come in and out like it was before the pandemic. We’re working on securing new furniture and planning to include amenities like a ping-pong table to create a welcoming space. My goal is to continue improving job placement rates for our college by providing resources that benefit the students and their future careers. I want the center to be a place where students feel supported, where they can get help with whatever they need, and where they can thrive both academically and personally.

Q: How do you measure success in your role?

A: Success for me is about the positive impact we make on students’ lives while they are in school and after they graduate. If our services help students find jobs or guide them toward meaningful career paths, then we’re fulfilling our mission. Our workshops, resume services, and job planning resources help St. Augustine become one of the best colleges for jobs after graduation, and we aim to continue improving job placement rates by providing the resources to help them succeed. We’re dedicated to being one of the top schools with job placement and among the top Chicago area colleges that help you find a job.