Get to Know HFC: Beth Preston, a true student advocate
Beth Preston wears many hats at HFC in addition to her main duties as a Financial Aid Specialist.
Some of her accomplishments:
- Co-founding the Inside Track Mentoring Program, which is a mentoring program for First Time in Any College (FTIAC) students who have tested into one or more developmental classes.
- Co-founding SAFE@HFC, which works to promote equity and inclusion for HFC’s LGBTQ+ students, faculty, and staff.
- Participating in on-boarding events to discuss with new employees the importance of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) at HFC.
- Improving support systems for HFC’s homeless students, and students who have aged out of the foster care system.
“When we had our backpack drive before the pandemic, all 60 backpacks were donated by HFC faculty and staff,” said Preston, of St. Clair Shores, a mother of three children. “When there’s a need, our employees always step up. They’re always there to help. I find that hugely motivating. It inspires me and makes me want to do better for the College community. I’m very proud to be a member of the team because you don’t see that everywhere.”
Upcoming doctorate adds value to her work
A Detroit native, Preston graduated from Clarkston High School. She earned her bachelor’s degree in English from Central Michigan University in Mt. Pleasant and her master’s degree in higher education and student affairs from Eastern Michigan University in Ypsilanti. In late 2021, Preston earned her Ed.D. in community college leadership from Ferris State University. She will defend her dissertation in early 2022. Once she does, she will be able to add “doctor” to her name. Along the way, she authored an article on adaptive change in the FSU Perspectives publication.
“I believed I was ready to take the next step in my educational journey,” she said. “I love learning. There’s value in always trying to expand one’s horizons and understand things from various perspectives. I believe through this process that my ability to think critically has been enhanced. It has exposed me to many divergent points of view that I previously would not have been aware of. It has fueled my desire to remove the barriers for our students. I don’t think people realize how many obstacles are in some students’ paths, such as food insecurity. If people don’t understand these obstacles, they are less apt to remove them or be empathetic. It has given me a greater understanding of our students’ experiences and finding ways to work with them. This doctorate adds a tremendous amount of value to the work I’m doing.”
But please don’t call Preston “passionate.” She hates that word.
“When people say that about me, I feel it minimizes what I’m trying to do and what motivates me,” explained Preston. “I don’t do what I do because I have a fire in my belly. I do what I do because I care about students. Some of our students are homeless and living out of their cars. Some of them have been abused and alienated. That is hard to stomach as a human being, as a mom. I look at these kids like they’re mine. For our students who don’t have parents, I’m gonna step in and be their mom.”
“I love being connected to HFC”
Preston’s mother, a fifth-grade teacher, inspired her to go into education.
“I had a lot of aunts who were also educators. Education was just always around me. My mom would take my five siblings and me to work with her. We would help her in the classroom, help her get it set up. I admired her and the work she did. It seemed to be an excellent way to give back,” she recalled.
When she first started out, Preston taught English at Lake Orion High School in Orion Township for a year. Her next job was teaching at the Pontiac Business Institute.
“At PBI, the students were hungry to get an education,” said Preston. “They saw that education was their lifeline out of poverty, so they were desperate, motivated, and worked hard. Those were the students I wanted to work with, wanted to help. I haven’t looked back.”
Throughout the last 30 years, Preston has worked in higher education, including Davenport’s Dearborn campus, Baker College of Clinton Township, Oakland Community College, and the University of Detroit Mercy before coming to HFC in 2006.
“I loved the fact that the College was based in a very close-knit community like Dearborn,” said Preston. “I am of Arab-American descent. I’m half-Lebanese on my dad’s side. I’m half-Irish on my mom’s side. Growing up, Dearborn was home for me. My extended family was here. Dearborn itself has a very warm place in my heart as do the members of the community. I loved the opportunity to work in a community college environment, but also felt an affinity for the community members. I feel I could be better advocate for them, that perhaps they could see themselves in me. I love being connected to HFC; it’s warm, welcoming, and inviting.”
Community colleges serve a greater good
In her position, Preston reports to Stephanie Latzke.
“I couldn’t do what I do if it weren't for Stephanie,” said Preston. “She is a phenomenal supporter, resource, and always has my back, which is not always common in the workplace.”
"Beth is an outstanding financial aid professional, and we are fortunate to have her on our HFC Financial Aid team. She has a deep understanding of complicated federal regulations and is able to use that knowledge to help students, staff, faculty, and others that have questions about the financial aid process," said Latzke. "While Beth is a great resource for financial aid, her best quality is that she is a true student advocate. When a student is in need, Beth will search all resources and avenues to assist the student with their issues. Beth consistently goes above and beyond for students time and again."
Preston is a firm believer in the mission of a community college.
“A community college serves an even greater goal in reaching those underserved, underprepared, under-resourced students,” she said. “It’s also part of the reason I got my doctorate in community college leadership. This is the specific population of students I want to serve for the rest of my career. What you’re doing is making a positive impact in their lives, giving them the opportunity they wouldn’t have had without the benefits of community colleges.”
Preston says she wouldn’t be anywhere else.
“The work we do here is service-oriented,” she said. “Any person who’s been here for any length of time can’t help but fall in love with HFC and the work we do here and the students. It gets under your skin – you want to do more and help more. I’m not biding my time until I retire. This is where I want to be. This is what I want to do. I don’t want to leave HFC. Like all things, nothing is perfect, and HFC can be a better school. We’ve done a lot of good for students, but there’s still a lot of work to do.”