The Charger Blog

Student Success and Advising Expert Reflects on Life Lessons and the Importance of Family

Meet Helena Cole, director of the University’s Center for Academic Success and Advising and its Center for Student Success, who is pursuing her doctorate and who has been reconnecting with her family virtually during the coronavirus global pandemic.

March 19, 2021

By Renee Chmiel, Office of Marketing and Communications

My mother, father…
Helena Cole (left) on vacation with her parents and her son in 2019.

The lifeblood of the University of New Haven are the faculty and staff members who dedicate their lives to helping our students reach their goals. Periodically, we’ll introduce you to a member of the staff so you can learn more about them – beyond their day to day work.

Next up is Helena Cole, director of the University’s Centers for Academic Success and Advising and its Center for Student Success. She loves books and dreams of a trip down the Amazon River.

Renee Chmiel: Who do you look up to?
Helena Cole: I can’t say that I have had one hero or heroine – over the course of my life, I have looked up to people who are strong in their convictions and who challenge me and others to be the best that they can be. I admire those who are willing to call others out when they falter but who support them in their strengths. I also admire those who aren’t afraid to speak out and challenge the status quo. Many of my heroes are local.

RC: What were you like when you were in college?
HC: My majors in college were history and Italian with a minor in women’s studies. I went to a small women’s college without a huge social scene, which was good for me as I was an introvert and preferred hanging out with a few friends rather than going to the larger parties. A good time on a Friday night was sharing a pint of Ben and Jerry’s in the café with three friends or hanging out in the hallways of our residence halls chatting or having spontaneous debates over random subjects. I was an Italian tutor and an orientation leader my sophomore year, as well as a hall advisor my senior and junior year. I studied abroad in Florence, Italy, the summer after my sophomore year.

Helena Cole (right) attended an “Unleashing Greatness” retreat.

RC: What is one positive thing you have done during the quarantine this past year?
HC: We started doing family Zoom meetings a month or so into the pandemic, and we have kept it up. I have “seen” members of my family more often this year than probably over the past five years combined. I think what is has taught me is how important family is and how easy it is to make the time to stay connected. Overall, I think the pandemic has given me a new perspective on time and the best ways to fill it.

My son and I.
Helena Cole and her son, George.

RC: If you could visit any country in the world (when it is safe to do so), what would it be?
HC: This question is hard because I have started to make a list of all the places I would like to visit based on the pictures that pop up on my Windows screen. I have travelled a lot in Europe, but haven’t ventured much outside of that. My fantasy has always been to take a boat trip down the Amazon. I am a contemplative person, so I would enjoy the time to just think and wonder.

RC: What are some of your favorite books?
HC: I used to read a lot more, but now that I have gone back to school to get my Ph.D., I am reading mostly for that. I do like historical fiction. Edward Rutherford’s “city” series is amazing, and I enjoy British crime series, particularly Elizabeth George’s “Inspector Lynley” series. I like the latter because you get to know the characters so well that you want to read to find out what happens to them as much as with the mystery itself. I have read the Harry Potter books at least three or four times each. I am a bibliophile, and I have so many books on shelves just waiting to be read.

RC: What is the most important lesson you’ve learned?
HC: The most important lesson I have learned is one that I learned in hindsight. My first supervisor challenged me that what I wanted to do was maybe not where my strengths lay. She was right, but I was so convinced that what I wanted to do was what I was meant to do that I didn’t listen and spent many years going down the wrong career path. It took a situation over which I had no control to put me on the correct path, and then suddenly it all became clear. From this, I learned to focus on my strengths and listen to others who may see in me what I don’t see in myself.

Our sleepy cats
Helena Cole’s cats take a cat nap.

RC: What is something that people are often surprised to learn about you?
HC: I think I am relatively open. Often when someone says “I never knew that about you”, it’s something more personal that I have chosen to share before, or think I have shared but haven’t. I am someone who is more comfortable sharing when asked than offering to share.