New faculty mentor to move into Lyon’s Spragins House

Lyon’s Spragins House will have a new faculty mentor this fall, and she comes ready to bring a unique perspective.

As a first generation college student from Sao Paulo, Brazil, Associate Professor of Biology Dr. Cassia Oliveira understands the struggles of college life.

“I grew up with not a lot of financial means” she said. “Living abroad, I learned so much to be independent and to be strong because it was either that or go home… I understand the struggle though, because no matter where you come from, those struggles are similar.”

Man and woman holding hands of a small child standing on a green lawn in front of a brick house.

Spragins House is located in the center of Lyon’s campus, and the faculty mentor living there aims to engage members of the Lyon community through programming. Specifically, the mentor focuses on four learning outcomes: effective communication, community building, diversity, and retention.

As faculty mentor, Oliveira wants to use her experience to help students transition to college life.

“Students come to college with various levels of preparedness,” she said. “It will be my job to help students feel integrated and supported from the beginning.”  

She will also rely on her experiences to see students’ perspectives.

“We have to really try to see what’s beyond the facade because we don’t understand the struggle sometimes. There are a lot of things going on within a person’s life that if we knew, we would have more appreciation and respect for them, so I always try to keep that in mind to not be judgmental but really try to see how I can help them.”

However, Oliveira did not immediately apply for the position, not until she received some encouragement from one of her students.

“He pretty much bossed me around and told me I had to do it,” she laughed. “It was really him that changed my mind because instead of thinking about why I shouldn’t do it, I started thinking why I would be good at it.”

Her hesitation was because as faculty mentor, she and her family would leave their house in Batesville and move into Spragins House to live on campus for four years.

“When you think about it, you give up some of your privacy, but you are gaining other things— the contact with the students [and] the community,” she said.

Oliveira already has several ideas for programming during her family’s next four years in Spragins House, including graduate school talks, talks sponsored by the career center, and depression and suicide prevention. She wants activities “where students can feel safe and welcome.”

“I also want to have minority groups [and] international groups,” she said. “I don’t think you can fit everybody in a year, but I plan on being organized and just throughout my time that I reach out to everybody.”

Along with programming, Oliveira also wants students to take advantage of Lyon’s liberal arts education.

“I really hope I can help students understand that, especially at Lyon, it’s not about the destination but it’s really the journey that’s going to change you,” she said. “The liberal arts are an important component of changing your life, how having this broad education is going to help you not only just be a better thinker, but also a better person.”

Most importantly, Oliveira wants to help students help others.

“When you help others succeed, you’re actually helping yourself,” she said.

Oliveira, her husband Dr. Ehsan Shakiba, their son Darius, and their three cats will move into Spragins House this summer.