Director helps students see and be their best selves
Cara Winston Simmons’ day usually involves lots of meetings and lots of emails.
But what she’s actually doing is connecting with others and, in turn, helping them connect with ways to become the best versions of themselves.
“I want to help students see and be their best selves. That is what I’m here to do,” said Simmons, who is the director of the College of Family and Consumer Sciences’ Student Success and Advising Center and an adjunct faculty member. “I want students to know this is a place where they can do that, and I’m someone who can help them.”
Her own story with UGA began in 1998 with an unexpected invitation to tour the campus. She decided to apply, and that interaction started her career path.
“There was just something special about UGA that I was not able to find at other places,” Simmons said. “I had the best day. It was raining, and it was cold, but I knew this was where I needed to be. There was something about the culture, the people and the opportunities.”
She remembered how welcoming and helpful everyone from student affairs to admissions was and knows firsthand how important their efforts to help potential students understand the university culture are. That led to her involvement in student affairs activities, various positions as a student worker and later full-time positions working with students.
Simmons first served as coordinator of the information desk in the Tate Student Center. Then, she took a position with Campus Reservations and started the event management branch of that office. She then moved to the Office of Student Conduct and then to the College of Veterinary Medicine, where she worked with graduate, professional and dual-enrolled students in several of the college’s master’s and Ph.D. programs.
In her current role, she leads the center’s activities around prospective student recruitment, orientation, academic advising, internships, fellowships, retention, budgeting, career development, teaching, student involvement and leadership, experiential learning, student programming and support services initiatives such as Bulldog Basics. In addition, she’s a member of the college’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee.
As a Triple Dawg herself, Simmons knows how important that connection with students is. She credits the people who “saw something in me, even when I did not recognize it in myself” and tries to do that with her own students.
“I love helping them figure out who they’re going to be as a professional in a safe space,” she said. “My role is to help them prepare for their next experience. Higher education is a place where I feel like I can contribute and make a difference.”
Simmons’ work goes beyond the College of Family and Consumer Sciences. She is president-elect of the Georgia Association of Family and Consumer Sciences and a member of the American Association of Family and Consumer Sciences Leadership Council, both connected to the American Association of Family and Consumer Sciences.
She’s currently serving as secretary of the UGA Gymnastics Ten-O board of directors and is a member of the Athens Area Diaper Bank board of directors.
“I have a heart for serving our community—whether that’s serving in the classroom or serving in other ways,” she said. “That really is the core of who I am and what I do.”
Additionally, Simmons has served as co-organizer of TEDxUGA since 2017. This year’s event, TEDxUGA 2021: Next Level, will be held in a hybrid format virtually and at the Classic Center on March 19. More information and registration can be found at tedxuga.com.
Simmons sees herself in a senior-level administrative role one day—one that allows her to still work with students, bring new people into the fold and serve her community. She also hopes to do more writing and perhaps even relearn Spanish.
Outside of work, Simmons, who is an admitted foodie, enjoys exercising for the physical and mental benefits. She often relaxes with an interesting podcast or a good movie. But above all, she enjoys spending time with her husband and two daughters.
No day is typical, but Simmons finds value in all of them.
“I love that I can broaden my own understanding just based on what I’m doing that day,” she said.