By Abby Weingarten
Marra Piazza Brass has always had a passion for “helping students navigate their world”—and she will be doing that and much more as New College’s new associate director for Student Disabilities Services (SDS).
“My greatest rewards are when I witness student successes of all kinds—whether it is showing a student a new technology that will help them access a course, or seeing a student graduate after four years of hard work,” said Piazza Brass, who joined New College from Eckerd College in St. Petersburg on September 21. “And I can’t wait to do that with the students at New College.”
Piazza Brass’ newly-created position will help greatly enhance the goal of SDS, which is to ensure equity on campus for students. Piazza Brass will work to improve the accommodations, services and resources available, and support the learning experience while encouraging independence and self-advocacy. These are areas to which Piazza Brass has devoted much of her professional life.
She holds a master of science degree in School Counseling from Syracuse University, and a dual bachelor’s degree in Spanish and international studies from Le Moyne College. She has spent more than a decade as a counselor in college admissions and financial aid programs, and worked extensively in secondary education as a high school counselor and director of guidance.
In 2017, Piazza Brass became the director of the Office of Accessibility at Eckerd, establishing the institution’s accessibility program, and promoting accommodations in academics, housing, meal planning and the use of emotional support animals. She was also an academic success coach at Eckerd.
“I sincerely love being a resource for students. When meeting with students, I often tell them to contact me with any questions, regardless of the topic,” Piazza Brass said. “Even if the question is, ‘How do I get my mail?’, I want to be able to tell the student how or who to contact. Connections are so important in life.”
And Piazza Brass has numerous connections in her field. She is an active member of the Association on Higher Education and Disability (AHEAD) and the Florida Association of Higher Education and Disability (FL-AHEAD), and she is currently serving as the board president for the latter. Piazza Brass looks especially forward to connecting and engaging with the New College community this fall.
“I’ve been eying New College from afar for some time. I attended a small liberal arts college for my undergrad degree and I firmly believe in educating the whole person,” Piazza Brass said. “As a student and as a staff member, I have always sincerely enjoyed being a part of a small college community. I have found it is my best way to support students.”
The appointment of Piazza Brass to SDS is part of a larger initiative, as New College aims to offer a scope of services for students with disabilities that is consistent with national and state standards.
“This summer, we have made significant strides towards building a stable infrastructure within SDS,” said Anjali Cadena, director of student success and advocacy at New College. “We have engaged the input of leaders at various SDS-equivalent offices from a number of campuses. Next, SDS will engage the input of our campus community members to inform goal setting and planning.”
New College is also in the final phase of launching Accessible Information Management (AIM) software—a comprehensive accommodation, appointment and management program specifically designed for student disabilities services on college campuses. SDS partnered with the Office of Information Technology, Student Affairs, and Institutional Research and Assessment on this effort.
With AIM (which replaces Excel spreadsheets and paper files), student data is protected, staff accountability is ensured, and communication is coordinated and tracked.
The streamlined method will allow SDS staff to spend more time providing student retention services such as training and one-on-one coaching—some of the parts of the job that Piazza Brass enjoys most.
“I’m excited to be a part of the journeys of the students at New College,” Piazza Brass said. “And I’m looking forward to getting to know the community and finding new ways to enhance SDS.”
Abby Weingarten is the editor/writer in the Office of Communications & Marketing.