Whatley retires after 30 years of service



Longtime academic adviser Elaine Whatley will retire from her job, after 30 years of service to Alabama State University

Micah Sanders, Editor-in-Chief

Phones blaring, large posters and signs plastered, exhausted typewriters, and welcoming faces, the black and old gold university opened its doors to the class of 1984.
Enters Elaine Whatley, a freshman, preparing to be at the top of her game. Three decades of university presidents, faculty, and students later, she was there to see it all. From student to 30-year academic advisor, Whatley officially retires on August 31.
A member of the Alabama State University faculty and staff since 1984, Whatley started as a secretary for the College of Education in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction. Initially, Whatley planned to move out of Alabama after graduating, but her plan did not work out.
In 1986, the university went through a retrenchment period causing Whatley to lose her secretarial position.
“I was hired back the very next day,” Whatley said. “But coming back, that position that I was in was one of the positions that they phased out. So when I came back to the university, I worked in the dean’s office for Dr. Alma Freeman.”
After being laid off temporarily and moving to a different department, Whatley started her career as an academic advisor in 1990, and for the next three decades, she was instrumental in laying the groundwork and fundamentals for the success of the student body.
The Academic Advisement and Resource Center Director Carolyn Stevens said that Whatley was a great asset to the team and always wanted the best for her students.
“ The advising team will greatly miss Mrs. Whatley,” Stevens said. “ Her 25+ years of service was dedicated to providing excellent support services to our students, and her years of experience and knowledge were valuable to the advising team and the University.”
Whatley was responsible for advising students concerning their academic plans and progress, academic schedule, choice of major, and other academic activities and career goals.
She initially was assigned to the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) majors in G.W. Trenholm Hall but transitioned to Paterson Hall, where the current office is located.
With her job title, Whatley constantly met new faces, attitudes, and personalities as she recalled the long lines of students waiting to get advised for school every year.
“The lines would go all the way down the hall,” Whatley said. “People might say we have lines now, but it’s nothing in comparison to when I first started academic advising. I miss seeing and talking to the students. Just hearing the students out there saying, ‘I’ve been out here a long time,’ ‘When is she going to finish up?’ was such a rush of adrenaline.”
Commuting to and from Opelika every day, Whatley said her passion for advising students makes the 130-mile trip worthwhile.
“I give it to them right up front,” Whatley said. “I think I went beyond and above a lot of times to help our students. We would stay late, even 6 and 7 o’clock working, doing schedules, and then come in before 8 o’clock the next day and get started again, commuting very far. But you just have to have the right attitude.”
Not being able to advise everyone on her own, Whatley credits her team of Stevens, director, and Eloise Gee, academic advisor, for always pitching in and assuring her that she was not alone.
While advising, Whatley always ran into those students who never understood the need for certain classes to be a part of their curriculum in order to graduate. To make them understand, she would always provide real-world examples, altering their way of thinking.
“I would tell them, ‘Have you ever gone to the store with your parents and they are looking for an item or looking to buy something or a refrigerator?’” Whatley said, “ They want to know the cubic feet or whatever measurement, what size refrigerator they’re going to need before they get home or if they need hardwood floors or more carpet on the floor. So always stay prepared because the classes that you are enrolled in, somewhere down the road, are going to help you.”
According to Whatley, having a genuine connection and conversation with students is the key to success as an advisor. She believes that “a good foundation will take you a long way.”
A native of Notasulga, Alabama, a small town 42 miles south of Montgomery, Whatley decided to attend ASU in 1980. Graduating with her bachelor’s degree in 1984, Whatley chose to continue her education, receiving a master’s in general counseling in 1986 while working at the university simultaneously.
In her first year of retirement, Whatley plans to do lots of resting and traveling. Before COVID-19, Whatley and her five sisters would take a yearly trip right after the Labor Day Classic Weekend up until the first week of October to California to visit family.
“I’m hoping that my sisters and I, now that I am retired, can get that trip back going every year,” she said.
Along with five sisters, Whatley has two daughters, one an ASU alumnae and the other an alumnae of the rivaling Tuskegee University, whom she loves to travel and visit.
Her husband, Chauncy, also attended ASU along with her brother, and a host of cousins, so the university is a familiar institution.
In her free time, Whatley enjoys spending time with her two-year-old godson and traveling.
“I will be spending a lot of time keeping him from this week until next week,” Whatley said. “I’m looking forward to that because I do have fun with him, and he’s my heart.”
While Whatley no longer holds an office or title at the university, she advises students to do their best, maintain positivity, and ask for help when needed.
“There’s always room in your life to gain something more than what you know,” she said. “Don’t let disappointments tear you down or keep you down. Build a relationship with your professors. Get your professor to know you by name and always seek out to get help.”