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Adviser advocated for her students

Friends called Academic Adviser Artia Small the “counsel,” because she readily listened to their concerns and provided feedback. To students, she was the lawyer who fought for them when their status in the College of Education was under review.

To former Student Body President Tyvi Small, she was simply his big sister. The one he’d pestered as a child. The one who taught him to rely on the Lord when he was in need. The one who never hesitated to put him in his place when he was out of line, he said.

On Friday, the woman who juggled being adviser, student advocate and older sister died in a car accident while driving to her cousin’s funeral in Fort Lauderdale. A truck hit the car on the driver’s side, Tyvi Small said, killing Artia Small and her aunt, Mary Smith Fields. Tyvi Small’s aunt, Mary Small, was also in the vehicle, he said, and was critically injured but has been released from the hospital.

Since Artia Small’s death, the College of Education has received several e-mails from students, staff and faculty expressing their condolences and sharing their memories of her.

“Everyone had such a level of respect for her,” said Paulette Walker, Student Academic Services program director for the college. “I don’t think she realized the impact she had on people. She’d be humbled by it.”

In the office, Small was a no-nonsense type, Walker said, favoring a direct approach to advising students rather than sugarcoating issues. What kept her comments from coming off as harsh or tactless, Walker said, was Small’s calm, understanding delivery.

“She was nurturing without coddling, which I think is important,” said Diane Briscoe, director of Student Academic Services. “We want our students to be able to understand the academic process so they can take control of their futures — advisers who believe in empowering students and helping them become independent, which is what she did.”

As an adviser covering Elementary Education, Small counseled the largest number of students out of the college’s sequences, making her job increasingly time consuming toward the end of the year, Walker said, as internship and graduation checks must be done while students register for classes.

Often, Walker said she’d ask Small if she wanted extra help, but every time she declined. Instead, Small spent many nights at the end of a semester alone in the building, finishing her work after everyone else was done for the day.

“I’d always say, ‘Be careful, you’re the only one in the office,’ when I would leave at night, and she’d just look up at me and say, ‘It’s OK. I got this,’ and we’d laugh,” Walker said.

Beyond traditional advising, Small also regularly visited Walker’s office to make a case for a troubled student. As the director, Walker often had to decide students’ fates at the college, and sometimes Small would appear in her doorway, starting every conversation with “P.W., (her nickname for Walker) just look at it this way …”

“I would always say, ‘I don’t want to look at it that way,’ and she’d just say, ‘I know, but think about it from this angle,'” Walker said. “I’d always say no, and then she’d say ‘suppose … ‘ and just stop right there, letting you linger on that and come to your own conclusion.”

Though Small may have been known for her serious approach to advising, she wasn’t considered uptight.

“She brought a level of levity to any situation, and you just got this sense of comfort when she walked into the room,” Walker said.

Described as the “life of the party,” the 33-year-old joked that she was 25 for the past seven years, Tyvi Small said, and rarely left the house without her hair, nails and makeup done. “It takes time to look this beautiful,” she would tell her brother when he complained.

Once, when she visited Tyvi Small in Tennessee, he coaxed her into climbing 3,000 feet up a moutainside in a tram that was held together by a rope, Tyvi Small said, despite her  extreme fear of heights.

“People started asking if she was going to throw up,” he said. “She preferred going to the Coach outlet instead. She loved being the girly girl.”

While working as an adviser, Artia Small attended classes in Lakeland at Southeastern University, where she was working on her second master’s degree in ministerial leadership. She hoped to serve as an adviser at a Christian college, where she could minister to students, Tyvi Small said.

“The thing that hits us so hard is that a day or two before she passed away, we were having a birthday party for a colleague, and she was there talking about all of her plans,” Briscoe said. “She had so many plans — she was working on her degree, she was hoping to get married one day and have children, like many young people do. Our office is still recovering from that. In many ways, it’s still all so surreal.”