Leadership Q&A: Helping students be leaders at their best

As Associate Vice President for Student Life and Dean of Students, what are you excited about for this academic year?

August is one of my favorite times of the academic year because campus completely comes alive, almost overnight! Within a few short days, our campus population nearly doubles as our students move into our residential halls or in our surrounding community. During July and early August, I was part of a team that traveled across the country welcoming our incoming new students and parents to their Michigan experience. Their energy and excitement were infectious and I’m really excited about their arrival on campus this week!

Michigan students are so bright, hardworking and enthusiastic and it really brings all of Ann Arbor back to life. And the 27 units that collectively make up Student Life plan all summer for our students’ arrival. 

One of my favorite parts of my role as Dean of Students is having the opportunity to work alongside and support the leadership of student leaders and staff wholly committed to building community, fostering well-being and providing key support services for the student population so they can thrive! Over the 15 years I have had the pleasure to serve in this role, the student commitment to making our campus, and the world, a better place has continued to inspire my work. A commitment to building a diverse and equitable community undergirds everything we do within Student Life and our students carry this with them into their future communities when they graduate and leave Ann Arbor.   

What is one of your favorite things about welcoming Wolverines back for another year in Ann Arbor?

This is such a welcoming, caring and inclusive community. At this time of year, I really enjoy seeing students reconnecting with dear friends after the summer break and watching students new to our community start to make connections that will span a lifetime.   

The energy Michigan students bring to campus is like nothing else. And it’s palpable this time of year. 

This week I will be greeting new students and their families as they arrive to move into the residence halls and I will be speaking with parents and family members at our final orientation sessions. I am really excited about participating in Escapade in the Michigan Union on Saturday evening and attending Convocation and the picnic that occurs afterwards on Sunday!  By the time classes begin on Monday, students will have connected with others through so many activities and events – and it doesn’t stop there with Welcome to Michigan activities continuing into September! 

I also love meeting with the parents and families our students bring with them—their families, guardians, and supporters who are all experiencing their own transition during this time. And while Student Life and our academic colleagues will offer their students support in their growth and development, we know families are critical to our Wolverines’ success, both inside and outside the classroom. Sometimes, they may need some extra support so they can best support their student. 

This summer, the Dean of Students Office launched the MFamily Program to give families more ways to connect, engage and communicate, both with campus leaders and with other Michigan families.  MFamily brings together existing, long-standing traditions and resources—including the annual Parent and Family Weekend program and our monthly Family Matters newsletter—under one brand, while adding new ways for families to engage through our webinar series for parents and families that was piloted last year. Staying connected to the people most important to our students and partnering with them to support their student’s success is what we strive for in the Dean of Students Office and we welcome ideas and suggestions from all on how we can continue to expand these efforts. 

How does Student Life ensure all students are able to participate in events and activities?

Building inclusive communities is at the core of Student Life’s work. We want every student to know that they belong here at U-M. And that requires intentionally developing spaces and places that can help students explore their passions and discover their purpose.  

Festifall (on Central and North campuses) presents an opportunity for students to visit with literally hundreds of clubs and organizations to connect with and learn more about the groups they may wish to join.   

And, on Sunday evenings a weekly email is sent to students promoting the various programs and events for the coming week, many which are available to our students for no or low cost.  Students can also access “Happenings at Michigan” to publicize and promote their organization’s activities and events. 

Are there any resources for students you would like to highlight?

Yes! There is an abundance of resources, services, and programs available to students that can help them make the most of their Michigan experience, including many offered by Student Life.

For our newest Wolverines, the Wolverine Life app serves as an all-in-one campus information hub, compass, and event calendar. Students can download wherever they get their apps and find things to do with a few clicks. 

Wolverine Life is also the only place to find the full Welcome to Michigan schedule. Student Life and the Office for New Student Programs co-host this month-long program that offers about 200 events to provide spaces for our students to come together in community.

If students feel overwhelmed by the many options and paths available at U-M, they can connect with a Resource Navigator. The students who serve as Resource Navigators know the feeling—and they’re here to help, seven days a week.

Once the initial excitement of the start of the fall term wears off and students settle into routines, various stressors may emerge. Over the last two years, Student Life has worked with our Academic Affairs colleagues to both expand health and well-being support for students and make it easier for them to access the tools that can help them feel their best.

One of the exciting recent additions to our suite of tools is offering students up to six free counseling sessions per year, including same-day appointments, thanks to an expanded partnership with the student teletherapy provider Uwill. This tool complements services available through Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS), and expands our capacity to meet students’ needs by offering more ways to access licensed mental health counsel services.

And, finally, any student who begins to struggle or may need some additional support to navigate a challenging circumstance can also reach out to schedule Wellness Coaching offered through Wolverine Wellness or drop in (physically on the third floor of the Michigan Union) or sign up to meet virtually with a staff member in the Dean of Students Office who are standing by ready to assist in any way that’s needed.   

How will U-M prepare students to impact their communities through Student Life activities?

The Michigan difference is the sum total of the academic and out of class experiences that are provided for U-M students.  Our students are here to be a part of a community dedicated to serving the people of Michigan and the world. They work tirelessly to challenge the present and enrich the future!  At U-M, leaders are developed and nurtured to thrive so they will go on to better society and our world, enriching the future for all of us. 

What do you want all incoming and returning students to know about the Wolverine experience? 

There is such a breadth and depth of resources that we have at U-M to help students succeed!

 And, it’s a very big place, so it can seem overwhelming at times and finding the resource you need when you need it can be challenging. One of my biggest pieces of advice for students is to reach out and ask for help. This may not be natural for students who have a history of succeeding independently – but, our community is at its best when we are supporting one another and creating the conditions where everyone can thrive! 

We want to support your well-being, your academic journey and every other aspect of your time at Michigan. From peer counseling to academic coaching to myriad other support resources and services, Student Life is here to help you succeed while having the best college experience possible. To be a “leader at your best” take advantage of what’s here for you and help connect your fellow Wolverines along the way!