With the resignation of Associate Dean of Students Heather Poppy over winter break, there are now four vacancies in the Office of Student Development. Rather than feeling overwhelmed, Dean of Students Debbie Southern views the openings as an opportunity to reconfigure positions and reallocate resources.
Southern found out that Poppy was resigning in late November in order to take care of her children. Poppy had previously been on maternity leave over the summer.
Poppy’s resignation follows that of four other OSD staff members since this summer: Assistant Directors of Campus Life Jil Gates and Jillian Staley, Director of International Student Services John Leedock and OSD secretary Lisa Welch. Only Staley’s position has been filled on a permanent basis.
“The openings have provided us an opportunity to think more broadly about how to better serve students and maybe how to reallocate funds,” Southern said. “To me, it’s all one fluid piece.”
To help cover some of Poppy’s former duties, Southern hired Jessie Johnson ’12, who worked as an administrative assistant for OSD during Poppy’s maternity leave. While Johnson will not be an associate dean, she will work on a variety of projects usually overseen by that position, including assisting with senior week, planning new student orientation and advising Mortar Board, of which she was president during her senior year.
In the meantime, other aspects of Poppy’s job, most notably dealing with conduct cases and retention issues, will be pushed over to Southern.
“We’re not waiting because the student experience has to be maintained,” Southern said. “It’s not like we’re not going to do any conduct cases until this is figured out because you can’t operate that way.”
In the meantime, Southern is not concerned about OSD’s workload, thanks to the hiring of Johnson. Because many aspects of what OSD does have changed recently, including student health care due to the Affordable Care Act and the new student mailing series due to a move towards a more email-oriented campaign, the workload is also somewhat lighter than it has been in the past.
Moreover, Southern says that the campus seems to be on board with making sure things get done until positions can be filled. Soon after Poppy’s resignation, Director of Campus Safety John Schlaf phoned Southern to ask how he could be of help with conduct cases — an attitude held by the entire faculty and staff, Southern said.
“I feel like if something’s not going to get done, I can call somebody and ask if they can help with this or that, and it’ll get done,” she said. “Am I worried about things? Not really.”
Neither the associate dean position nor the director of international student services position has been posted. Before officially announcing the openings, Southern wants to examine potential opportunities for reconfiguring the structure of OSD.
One of her primary goals is to examine the possibility of reallocating some of the funding from the associate dean position to hire an assistant director for the Center for Career and Pre-Professional Development, a perennially understaffed area.
“That would be a priority for me,” Southern said. “It’s taking the monies you have in the salary pool and reallocating them to what makes the most sense.”
Another possibility includes revamping support for international students, potentially pulling together members of the Office of Admission, Office of Student Development and Center for Global Studies to collaborate on providing these services.
Currently, Senior Assistant Director of Admission Josh Ferchau and Dean of Admission Paul Steenis are assisting international students, while former Director of Student Activities Trish Hurst has been hired to do project work in the interim, such as assisting with International Fair and Flunk Day preparations. Hurst is also a public services assistant at Seymour Library.
In the Campus Life Office, new Assistant Director of Campus Life for Housing Operations Koreen Kerfoot has proved a crucial boon, Associate Dean of Students Craig Southern said.
“She does wonders, so that has opened me up to be able to do some Union Board things and work on other projects, like the digital signage and some things I want to do … in the Taylor Lounge,” he said.
The other Campus Life position was previously offered to and turned down by one applicant. Since then, the flow of resumes has slowed to a trickle. Craig Southern hopes that the search can be re-tooled to appeal to graduate students looking for their first job — an aspect Debbie Southern is also looking into when considering how to fill the other OSD positions.
“People are starting to think about their shifts,” she said. “The national organizations are starting to meet, and the placement exchanges are opening up.”
Debbie Southern plans on having a job description for a new associate dean reconfigured by March so that it can be sent to placement exchanges at the time of year when graduate students are looking for jobs and current staff members are most likely to consider shifting careers.
“It may be the same position,” she said. “It may be an associate dean and have all the same pieces, but at least you get a chance to look at it a different way instead of just reacting and putting somebody in there.”