For many years, I have been focused on the mental health and wellness of college students. This has been a growing issue on our campuses that we have been talking about for 15 years, but we were managing well before this was a common topic of conversation. Mental health issues continue to evolve, with anxiety and depression being at an all-time high. I want students to be well, and I work through training, presentations, and conversations to help reduce the stigma. Another challenge that we are seeing on campus is students managing financial instability. We have more students joining us who do not have homes to return to over breaks, who are at risk (or their loved ones are) of losing jobs in their time at college, who are not sure where their next meal is coming from, or who are paying their own way through college paycheck to paycheck; these issues have challenged us to be more complete places of safety for these students. Campus being home can take on a new meaning for some of them, and we must continue to work hard to best serve students navigating these challenging issues.
The biggest issue facing us as a profession is recruiting and retaining strong staff. Are these jobs enticing and interesting to college students who may choose this as a profession? Is their return on investment worth it to them, outside of the intrinsic benefits? And then what happens after they work hard for a few years somewhere but then find fewer positions as they want to move up? Due to our organizational structure, of course there are more entry-level positions than beyond, but do we lose good people who choose to leave the field because they want to move up, but positions are not available? I am also curious about what graduate students are learning in the classroom. They learn lots of great stuff, but do curricula need to shift to ensure that our hall directors are prepared for the day-to-day and logistics of their job? As I am highly committed to the future of our field, I think about these ideas often.
Miami is an absolutely beautiful, picturesque campus, which, as an amateur photographer, I love! I am also intrigued by how many students who attend Miami have family who attended, sometimes going back numerous generations. The connection to Miami is so strong for many of our students and staff, and you can feel that on campus. There is this idea of Miami mergers, people who met at Miami and later married, and there are many traditions attached to that idea. There are many traditions in general here at Miami, some large and some small, which add to its character and charm.
Don't step on the seal! The seal (think emblem, not aquarium) of Miami University is built into the ground in the middle of campus. If you step on the seal, you will fail your next exam/test. You need to rub the turtles to erase that bad luck. I like this because it is indicative of the respect that we have for our campus and Miami traditions – people take this really seriously! Many students take a picture with a foot on the seal after graduation. Hopefully, they have taken their last tests!
I had a building under my supervision that was going offline the next year for renovation. We were moving hundreds of students in, and a pizza delivery person rolled up. Pizza after pizza started coming out of the car, and he asked us where we wanted it. Pizza? We didn’t order any pizza. An alumnus stepped up and said that he was a freshman in the building 30 years ago and wanted to come celebrate everyone starting college so they were donating pizza. People loved it! It was hundreds of dollars of pizza, very generous, and helps show how connected Miami alumni feel to this institution.
The one that I still laugh about is when I walked into one of the buildings that I oversee on move-in day, and there was a parent who seemed upset at the front desk staff. I came over to see if I could be helpful and asked if she needed any help. She looked at me and said, “I want to talk to an adult” (I was an assistant director at the time). I made exactly the face from the meme you are thinking about right now, and the desk manager let the parent know that I was her boss’ boss’ boss. I was happy to help, of course, but then wondered, Just how young do I look?!? I will take it as a compliment.
The people. I have a finite amount of time with each person in each interaction, but I know that when we connect, that can have a ripple effect on their mood, their day, and how they interact with others in the future. I take that responsibility seriously and want to make our interactions positive and meaningful. I enjoy the time that I spend with others and see it as a gift.
Watching people struggle or make mistakes. It is important that people make their own decisions, and I am always happy to advise, but it can be hard to see someone having difficulty. I just want to be able to help and make everything better, but that is not always possible. I know that hurt can lead to important growth and learning, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it!
Managing our financial solvency as institutions. This was already an important priority and challenge, but COVID-19 has created some very difficult situations. Not only will we feel that financial impact five years from now, but I expect we will make some changes to how we manage our money so that we can prepare for the unexpected in different ways. Of course lots of talented people are doing this at institutions already, but this may have been a different wake-up call. Many of our public institutions are getting less money from the state, international student enrollments are down, and finances look a little different than they did five years ago. In my defense, I have an MBA, so this is of interest to me, but we will be talking about our money and budgets a lot over the next few years.
Sasha Masoomi is the assistant director of residence life at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio.