I would say finances are their biggest issue. A high percentage of our extremely diverse student population are first-generation college students who come from economically challenged backgrounds. In a 2017 New York Times article, 27% of Vaughn students were in the overall bottom fifth financially, meaning their families made less than $20,000 per year. In New York City, where expenses are especially high, living in this economic bracket is even more challenging. But that same study ranked us as the #1 institution nationwide in terms of the upward mobility of our students! We are very proud of this impact on our students’ lives.
Well, I think most of us are focusing on how best to continue operating in the new normal we find ourselves in due to the coronavirus pandemic. We all want to maintain a sense of consistency and continuity for our students while also minimizing risk to them as well as to staff and faculty. There are so many unknowns right now. However, I am impressed with the resilience I’ve already seen on my campus among my colleagues and our students, and in the student affairs field overall. This is a challenging time, but we will get through this.
The faculty and staff on our campus all work really hard to get to know one another and our students and truly are willing to help in whatever way possible – even in situations that may not fall under their standard job responsibilities. I feel that our institution demonstrates its commitment to students on a daily basis by going above and beyond. While I have worked with many dedicated colleagues at other institutions over the years, I am impressed by the sheer volume of exemplary colleagues here. I feel so lucky to be working at a college that follows through on its focus on supporting students and ensuring that they get what they need to be successful academically, personally, and professionally. I look forward to seeing more of that as we begin a new academic year.
There is a tradition of several campus-wide meetings and discussions each year planned by our president’s office that everyone is invited to, whether they are students, faculty, or staff. Our president, Sharon DeVivo, is always genuinely interested in engaging everyone on campus in meaningful dialogue. She encourages a personal approach, asking that we all call her by her first name plus she takes an interest in getting to know all of us. This doesn’t happen only during these events but also in day-to-day life on campus. I still remember how pleasantly surprised I was when she recognized and addressed me by name when I happened to pass her in the hallway just a few days after I’d started working at Vaughn. Her caring approachability can be consistently relied upon and is greatly appreciated by everyone on our campus.
I’m motivated by being able to contribute to the academic, personal, and professional success of the students on our campus. It’s so rewarding to help new and transfer students adjust to our college and then to see them as they graduate and earn the degree they’ve been pursuing for years. Being part of their journey is so rewarding.
I would say that generally in this line of work, plus the fact that I am the head of a small department, I don’t always have time for certain projects or initiatives that I’d like to take on. For example, this fall I will need to rely on some outsourced RA training programs that I wish I could deliver myself, but in the interests of efficiency, I can’t. When I’m struggling with this, I think back on what a former supervisor and current mentor once told me. She said there are many tasks she technically can handle, but there are certain tasks only she is supposed to handle, so she has to focus on the tasks that are specifically hers and rely on other people and resources to help accomplish the other tasks. It simply isn’t possible to do everything. I find that perspective can help all of us who deal with this challenge.
I think coronavirus will reshape our policies and procedures on campus for years to come. I believe we’ll see ongoing awareness of social distancing in housing and at programs and events. We’ll likely all continue creating and redefining emergency protocols related to pandemics. Even if COVID-19 were to ease in the next year or so, our perspective has changed. I’m sure we will continue creating contingency plans to remain ready for any other abrupt changes. The work many of us put into pivoting to remote instruction and services has a silver lining to it – by helping us prepare for the unexpected and knowing we have what it takes to do so.
Becky Falto is the director of residence life and housing at the Vaughn College of Aeronautics and Technology in East Elmhurst, New York. Have a colleague you think others should get to know? Please share with us at email@example.com and you may see them in a future issue of the magazine.