As students get settled in for the school year, they may have noticed some changes to the Dean of Students Office. On Saturday, Aug. 24, Dean of Students Scott Brown sent out a campus-wide email regarding these staffing changes. Shadra Smith will serve as interim associate dean of students and dean for the class of 2023; Ashley Benson will continue as associate dean of students and dean for the classes of 2022 and 2021; Mitch Joseph will support the class of 2020 as interim assistant dean of Students; Myrna Hernández has been hired as associate vice president and senior associate dean of students.
According to Brown, there will also be some changes to the Center for Diversity and Inclusion (CDI).
“During this interim period, Dr. Ivonne M. García, chief diversity, equity and inclusion officer, will oversee the CDI staff and the Center’s operation, as she leads the campus in the execution of the College’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Strategic Plan,” Brown said.
Smith, who has previously worked as Associate Dean of CDI, will still maintain a presence by supporting first-generation and low-income students which Brown says will “streamline her case management of the first-year class.”
Joseph has also held a different role at the College — director of student rights & responsibility — which he will continue along with his new duties as a class dean.
When asked what landed him in the new role, Joseph said he expressed interest to Hernández after finding out Assistant Dean of Students Lisa Steffensen was leaving. “We discussed availability, work-load and other obligation along with how it would work out with Students Rights and Responsibilities. In a lot of ways, we decided that the position worked out to be a good fit,” Joseph said.
Joseph added that his role as director may change slightly as to avoid any conflicts of interest, but overall, he states that having this dual-role will ultimately help streamline the process.
“There were already going to be a few changes to our methods of resolving conduct issues for this year, but this helped solidify some of those more informal styles of resolution,” Joseph said. “There may be a couple larger cases that could potentially come down the pipeline that I’m in a role where I’ve supported the student(s) in my role as dean. But in those cases, I’m working out a plan to hand over reins of the situation to one of our other conflict resolution officers.”
Hernández arrived in Wooster over the summer after spending 13 years at DePauw University, most recently as dean of students, and was drawn to the personal relationships that are built on campuses the size of the College.
“When I visited Wooster, it was clear that these relationships were important to students, staff and faculty,” Hernández said. “It’s also a beautiful campus with a really strong sense of its institutional identity.”
Additionally, one of her goals is for students to take advantage of the office hours the deans are holding as well as a weekly lunch. Brown sent the office hours in another campus-wide email on Friday, Aug. 23 and listed the locations for the lunch on Wednesdays.
“We really want folks to come by and introduce themselves regardless of whether or not their specific dean is at lunch or hosting the open hours on that day,” Hernández encouraged. “As a dean, my primary responsibility is that of an educator; I’m here to help students learn how to navigate the challenges associated with going to college in general, and more specifically, at The College of Wooster.”
Steffensen, who has accepted a job as dean of students at Roane State Community College in Tennessee and whose last day was Aug. 28, reflected upon her time at Wooster.
“Wooster has the most amazing students who have impressed me time and time again,” she stated. “They are smart, resilient, dedicated and passionate about changing the world for the better. Working with Wooster students has been an absolute pleasure.”
For parting advice, Steffensen offered that students should never be afraid to ask for help. “Everyone who works at Wooster works here because they want to help students be successful,” she said. “I also encourage students to be kind to each other, to be supportive of one another and to help each other — it’s so much more fun to cross the finish line with a great group of friends.”