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Strengthening the bond between academic and student affairs

A significant component of the charge of Lehigh’s Division of Student Affairs is the enhancement of the university’s academic mission. A Student Affairs initiative just underway promises to integrate academic affairs and student life to build a more informed community of faculty and staff and foster the collaborative nature of the groups’ work together as educators.

The new College Liaison Program gives faculty and administrators in each of Lehigh’s four colleges a single point person in Student Affairs to facilitate the exchange of information between both groups, foster student learning, and enable each to direct the other more easily to appropriate resources when the need arises.

“This will really help us get more insights into the happenings of the colleges,” says Allison Gulati, associate dean of students, who is heading the effort. “In knowing more about what’s going on in the colleges, we can better work with them to assist their students and help them navigate any student-related issues that may arise.”

After meetings between Student Affairs and the colleges’ deans and associate deans to determine their specific student-related needs, a Student Affairs staffer was assigned as a liaison to each college. Joining Gulati, who will serve as the liaison for the College of Business and Economics, are Kathleen Hutnik, Ph.D., director of graduate student life, who is the liaison for the College of Education, and assistant deans of students Chris Mulvihill (College of Arts and Sciences liaison) and Lori McClaind (P.C. Rossin College of Engineering and Applied Sciences liaison).

“This effort began a couple of years ago when a faculty panel spoke at a DOS retreat,” explains John W. Smeaton, vice provost for student affairs. “We all felt that conversation had great value and wanted to see it continue on a more regular basis.”

Adds Hutnik: “Whenever you open up lines of communication, it’s really important. Sometimes the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing. This is allowing us to provide better services for students.”

According to Sharon K. Basso, associate vice provost and dean of students, designating a single Student Affairs staff member for each college provides for more customized assistance and an easier flow of information.

“An important part of the College Liaison Program is that it allows us to respond to each college’s needs individually,” she points out. “Each school is very different, and it’s vital for us as student life professionals to respect those differences and operate accordingly.”

The colleges have reacted to the new initiative with enthusiasm.

“The interrelationship between the colleges and the Dean of Students Office is vital,” says Joan B. DeSalvatore, associate dean and director of the undergraduate program in the College of Business and Economics. “It is only through good communication and teamwork that we can function efficiently to serve our students' needs. The College Liaison Program is important in these efforts, providing as it does an effective method of information exchange. It also provides our faculty with the face of and familiarity with a key member of the Dean of Students group.”

Student Affairs staff members point out that the program reflects President Alice P. Gast’s calls for a curriculum that integrates student life experiences and classroom learning.

“From a student development perspective, research shows students learn more when they connect the dots between what they’re hearing in class and what they’re experiencing outside the class,” Gulati notes. “So connecting Lehigh’s academic and student life functions will help them develop and learn. They’re learning in the classroom, and also in their residence halls and clubs and through other co-curricular experiences. This creates a holistic approach to learning.”

--Tom Durso

Posted on Monday, May 05, 2008

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