Toni Castro: I just had a discussion with my president
about how can we look at engaging alumni. How do we
provide a student affairs context related to alumni engagement? While alumni relations is not part of student affairs,
we are known for our ability to keep in touch with students
and build long-lasting relationships. So what is the role of
student affairs in enhancing alumni relations and developing
and maintaining alumni associations? That is a big question
for us right now.
QWith so many competing demands, how do you set priorities?
Sarah Westfall: My work is divided into two halves. There is
the planned part: initiatives I want to make progress on over
time. Then, there is what really happens: demands that pop
up because an issue related to a student or parent occurs or the
president needs data. It is challenging because I don’t know
on a day-to-day basis what will confront me. So much of our
work is responsive.
In prioritizing, I look at how we are fulfilling the mission of
the institution and how we get to where we want to go. What
shapes my time on a daily or weekly basis is what concerns
come to me—from students, parents, colleagues, or faculty in
e-mail or unexpected phone calls that I handle. The strategic
plan, the annual goals of the leadership team, and the mission
of the institution all guide priorities. These three touchstones
are always present.
Toni Castro: We are constantly looking at annual goals
that tie to the fundamental mission and the strategic plan of
the institution with a focus on student learning and student
success. This is what drives our priorities. The nature of our
work is responsive in terms of meeting day-to-day priorities
Cynthia Cherrey: This conversation reminds me of a term
we have probably all heard: the new normal. What is the new
normal in the student affairs world? Our provost has created
another term that he calls the ‘next normal.’ What does effective strategy planning look like in the next normal? How do
we develop strategy in times of great uncertainty? How do we
create enough structure for ourselves and leave enough flexibility in the work so process does not paralyze us? How much
structure do we put in place in terms of strategic planning? We
have this cascading effect of the mission of the university and
its priorities and their effect on our work. Our challenge is to
give direction to our work, yet account for all the surprises
each year brings forth.
Toni Castro: Our goal is always to recruit and retain high-
quality, talented student affairs professionals who are dedi-
cated, loyal and responsive to changing student demograph-
ics, campus culture, and the environment. We must create a
working and learning environment that provides staff with
the tools to do good work, supports them, and compensates
them. Different generations in the workplace bring different
values and priorities. We must manage large divisions of staff
members with diverse personal and academic experiences and
create the most positive work and learning environment.
QHow are you recruiting and retaining staff to help you accomplish these priorities?
Sarah Westfall: For many talented people to move up, they
have to move on. My challenge is to keep them rewarded,
motivated, and stimulated. I try to create new professional
opportunities to keep them engaged and committed to staying
at our institution.
Kurt Keppler: One of the paradoxes of the new normal,
related to the economy, is that staff development is more
important than ever. People who are less forward thinking
may be eliminating or reducing positions and creating restrictions on conferences or travel—all these things that are so
important. To keep staff motivated, you must do the opposite.
Salaries are not increasing with the cost of living, and hiring has slowed down. You must increase staff development
activities and increase opportunities for them to expand their
horizons—to try new things and learn new skills. I will never
be one of those managers to totally cut travel or eliminate
Cynthia Cherrey: This is the time when we must pay attention to professional development for both seasoned and young
professionals. Younger professionals think of the world in
smaller sound bites than many of us do. After two or three
years of professional experiences at one institution, they may
be ready to move on. We need to give them opportunities
to expand their portfolios and develop their personal “brand
Kurt Keppler: We tend to put too many boundaries around
young professionals today. You put a job on the market and
this person must have X, Y, and Z skills. The requirements
eliminate virtually anyone from the job. One of the things
we need to do is allow new professionals to be generalists. For
instance, this summer I am looking to shift staff to some busy
areas, such as financial aid. In the fall, we may shift some staff
to admissions. I want to give young professionals as much
experience as possible. It serves the institution well in these
times of dwindling resources by reducing the need for additional staff in certain areas.
We must make sure the current generation of young professionals understands mobilization and knows that moving to
different parts of the country to gain experience is important.
The person who becomes a vice president after being promoted six times at one institution is a fossil. Young professionals must take risks, relocate, and work in less-than-ideal
positions to gain experience. They are no longer going to
march right up the ladder.
Cynthia Cherrey: Cross-training is a strategy that expands
staff portfolios, reframes positions, and helps us think differently about job sharing. At Princeton we have a similar
program where graduating seniors serve in one year internship