By Gabby Eubanks
The “college experience” has been something many students look forward to when furthering their education. What many students may not realize is how much they are affected by the community around them and just how much the Student Life department can affect their time during their undergraduate years.
Rochester University’s Center for Student Life has undergone much change in the past year. With all the complications of the pandemic, activities look nothing like they used to.
From admissions to activities, new people and positions, RU is experiencing a complete makeover.
Scott Samuels, vice president and interim dean of students, stepped into leadership of the Center for Student Life after Dean Sharia Hayes moved to George Fox University in Oregon. Samuels said he wants to provide a new vision for the future.
“We are really looking to create a sense of belonging for students,” Samuels said. “We want them to experience what was promised when they enrolled.”
Environment of belonging
One of the main benefits of RU is its size and the close-knit community, which can create an environment of belonging.
Each member of Student Life contributes to the student experience and provides certain resources and opportunities for them.
Brian Petty, hall director and Community Programming Board manager, oversees campus programming and wants to ensure each student has a welcoming and fun experience through campus-wide events.
“College is a time to make new friends, try new things and find who you are,” he said. “Through my work within the residence halls and student activities, I hope to provide opportunities for every type of student at RU.”
Michelle Guinyard, resident director, said, “I’d love to see us incorporate more programming with a learning aspect and address critical social topics like safe drinking practices, sexual assault prevention, race/racism, LGBT+ allyship, mental & emotional health, etc.”
This would further the level of inclusivity and belonging for all types of people at RU and expand the understanding and feeling of community within the student body.
Similarly, Evan Green, director of spiritual and Intercultural life, said, “One change that has been exciting is seeing the Student Life team become more ethnically diverse. In light of all the changes, Student Life is still committed to our core purpose of improving the student experience, student engagement and student support.”
Belonging and representation
Belonging and representation go together in a social environment and this diversifying of Student Life allows students to feel represented in positions of leadership and have more familiar areas of cultural understanding with people in authority positions.
The list of experiences and resources that Student Life provides has stretched even further this year with the addition of Erica Suszek, director of student success and wellbeing,
Samuels helped create the new position and said, “We believed we needed someone to be a bridge between student life and academics.”
Suszek’s role goes beyond standard programming and community development by providing students with a counselor for help with academics and guidance when struggling to balance school with life problems.
Her goals for the future are to bring even more resources to the student body and to provide an environment where students “know they are heard and seen,” she said.
Her guidance is more than tutoring—she is responsible for ensuring students have a person to seek out if they are in a state of emotional or academic stress.
Samuels plans on remaining the interim dean for the rest of the academic year and is enjoying his time. “I enjoy this position because it reconnects me with students. My plate is full but I like it like that,” he said.
He also said Student Life will always strive to grow and to improve as it serves and reaches out to the RU student body.
Recreational options on campus
Currently, Samuels and Victoria Dupuis, president of the student body, are working on new proposals regarding recreational possibilities on campus. These proposals include changing the open house hours for the dorms to be more accommodating to students, creating more designated spaces for studying specifically designed for commuters, and making more utilization of Lake Norcentra Park for outdoor recreation.
Samuels believes the university has plentiful amounts of opportunities for students to get more involved so that they can get the full college experience during their time at RU, including student leader positions.
The school offers many leadership positions for students. “Though these positions are limited, all positions are first paid which is great for any person and you get a lot of firsthand experience that can truly open doors you never even knew. It’s truly one of the best ways to make the most out of your college experience,” Petty said.
Having all new staff may seem like a disadvantage, but the Student Life team has been taking it in stride and maintain the viewpoint that this is not a complication, but an opportunity to refocus their goals.
They are creating the environment that shapes the community for future classes of students, and they are responsible for helping students prepare for the future just as much as the teaching faculty are.
Samuels said Student Life welcomes the feedback of students. Students can complete a feedback form with any thoughts, comments, questions or concerns online at my.rochesteru.edu. Also, the office doors to Student Life are open and to students from 9 a.m. – 4 p.m. in the Campus Center building.
Meet the Staff:
From Top Left: Scott Samuels, interim dean of students; Erica Suszek, director of student success & well-being; Evan Green, director of intercultural & spiritual life; Brian Petty, student activities coordinator; Michelle Guinyard, director of community life, and Katelyn Hargrave, office manager.