Assistant Vice President & Executive Director of Student Activities

About the University of Connecticut

The University of Connecticut (UConn), the public flagship university of the state of Connecticut, seeks a strategic and experienced student affairs leader to serve as the next assistant vice president and executive director of student activities.

UConn is among the top 25 public universities in the nation according to U.S. News & World Report and is Connecticut’s sole public research university. Founded in 1881, UConn has 14 Schools and Colleges on multiple campuses. The University consists of its main campus in Storrs, four regional campuses, a Law School and Graduate Business Center in Hartford, and a hospital and Medical and Dental Schools at UConn Health. UConn offers a broad range of academic choices and students learn from outstanding faculty who are widely recognized for their cutting-edge research and expertise.

With the campus community preparing to return from a year of largely remote learning and engagement, the impact and value of student affairs and student activities at UConn has never been more valued by partners across campus. UConn seeks a leader who takes initiative and has the collaborative and interpersonal skills to operate effectively with multiple constituencies and achieve results. The assistant vice president and executive director of student activities (AVP) will possess a history of successful leadership in student activities and demonstrated evidence of collaboration with students across the campus. The AVP will provide vision, strategic direction and leadership for a talented team of 31 full-time student affairs professionals, 18 graduate assistants and several hundred student employees. The student activities team is comprised of the following areas: fraternity and sorority life; risk management; major events and programming; leadership and organization development; trustee student organization advising; student organization financial programs; community outreach programs; and marketing and graphic design.

Reporting to Michael Gilbert, Ed.D. vice president for student affairs, the assistant vice president and executive director of student activities will be an experienced leader who understands current trends in student affairs and strongly believes in the essential link between student engagement, inclusion and excellence. With genuine fondness and respect for students and with strong academic values, the AVP will inspire a highly talented student affairs team at UConn. The AVP will need to hit the ground running to prepare for students' return to campus this fall. They will participate in campus wide conversations about the quality of student life, engender trust through transparency in policy development and decision-making and will demonstrate a commitment to shared governance by building consensus among faculty, student affairs professionals and students. As the leader of a strong leadership development program that is deeply connected to students, the AVP will maintain a strong relationship with the Student Union Board of Governors and staff and students who are engaged in all aspects of co-curricular engagement at UConn.

The successful candidate will have excellent management skills and commitment to building partnerships with the faculty and with colleagues in diversity and inclusion, athletics and student services. Excellent communication skills; strategic and critical thinking; awareness of risk management and compliance expectations; and a proactive approach to promoting new and best practices are all necessary for success in this role. The successful candidate will have 8 or more years of leadership experience in student affairs/student activities and a particular interest in and commitment to working in partnership with colleagues and talented students. The AVP will have served in progressive supervisory and administrative positions and will understand the culture of student life at a large, complex institution. An earned doctorate is preferred; however, candidates with a depth of experience in the field and appropriate professional credentials will be given full consideration. A Master’s degree is required.

The Division of Student Affairs

The University of Connecticut has long been a gateway to economic opportunity for students in New England. Building on that legacy, the university has been praised for retaining and graduating their students at impressive rates – 94% retention for all first year students and an 85% six-year graduation rate. These impressive graduation rates are the result of a strategic retention effort on the part of the University in which student affairs plays an important role.

With more than 700 student clubs and organizations, UConn's diverse campus offers a rich co-curricular life. UConn has among the highest percentage of students living on campus of any public university in the nation. UConn's housing offerings include residence halls, suites and apartments. In addition, 20 living/learning communities and several special interest housing options provide even greater opportunities for students. The UConn campus hosts eight certified-green dining halls and six cafes, in addition to various food trucks, restaurants and food in the Student Union. UConn also hosts five cultural centers – the African American Cultural Center, Asian American Cultural Center, Puerto Rican/Latin American Cultural Center, Rainbow Center and Women's Center – all of which celebrate the diversity of the campus and help create a vibrant community. Additionally, UConn has 24 NCAA Division I varsity teams competing in the American Athletic Conference. An overview of UConn Athletics can be found here. UConn also hosts 40 current fraternities and sororities that are home to approximately 12% of the student population. As the flagship institute of the state of Connecticut, the community outreach program is an important part of the AVP's portfolio and is highly regarded and well-supported throughout the institution and the state.

Office of Student Activities
A comprehensive overview of the many programs, services and resources of the office of student activities is available at www.uconn.edu/studentactivities. The Office of Student Activities aims to empower student leaders and create meaningful opportunities for engagement through its many offerings to students. Through a carefully crafted program in community service, over 100 students play leadership roles and work with their peers in programs in literacy, social services, environmental and political stewardship and arts and cultural activities and extend the reach of UConn to its many communities. The Office provides support and organization for Alternative Breaks (spring, winter and weekend) which take students out of the area for focused and growth-filled experiences. UConn proudly supports over 700 student organizations, often recognizes and adds as many as 100 new clubs/organizations each year and recognizes this robust and ever-changing array of clubs as evidence that UConn celebrates the individual student and their creativity, idiosyncrasy and desire for community engagement.

Through this ever-changing and fast-moving office, the university expresses its high level of expectation that the AVP will prioritize compliance with federal, state, local and campus laws; support and uphold the university's commitment to policies and strategies that mitigate risk, honor the diverse and changing interests and priorities of an engaged student body and develop and maintain a close and mutually supportive relationship with the university's Office of the General Counsel among other key partners.

With oversight of a $5M budget, the office of student activities includes 31 professional staff, 18 graduate assistants and over 400 student employees. The portfolio includes the programs, services and staff responsible for: Business Programs, Services and Initiatives; Community Outreach; Student Organizations; Leadership and Organizational Development; Major Events and Large-Scale Programming; and Fraternity and Sorority Development. Please refer to the Organizational Chart in Appendix A for more information on the structure of the unit.

Opportunities and Expectations for Leadership

Reporting directly to Vice President Michael Gilbert, the assistant vice president for student affairs and executive director of student activities will be an experienced leader who understands current trends in student affairs and in campus programming/student involvement and is prepared to lead in far-reaching conversations about the post-pandemic implications of the student experience on the Storrs campus, as well as on the four regional campuses with whom the flagship campus recognized new and attractive opportunities for partnership and shared resources in the past year.

Specifically, the AVP will be expected to:

  • Develop a strategic vision and provide operational direction for the post-pandemic Student Activities program for UConn
    The next AVP will arrive to a solid operation, well run by talented and committed staff with many years of history with the organization. Student Affairs at UConn has done exceptionally well in keeping student well-informed and engaged since March 2020 when much of the UConn campus began to teach and meet remotely. The leadership team in student affairs recognizes that there is a strategic opportunity for the unit to reflect on the significant challenge brought on by the absence of in-person interaction and shared leadership experience during the months of remote student activities and student leadership development opportunities. UConn student leaders are active, engaged, outspoken and well-informed and wish to be partners in establishing the vision and direction for the unit going forward. The virtual nature of many programs and events in the last year has highlighted the benefits of closer collaboration with the regional campuses. The Storrs campus as well as the regional campuses share a commitment to more intentionally aligned programming and shared resources moving forward.
  • Serve as a Student Affairs generalist as an AVP on a talented leadership team
    In addition to leading the student activities team and all aspects of the operation, the AVP also serves as a key member of the overall divisional leadership team. As such, the AVP is part of the critical incident response team and will be an experienced, steady, compassionate and communicative leaders in times of crisis. UConn takes a great deal of pride in the professionalism of the respondents who serve and support the community in crisis situations and will welcome the experience and insight of the AVP in this aspect of the role.
  • Establish a culture of shared leadership in Student Activities programs and services
    The Student Affairs division at UConn is built on a philosophy of shared leadership and honest and direct communication between and among colleagues and with students and student leaders in particular. The divisional leadership has deep respect for the experience, expertise and commitment of the existing staff, many of whom have been in their roles for significant tenures and others who have arrived more recently and immediately added value to the overall operation. Open discussion and a collective problem solving style characterizes the work of the staff. An empowered and committed group of student leaders, in the student government association and in other key leadership roles, are serious about their work and enhance the AVP's ability to engage honestly and respectfully with students and they work to examine and improve the student experience. It is expected that the AVP will further refine the existing model of respectful, collaborative engagement with student leaders.
  • Advance the university's diversity, equity and inclusion goals within the Student Activities framework
    The university's deep and long-standing commitment to a diverse and inclusive community is a driving value in Student Affairs. The AVP will be well-informed and deeply engaged in diversity and inclusion practices and will help UConn articulate the role that a commitment to inclusive programming, activities and cultural events can play in efforts to improve the overall climate of the campus. The AVP will be a bold problem solver and a natural boundary spanner, with the skills, experience and presence to engage in complex and difficult conversations with students, alumni, parents, neighbors, legislators and national fraternity/sorority staff. Student leaders across the whole student activities organization take pride in their commitment to diversity and inclusion within their organizations and welcome the active partnership and engagement of the AVP and staffs to support this commitment.
  • Invest in staff development and establish a best-practice learning organization
    The Student Activities area at UConn is a complex organization with divisional and institutional impact. The AVP will be recognized as a strategic leader in the field, with practical experience and a capacity for thought leadership that will move the organization forward and preserve its well-earned reputation as a leading entity. The AVP will bring organization, structure and strong management skills to the work, will commit to ongoing assessment of all aspects of the operation to inform future direction and will use data to shape future strategic directions in student activities, leadership development and campus programming. The AVP will recognize the role of Student Activities in supporting the university in its highest aspirations to be a non-violent and anti-racist community that cares for the physical and mental well-being of its members.

    The nature of the work in Student Activities requires that the AVP is attentive to issues of risk management; is committed to compliance with campus, local, state and federal laws; and is comfortable in a student-and-campus-facing high visibility role. Further, the AVP will recognize that the staff, including many graduate students, are seeking mentoring, connections throughout the division and the university, and support for their highest professional aspirations. The professional development of individuals as well as a commitment to supporting a department as a learning organization are priorities for the AVP. There are three different bargaining units represented in the personnel in the Student Activities area.

Professional Qualifications and Personal Qualities

UConn's assistant vice president for student affairs and executive director of student activities will build on a strong base of programs and departments within the division that support the intellectual, emotional and social development and success of undergraduate and graduate students while promoting the values of diversity and community. The ideal candidate will have the following professional qualifications and personal qualities:

  • Substantial and proven record of broad, progressive senior-level administrative management and leadership experience in higher education over a period of at least eight years; understanding of the mission of flagship public universities with high levels of community engagement; experience supervising full-time professional staff.
  • As a key strategist and spokesperson for the changing needs of students, the AVP will have a track record of successfully advocating for student needs with the senior administrative team, faculty and others by utilizing research, data, best practices and innovative programming to address emerging issues on campus. As UConn is committed to the education of the whole student, the division of student affairs plays a key role in articulating the out-of-the-classroom experience of students to a broad audience, and ensures that the quality of student life is commensurate with that of the academic programs.
  • The AVP will be a patient and steady presence with students and colleagues and will value collegiality, inclusiveness and optimism; have the ability to build trust and communicate effectively with tact and wisdom; take genuine pleasure in the company of students, faculty and staff; leverage the well established and respectful relationships and commitment to seeking and valuing student input that characterizes the existing student-administration relationships; and demonstrate the ability to listen and to connect with openness to new ideas. The successful candidate will show sensitivity, approachability and warmth, the highest sense of integrity and ethics and will demonstrate energy and grace under pressure.
  • The AVP will be an advocate and champion for advancing the university's efforts in inclusivity, equity and anti-racist practices. With a demonstrated commitment to addressing issues of access, equity and inclusion for a diverse student population as well as with a range of professional staff, faculty, families, senior administrative colleagues, the AVP will be a contributor to the Division's recognized campus wide
    leadership efforts in these areas.
  • The AVP will have an earned Master's degree in an appropriate and relevant discipline or field, preferably higher education administration or student personnel. A doctoral degree in a relevant area is preferred.
  • Proven skill in fostering collaborative, consultative and meaningful partnerships among student affairs staff and university constituents. Genuine desire to connect with students and listen to and understand the value of the student voice in contributing to the further development of a robust and engaging outside-of-the-classroom life at UConn.
  • Demonstrated financial acumen, effective budget management and evidence-based resource allocation, awareness of liability exposure and risk mitigation and the ability to address fiscal constraints collaboratively and creatively.
  • Ability to formulate and shape strategic thinking and planning within the broader contexts of the University of Connecticut and national higher education landscapes.
  • A record of accomplishment in fostering change management, process improvement and the development and implementation of effective policies and processes.
  • Skill and experience in providing professional development opportunities to staff and creating a highly collegial and interconnected team.
  • Evidence of leadership in professional associations as a visible, student-centered administrator and leader who contributes to national research and forums.
  • Highest ethical values and principles in personal and professional endeavors.
  • Highly refined active listening and effective communication skills.
  • A clear capacity for effective conflict resolution and mediation.

Procedure for Candidacy

Applications, nominations and inquiries are invited. Applications should include, as separate documents, a CV or resume and a letter of interest addressing the themes in this profile.

WittKieffer is assisting the University of Connecticut in this search. For fullest consideration, candidate materials should be received by July 9, 2021.

Application materials should be submitted using WittKieffer’s candidate portal.

Nominations and inquiries can be directed to: Sheila Murphy and Lauren Bruce-Stets UConnAVPSA@wittkieffer.com.
 
UConn is committed to providing equal employment opportunities to all its employees and applicants for employment. All applicants will receive consideration for employment without regard to race, color, ethnicity, religious creed, age, sex, marital status, national origin, ancestry, sexual orientation, genetic information, physical or mental disabilities (including learning disabilities, intellectual disabilities, past/present history of a mental disorder), prior conviction of a crime (or similar characteristic), workplace hazards to reproductive systems, gender identity or expression, or other factors which cannot lawfully be the basis for employment actions.