My office space actually used to be the original Dean’s office. While it is far more space than I need, I am grateful for the additional project space, the ability to host small team meetings in my office, and for the secondary meeting space away from my monitor. The office walls are covered in frameless frames featuring my photography. I take photos as a hobby and it helps to personalize the space, allows for quick redecoration, and provides useful talking points.
My name is Dr. Thomas Dickson and I am the Assistant Dean for Student Affairs at the University of Arizona’s College of Nursing located in Tucson, Arizona. I lead our Office of Student Affairs which provides academic advisement, learning support services, student engagement, graduate student support, scholarships, course scheduling and evaluations, and admissions.
This year has been a challenging year as most of my major projects have dealt with highly sensitive topics with wide ranging implications for our students. One such major project has been an extensive evaluation of our tuition model for online students. We are working to restructure the tuition model from the traditional grid of per unit tuition and associated fees to a flat per unit cost. The goal of this project is to eliminate the cost difference between resident and non-resident students, as the programs are offered online where residency is not a factor.
This is a single day from a week in June. Things are not what I would describe as ‘quiet’ as we have year-round programs, however the amount of emergencies and critical issues tends to be slightly lower during the summers.
8-9am Emails, meeting preparation, social media, and higher education news
9-9:30am Student dispute meeting
9:30-10am 1 on 1 meeting with one of my team members (advising)
10-11am Curriculum meeting for a first year success course under development
11-11:15am Meeting with our general counsel on a proposed programmatic change
11:15-11:30am Email and report writing
11:30am-12:15 Drafting of a new policy based on faculty committee recommendations
12:15-12:45 Lunch, while checking emails, social media, and reading higher education news sites
12:45-1pm Emails and budget adjustment
1-2pm Planning meeting about doctoral orientation (ends early, return several phone calls)
2-2:30pm 1 on 1 meeting with a team member (learning support services)
2:30pm – 3pm Faculty meeting regarding various institutional and college policies, (ends early – phone call to Phoenix faculty)
3-3:30 Meeting with another department about course offering patterns and student demand
4pm Report analysis, data mining, and report writing
4-4:30pm Revise policy on student progression and readmission requirements
8-9pm Emails, article writing/pro-development, and social media
While this is not typical of every day, nor typical of a summer day. Most days are packed full of administrative and committee meetings and in drafting documentation.
A ‘day in the life’ never adequately covers my reality. Even a day where you plan ahead to have time to write, run reports, think, or prepare these well-intentioned elements can be quickly reassigned to accommodate the support needed, or interventions necessary, to address a student, faculty member, administrator, or a team member. The end of the term tends to be the most problematic with regard to schedule adjustments and student crises. The majority of student conduct cases, behavioral health concerns, integrity violations, readmission decisions, policy questions, course withdrawal requests, student medical or compassionate events, and grievances tend to occur at this time. One oddity I never anticipated as a young professional was needing to carve out travel time, simply to navigate between meetings. The hardest part of this role is seeing a stellar student fail to gain admission. Due to the competitive nature of our programs, we often are faced with advisement meetings and grievances from amazing students who did not meet the competitive cut-off for admission to our program.
I continuously am working on new additions to our digital support of students including online ‘commons’ spaces where we store student resources within a resource course in the learning management system, the revision and editing of our website, updating our marketing materials, production of new digital content such as videos, development and clarification of policies, development of student engagement events, and the implementation of new procedural improvements and the tracking of progress and outcomes.
The process of awarding scholarships requires extensive time toward the end of spring and early summer. These awards are based on established donor criteria and institutional policies governing awarding processes and can take exceptional amounts of time to organize as well as strategically balance the needs of the student and donors. One hard fact of the job is that there is never enough money to support all the students who need or deserve assistance.
Graduations, admissions, and new student orientations occur multiple times per year for our college, so they always seem to be on the horizon. We admit students from first-year up to doctoral, each program with a different deadline – so the workload and nature of work for the team can widely vary.
One unexpected element to this year has been the addition of a Student Engagement Coordinator position to our college as part of our new institutional 100% Engagement initiative. The establishment of this position allowed for a great deal of creativity from the team in crafting methods of engagement for our students. It also helps address some long term goals and programmatic ideas that have been on a back burner for years waiting for ‘when there was time’ to implement.
An unusual element to my role is the impact of a clinical component on everything I do. For our entry programs (bachelors and masters), students have courses that can end three weeks after the 15-week term starts while others may not begin until after traditional midterms. Students may be in-class one or two times a week for didactic sessions and then spend 20 or more hours at local healthcare facilities – often with each cohort having eight or nine variations on their clinical times to accommodate site availability. No week is ever the same.
This post is part of our #dayinSA series on highlighting the diversity of functional areas in the field of student affairs. We will hear from #SApros of all kinds – academic advisors, office mangagers, res hall directors, vice provosts of SA, and many many more. Each will share exactly what their typical day looks like, what exactly they work on, and what makes them want to come to work each day. We hope to squash stereotypes within the field and celebrate all the different kinds of great work that #SApros do. For more information, check out the intro post by Sara Ackerson. Be sure to read the other posts in this series too!