Those experiences informed her leadership style and thoughtful response last fall, when she was faced with an alcohol-related student death in Greek life, only months into her new job as vice president for Student Affairs. Our own Scott Atwell caught up with the College of Communication and Information alumna to discuss her role in helping FSU’s students look toward the future with an eye on success.
What do you remember most about your experiences at FSU?
Growing up in South Florida, everyone chose their Florida school to root for, and Florida State was mine. I was fortunate to have a Bright Futures Scholarship and lived in Jennie Murphree my first semester. I came to FSU wanting to become a television journalist and majored in communication. I spent a lot of time in Diffenbaugh.
I got involved early on running for Senate in SGA, becoming a Lady Spirithunter, serving as a morale captain for Dance Marathon, interning at WFSU, and I joined Alpha Chi Omega as a sophomore.
So many strong student leaders at FSU were members of Alpha Chi, and I wanted to follow in their footsteps. I eventually became chapter president. It was one of the hardest leadership positions, but taught me the most about myself and about leadership. During my time as president, we didn’t have a chapter adviser, which made the role even more challenging. But I had connected with one of our graduate assistants, who happened to be an Alpha Chi and had worked at AXO headquarters. She helped advise us unofficially that year.
How did sorority leadership inform your career arc?
I felt I had learned so much during my out-of-the-classroom experience, I wanted to do the same for others. Following graduation, I worked with Alpha Chi Omega national headquarters as a traveling leadership consultant, seeing campuses and chapters all over the country. I also used that year to check out graduate schools and study for the GRE. Without my FSU Greek experience, I don’t think I would have realized this was a possible career path.
How did the opportunity to return to FSU as vice president for student affairs come about?
I was contacted by the search chair, who mentioned I had been nominated. I had never thought I’d become the vice president for student affairs at my alma mater; these jobs rarely open up, and as a student I hadn’t thought I’d become a VP when I started exploring a career in higher education. After meeting the search committee, spending some time on campus and talking with students, I knew it would be a great fit.
What do you envision for the future of Florida State and its students?
As vice president for student affairs, I’m focused on the student experience. That includes much of the outside-the-classroom experience such as student activities, recreation, Greek life and leadership. It also includes wellness initiatives, student conduct, the career center, student support services and global engagement.
As an officer of the university, I’m also working toward accomplishing our goal of reaching the Top 25. My goal is that our students are empowered to make positive change and have an impactful FSU experience, and that the university continues to get even better. The progress we’ve made has improved the value of all of our degrees. I plan on continuing to advance that progress.
How did you and President Thrasher decide to suspend all Greek activities?
We didn’t come to that decision lightly, but we knew it was the right thing to do. It wasn’t based on just one incident; other incidents had let us know that we needed to make changes within the Greek community. President Thrasher and I knew we needed to pause, bring everyone to the table and really discuss where our Greek life was headed and where it needed to be.
What was the result of the cooling-off period?
Overall, I believe the student leaders understood we wanted to help the Greek system provide a positive experience at FSU. Students, alumni and national organizations came together to discuss challenges and possible solutions. We disagreed at times, but none of us walked away. Eventually, we started to see some consensus on new ideas, programs and policies. I was particularly proud of our student leaders, who really invested in the process and helped to shape our future direction.
Where do we go from here?
We’ve lifted the suspension and are now implementing the plan, which includes an increase in educational programs, new policies, an expansion of staff, an online scorecard and a revised conduct process. FSU is investing heavily, not only in Greek organizations but in other student programs as well. We know the challenges our students are facing are not unique to fraternities and sororities. We’re looking campuswide to make Florida State a healthier and safer environment.
What role can alumni play in the reform?
Getting involved to understand today’s student experience is helpful. To do that, an advising role may be appropriate, or perhaps giving to your organization to ensure that it has the resources it needs to excel. That could be mentoring a student, providing internships or hiring FSU graduates.
Our students come to Florida State University to get a phenomenal education, launch their careers, make lasting memories and have a great time. When you visit campus, help model appropriate behavior. There are many ways to have an incredible college experience, and there are ways to enjoy yourself safely.
As you’ve said, alcohol abuse is more than a Greek problem. How do you change the campus culture?
Changing culture takes time. Culture is made up of so many pieces – like symbols, traditions, history and environment. Leaders play a role, too. FSU has an overarching student culture, but then each organization within FSU has its own culture and social norms. You can shift that slowly, by paying attention to those elements and making small changes.
Some believe you have the toughest job on campus. What do you say?
I think I have the best job in the country. Every day I get to work with students and shape the FSU experience. We have the best student leaders in the nation. They’re making a difference on our campus and beyond. We’re providing experiences that help them realize their potential, and we’re empowering them not only to shape what FSU becomes – but to shape the world. And to do that at my alma mater is an incredible honor.