Over the summer, Student Affairs underwent an administrative reshuffling, moved forward with changes to the New Student Orientation Program, expanded the availability of Counseling and Psychological Services, and opened new special interest housing.
On Friday, Spectator sat down with Columbia College and School of Engineering and Applied Science Interim Dean of Student Affairs Terry Martinez and Interim Dean of Community Development and Multicultural Affairs Todd Smith-Bergollo to discuss these developments and more. Here are some highlights.
Q: Over the summer there were a lot of administrative changes in Student Affairs, most notably, the consolidation of the office of Student Development and Activities and the office of Civic Action and Engagement into the new Office of Student Engagement. Can you tell us about the restructure?
Terry Martinez: One of the things I noticed when I first got here was that there were two offices doing pretty much the exact same thing. They were created because of the two governing boards—the student governing boards—but when I looked at the work, it was the exact same work. Over the course of nine, 10 months I worked with the staff to think about the functions that were the same in each so we could take a look at a structure that would address the functions that we knew needed to happen for student organizations. And so we worked together to define what that was, the positions that we would need. There are some new positions, some were eliminated, and some were created. Essentially, though, they were the same number of positions.
Todd Smith-Bergollo: Now, the director of student community programs is advising all of the governing boards and all of the councils—or Engineering Student Council and Columbia College Student Council. In that way, it brings it all together so the communication between those groups—and the ability for students who are creating groups or leading groups to navigate that—is centralized. So for the average student who doesn’t understand governing boards and all that, there’s one person who’s the go-to person.
Q: What other changes will students see this year?
TM: Another important factor in the restructuring up here on the sixth floor was the Student Affairs Central Business Office. They handle all the finances for Student Affairs and for student organizations. Quite often, students would meet with their adviser and then need to get a signature or turn in a receipt and they’d have to walk up here, and if there was a discrepancy they’d need to go back down to their adviser. So what I’ve done is split from the dean’s office the part that works specifically with student finances and moved those folks downstairs, so it’s more efficient than having to send students back and forth. If the adviser’s there and the financial person is there, you can literally just walk down the hall and talk together.
TSB: Not only did they move downstairs, but they’re no longer part of the Central Business Office. They’re part of the new Office of Student Engagement, so again, they’re part of the same team. Communication and collaboration between those staff members is going to be so simplified. I think it will serve student organizations much more efficiently.
Q: Last spring you talked about wanting to look at and evaluate NSOP. Were there any changes to the program this year?
TM: One of the things we did with NSOP this year was to really take a look at the connections students make with each other. We made sure there was opportunity also for additional evening programs. What we heard in the past was that students got here and they were busy during the day, and at the end of the day they were looking for other ways just to hang out—not to think, not to hear about the rules. And so we made sure we created opportunities each night for folks to do that. We also took a look at the groupings of the orientation groups. So there’s always this debate: we should just do it with our floors because those are the people you’re going to live with, but you’re going to meet other people, so let’s have it cross-sectioned. So throughout the week there were opportunities for both kinds of things.
TSB: With Under1Roof as well, each Under1Roof section was essentially by building, so when you were in Under1Roof you were generally with people from your floor, or at least your building. I think that helped enhance community as well because you’re having pretty serious, intimate conversations with folks that you’re going home with.
Q: What about an evaluation for NSOP?
TM: As far as assessment, there’s a couple things we’re going to do. There’s an evaluation that’s going to be sent out to students to get their feedback from that. Todd will be working with all our community partners—we really want to hear from our community partners about the process and the operational perspective. And then we’re going to have some focus groups with first-years to really get some feedback. And then we’ll take a look at that. We should always be thinking about “What did we do well and what could we have done better?”
Q: We noticed that Counseling and Psychological Services recently opened a new location for drop-in hours in the Intercultural Resource Center. What prompted this decision?
TM: Lots of traffic and activity for evening programs and quite often some of the dialogue of some of the programs that are held in the IRC can be very challenging, very personal, and so when working with CPS, we asked, “Can we have an additional staff member and house them in the IRC?” And that’s not just for the IRC residents, it’s like any of the other residence halls. It’s just for more visibility, more student access to counselors during the evening times.
Q: Now that students have moved into the convent Special Interest Community house, how do you see them taking advantage of the space?
TM: The great thing about that is it’s new, a fresh perspective. The students get to create what the experience is going to be. It’s not us saying, “Here’s the formula for how you’re going to live together.” It’s students saying, “This is how we’re going to create the space, this is how we’re going to own the space.” I want to see how they welcome others into that space.
Q: How are you each settling in to your new positions?
TM: It really has been a summer of transition. It’s been great to look at what we have in place. I get to bring in my own thoughts and personality—not that Dean Shollenberger didn’t hear those on a daily basis—but you get to put your own stamp, your own imprint on that. And so it’s been really, for me, analyzing how do we serve our students, what are we doing that could be done better, how do we best improve on what we have here. It’s been an interesting transition.
TSB: It truly was a very challenging but rewarding summer. Especially on my end, with the reorganization we did in Community Development, that meant that in some areas we were pretty much half-staffed for pretty much the whole summer, and simultaneously conducting five searches when we include the director of fraternity and sorority life. It was challenging because at the same time we had to get ready for the year, get ready for NSOP, but I think we came through with flying colors.
Q: Are there any other new programs we should look out for this semester?
TM: One of the things I’ve done in the past is hosted lunches downstairs and invited students. I’ve also done that in my apartment, and Dean Shollenberger—we would alternate, just to invite random students, typically through student leaders, to come have dinner in our homes. I’m going to continue that, but instead of doing the lunches downstairs, what I’d like to do is to go into John Jay Dining Hall, I’m going to sit there, and I want students to come and talk with me. I want to hear what the concerns are. And for students who don’t have meal plans, I’m going to figure out how we can get you in. So it will be a sign-up, and I’ll have your names next to the door, you show your ID, you come in and sit with me. And if you do have a meal plan, you just swipe in and you could come and have conversations with me. I don’t know yet if they’re going to be topical—we might just flip back and forth. If it’s topical and students have concerns about heat in the residence halls, I’ll ask Scott Wright to join me so he can answer those questions.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
Tracey Wang and Jeremy Budd contributed reporting.