class=""MsoNormal"">SALISBURY, MD---Dr. Ellen J. Neufeldt, the new vice president of student affairs at Salisbury University, believes in building bridges: between student life and academics, between student organizations and the local community, and yes, even between her office and parents.
class=""MsoNormal"">“Collaboration is a key component in student affairs,” she said.
class=""MsoNormal"">Forging partnerships is something she stressed at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga where she worked for the past 10 years, the last four as assistant vice chancellor for student development and dean of student life.
class=""MsoNormal"">There she supervised 10 departments with budgets of over $5 million. During her tenure she successfully unified six departments into a new Office of Student Life, with the long-term goal of strengthening the overall learning experience and increasing student retention.
class=""MsoNormal"">Although retention is a point of pride for SU—it has the highest retention and graduation rates in the University System of Maryland—there are other issues such as student binge drinking which Neufeldt had to cope with at other universities. Prior to leaving Chattanooga she was working with a capital project team to begin constructing a student wellness center. Further, she formed and worked with a student programming committee targeted at educating students in wellness, not only physical, but psychological, social and spiritual.
class=""MsoNormal"">Such interests fit her background. She has her M.A. in educational psychology and counselor education from Tennessee Technological University and her doctorate of education from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville where she studied the life paths of male and female college students. At UTC she also taught graduate courses in community and career counseling as an adjunct professor.
class=""MsoNormal"">Her ongoing interest in student retention—what makes a student commit and follow through on the academic path until she or he graduates—has allowed her to envision and shape student affairs programs as part of something bigger, usually articulated by a university’s mission statement. This thinking is reflected in words such as “links,” “ties,” and “building bridges,” which pepper her conversation:
class=""MsoNormal"">“My passion is tying everything we do in student affairs—linking it—into the academic mission. …
class=""MsoNormal"">“How can we use new student experiences to build bridges of support for students who are weaker academically? …
class=""MsoNormal"">“Student success is tied into being a member of a community.”
class=""MsoNormal"">At UTC she created and led a Student Service Task force which visited and studied other campus models for student services, looking for the best ideas for improving her division and university as a whole.
class=""MsoNormal"">Building small groups where people could achieve and forge an identity were often a result. “I’ve advised just about every type of student organization, from sororities to religious groups to service clubs,” she said. At UTC, the numbers of women participating in sororities doubled and the campus sorority system expanded under her guidance. Her redesigned Parent Orientation Program saw attendance increase by some 40 percent. She worked to engage students in community service such as neighborhood cleanup, beautification and crime watch.
class=""MsoNormal"">And she is interested in another aspect nearly all students bring to campus: parents.
class=""MsoNormal"">“Today’s college students were chosen, planned, and their parents have remained very involved in their lives,” Neufeldt said. “Often these parents make decisions for their children, so many of today’s college students have not had to make decisions. These students are motivated for success but many have not had experience in making decisions and taking responsibility for themselves.”
class=""MsoNormal"">Rather than fight this relationship, Neufeldt believes in working with the parents and helping them begin to detach in a healthy way. “We need to embrace these parents as partners,” she said, offering them programs and educating them to their children’s development in college. “When the parents get that first panic phone call, we need to coach them on how to handle it by letting the student know they can manage the situation and suggesting ways for the student to take responsibility. We try to navigate how parents can be a part of the educational system. “As a group, today’s students have energy and leadership potential,” said Neufeldt, “but they are still learning and developing their life skills.” It will take parents, student affairs, faculty and the greater community working together, she believes, to create the opportunities for students to learn life skills and put them into practice. "