Admin inspiration on the go

Pursing her lips into a small smirk and blinking affectedly several times, Jackie Balzer prepared herself for a seemingly momentous announcement.

Pursing her lips into a small smirk and blinking affectedly several times, Jackie Balzer prepared herself for a seemingly momentous announcement. Then the announcement came: On Dec. 30, she had devoted an entire day to working just in her office.

The statement sounds absurdly commonplace for most high-ranking administrators, but for Balzer it was a first.

In her six months as vice provost of student affairs at Portland State, Balzer had yet to block out an entire day in her hectic schedule to sit down and only do what she calls “the admin stuff.”

Balzer surely does the admin stuff, but her work takes her across campus daily.

That alone says more about the highly energetic and exceptionally spirited Balzer, 46, than a resume or title ever would. She is not the type that takes too kindly to being stationary and idle; Balzer is one for experiencing firsthand.

In charge of 272 staff members in Portland State’s enormous office of student affairs, Balzer jokes that her job is like “quality control.” Hence, it is impossible for her to keep tabs on a 47-acre campus without frequently stepping outside the office.

But with all this shoulder-side watching and stopping by to check in, Balzer wants to clear one thing up immediately.

“I’m not a micromanager,” Balzer said with emphasis, “I’m a leader.”

A leader is something Balzer has been for quite a while.

She remembers helping her teacher, Mrs. Eagles, in her fifth grade class in Federal Way, Wash., playing the field-manager position of goalie in soccer growing up and holding a host of leadership posts as a student at Washington State.

With that said, Balzer maintains that she had the time of her life as a student and wants nothing less for Portland State students as they grow in the South Park Blocks.

This is why you might spot her strolling through the Smith Memorial Student Union to catch a glimpse of student life, taking a break on a bench in the Park Blocks or conversing with students over lunch at Victor’s dining hall in Ondine.

“How can I improve the student experience if I am not connected to it?” said Balzer, who is especially passionate about helping students realize their potential through bringing out the best in them. “I’m not just walking the walk when I ask [students] about [their] grades.”

Hannah Fisher, president of the Associated Students of Portland State University calls Balzer one of the most accessible administrators she has ever met, and said that is a clear indication that she cares about what students are doing.

“She randomly drops in. She randomly sends me an e-mail and says we should go to coffee and that she wants to make sure I’m alright,” Fisher said. “And she’s met about every member of my staff.”

Fisher views Balzer as an inspiration and raves about her compassion for students and tireless work ethic, which is clear in her hands-on, face-to-face style to mentoring the future and connecting with students as much as possible.

Nick Walden Poublon, a former student government member, was on the hiring committee for a new vice provost this past year. He said that when applicants were asked if they would employ an open-door policy with students, they all replied with, “Yes, of course,” but when Balzer answered he could tell she was being genuine.

Once Balzer was hired, she proved that indeed she was there for students. Walden Poublon recalls two instances early on when concerned students reached out to Balzer and she responded swiftly, meeting with each and alleviating their issues.

“She is open to student issues,” Walden Poublon said. “And it’s impressive that Jackie met with them one on one.”

While Balzer has been known to see students frequently, Walden Poublon has seen a lot of Balzer recently.
Over the past few months, Walden Poublon has shadowed Balzer, working as student affairs liaison. After graduating this past spring, Walden Poublon has begun to ponder what he would like to do with his life. And thus he faces a tough decision.

Walden Poublon knows he loves the college environment, but he is attempting to decide whether he would like to become a professor or work in student affairs. This is a dilemma Balzer faced as well when she was in his position.

For Balzer, it was ultimately the mentoring and advising roles associated with student affairs positions that won out.

“In every ounce of my being I have a passion for helping others realize their passion through learning,” Balzer said.

Balzer has also placed every ounce of her being into her job at Portland State. After accepting the vice provost position, Balzer had to move on from Oregon State, where she had been the dean of student life.

Having never lived in a large city, Balzer said she had to make many changes when she moved into a condo in Northwest Portland. She had to sell many material belongings and began riding the Portland Streetcar to campus.

While Balzer lives less than two miles from campus, she admits that if she were able to she would live in a dorm room in one of the housing buildings, because that is part of being an active member of the community that she is diligently trying to enrich.

For Balzer, juggling a huge staff and running from here to there and back is not just part of the job. In fact, she believes her work is not a job at all.

“It’s a lifestyle,” she said.