An open door to students

Doug Samuels, vice president of student affairs for three years,prides himself on his open-door communication policy withstudents.

“I like to make myself available,” he said. “If you have anissue about how we do business here, I want to hear about it.”

That business lies in providing leadership, direction and visionto the departments that make up Student Affairs, which range fromFinancial Aid to Health and Counseling Services.

But just how does Samuels implement leadership, direction andvision to the student affairs programs that he oversees?

A day in the life of Doug Samuels reveals that it is by beingaccessible and open to new ideas.

In his own words, Samuels says his role in the university meansgetting people in student affairs thinking and talking about howtheir services complement students. He says the goal is incultivating student success and connecting students’ experiencesinto the whole experience of PSU, which is a vision ofinclusiveness.

At 9 a.m., he was opening up a box he had sent to himselfcontaining handouts from his recent trip to Minnesota for theyearly National Financial Aid Administration Conference. The themeof the conference was “Helping Students Make it After All.”Financial aid has been an important issue to PSU students thisyear, as the Office of Student Financial Aid has undergone severecuts.

With an upgrade to more modern technology in conjunction withfinancial aid consultants from Georgia helping process student aidawards, Samuels says that steps are being taken to improve theprocess that was affected by an enrollment growth of students andthe small staff that remained after several employees left. Butfinancial aid isn’t his only concern.

Wearing a black suit and taking a dark chocolate Hershey Kissfor the walk to Smith for the Student Affairs Leadership Teammeeting (the first meeting of the day at 9:15 a.m.), Samuels wasopen to giving students a glimpse of a day in his life, and how theuniversity is operated by phone calls, meetings and conferences,paperwork and discussions.

In the end, all these steps lead to Student Affairs working tomake PSU a university that students want to come to and a placethey want to stay.

The issues that were prevalent throughout Samuels’ day relatedto the steps that are being taken to improve the financial aidprocess, as well as dealing with the budget deficit, issues with alack of diversity and services for students of color and working ata goal of internationalizing PSU.

Samuels allowed the Vanguard to attend all meetings but one, thefourth and last meeting of the day with Michael Reardon, theinterim provost and his boss. He said later that the meeting dealtwith some of the issues listed above, the original meeting time of30 minutes changing to an hour.

In a meeting with Nicole Browning, Multicultural AffairsDirector, Samuels listened to the plans Browning has for next year,which are being created because, according to Browning, peopledon’t feel PSU is delivering on the promise of diversity.

Samuels says that, for himself, it’s very challenging to be in aworkplace as one of the few administrators from an underrepresentedpopulation and he believes there are not enough faculty and staffof color.

“It’s very difficult for me to do my job,” Samuels said,”because the majority of staff is white.” He added, “I’ve worked inhigher education for 25 years and I feel that I’ve been relativelysuccessful as a minority person.”

A former associate dean of student affairs at Vermont LawSchool, Samuels came to PSU three years after seeing a job openingat PSU in The Chronicle, a newspaper for university faculty. Heliked what he heard about President Bernstine’s work what kind ofuniversity PSU was.

The budget problem Samuels encountered when he came to PSU isnothing new. Samuels says that since PSU is a young university,they just don’t have the institutional aid, and PSU’s growingenrollment has contributed to the budget deficit.

“We’re serving more students with less budgetary resources,” hesays.

Every year, Student Affairs is allotted a budget of $13-14million. According to Samuels, that’s not enough to properlyprovide for the 300 full-time staff and all the departments andprograms in Student Affairs.

“I’ll tell you right now, I’m broke. I have no more money,” hesaid.

But although increasing enrollment has contributed to theworries of the budget deficit,

Samuels, after some thought, said the growing enrollment hasbeen a challenge, not a problem. He prefers to look at the positivecontributions that growing enrollment provides to a universityrather then the negative ones. He added that in his three years atPSU his position as vice president of Student Affairs has evolvedinto focusing on not just the enrollment of students but on studentsatisfaction.

“As long at students get the services they want we’ll doanything we need to do,” he said.

And he’s ready to take a phone call to discuss it.