A Conversation with a Role Model

This is a guest post from Mary C. Jordan (@marycsjordan), Coordinator for Academic Residential Programs, University of Florida.

In a recent meeting with my mentor, I discussed some of the challenges of the last few months of this second year in my first post-Master’s job. Some of my new professional energy has burnt out, and my job isn’t regularly providing me with new challenges in the organic way it seemed to last year.  The vast majority of the time I love and feel fulfilled by my work, but lately there have been more days than I am happy to admit that I’ve felt I was just going through the motions.

One of the action items that came out of this discussion was a year-long professional development project that would involve me talking with one remarkable woman in housing each month. Both to deepen the professional development experience, and to share widely the wisdom of these women, we decided I would also write about these conversations.

“Why don’t you start with Alma Sealine?” my mentor suggested.

I managed to catch myself before I responded with a skeptical comment about how much I doubted the president of ACUHO-I would like to talk with me, but I couldn’t help looking across the table a little sideway.

He was undeterred: “I’ll send you Alma’s contact information this afternoon,” he continued.  “I’m sure she’ll be delighted to talk with you.”

And to my surprise, she was.  She even worked with me to create a time for our conversation before her departure for the ACUHO-I South-African Housing Training Institute.  Between a meeting with her campus’s senior student affairs officer and an ACUHO-I teleconference, Alma spent 30 minutes sharing with me her thoughts on balance, leadership, giving back, and always growing as a housing professional.

The first true defining experience of Alma’s career came in her first year of graduate school.  She reflects that her undergraduate alma mater was relatively conservative—in fact, “You couldn’t say dance, but you could say ‘foot function,’”—so she experienced something of a culture shock as the GA for the Collins Learning Center at Indiana University, home for a much more “crunchy and “beatnick” group of students.

Alma loved working with these students as well as her RA staff, which included diverse group of students who “got along wonderfully.” Most notably, Alma remembers a gender-neutral RA who wore an American flag as a skirt held up by suspenders. She couldn’t say enough positive things about her work, the people she met, and her graduate school experience. Alma said that this experience was really what propelled her passion for housing and her career-long interest in multiculturalism and diversity.

During our conversation, Alma reflected on two major challenges of her early career.  In her first job after graduate school, Alma supervised 15 RAs, and in the first year she lost 13 of them.

“I learned that its OK to have high expectations, but it doesn’t have to be ‘my way or the high way,’” she said. Alma also noted that some of her staff members from that first year are people with whom she is still in contact.

She also learned a lot about mental illness through supervision, and that “it’s not always personal.” Alma believes the supervision experiences she had early in her career have been invaluable. Now, supervising full-time staff, she says she realizes that building relationships and understanding where people are coming from is one of the most important aspects of a strong supervisory relationship.

“Sometimes you can’t do what you want to do until you understand the culture.  I wouldn’t trade any of those lessons.”

We also discussed the all-important work-life balance issue. Alma says this is a lesson she continues to try to learn.  One thing that impressed me very much was Alma’s willingness to take time to make the right decision.  She noted that most decisions aren’t as urgent as we may make them out to be.

“Giving a decision some time usually won’t hurt anyone,” she said, noting that there are true emergencies in her work from time to time, and that there is a need for timely decision-making in those situations.

Alma also achieves balance by giving her staff real trust to do the job she hired them to do.

“I am very fortunate to be surrounded by staff who take their jobs very seriously and do great work.  If I get in their way, it only hurts.  Staff want to be empowered, not micromanaged.”

She said that although mistakes happen, they can always be talked about and bounced back from, while micromanagement will never breed an empowered and competent staff member.

“Sometimes I’ve learned this in hard ways. But I value team.”

Alma also finds balance and motivation through giving back.  When we spoke, she was just wrapping up the season as a volunteer basketball coach for 2nd and 3rd graders.

“These are future college students.  What kinds of things do I want to say to them or role model for them? This keeps me going,” she said.

While Alma is motivated by her day to day work, she also said that much of her drive comes from her time away from the job – going to church, volunteering, spending time outdoors and with family.

“I also find motivation with my nieces and nephews. I think about what kind of things I want them to learn and understand, and how I want to make them feel valued,” she said.

Finally, I asked Alma if there was something she wishes someone had told her at the beginning of her career, or if there was any advice she had for a new professional.

“The first thing I would say is that you don’t have to know everything right away.  This is a journey, and you are always learning something—through your job experience or learning outside of your job description.  Enjoy the journey.”

She closed by saying, “it’s all about relationships” whether they are with your campus’s judicial office, those who respond to a mental health crisis, the board of trustees, or your vice president. “You really do catch more bees with honey than vinegar.  Create the network you need to do the best job possible. “


Our promise to the #wlsalt community was authenticity in our lives as women and leaders. We haven’t hesitated from vulnerability in expressing those things that may be uncomfortable, even for us to write and hear.

As we attended conferences over the past year, it felt as if the founding #wlsalt sisters were treated reverently, almost as if we were  celebrities. Comments like “you are amazing” or “I just met the fabulous” were tweeted and uttered unequivocally. We had to ask ourselves: Was it just because we had retweeted, commented on a blog post that inspired us, or reached out when we saw someone else experiencing something we had lived and breathed?

In retrospect, we realized that the #wlsalt loose, and sometimes fluid, connections were somehow conceived as rich, deep, and revered relationships. A club that required admittance, a membership which required an invitation. It elevated us to something that we aren’t and, in all candor, will never aspire to be….

on a pedestal.

It is a tenuous position for others to place us.

It is a dangerous place for us to live.

To be placed on a pedestal means that we lose the multi-layered, complex, and complicated dimensionality of who we are (race, ethnicity, socio-economic status, educational attainment, and privilege to identify a few) and the rich, vibrant histories from which we have emerged. It is uncomfortable to be seen as something more than we know we are, a mere image of what others have made us.

We wanted to reflect, as transparently as possible, what #wlsalt – Support, Affirm, Lift, and Transform - means to us. To bring us back to those words which have guided our intentions, actions, and interactions.


As much as we may want to deny or refute it, our personal lives profoundly affect our professional lives. We have been blessed hearing the stories.  The excitement of a campus interview. A colleague’s tears as she describes her struggles at work.  The trembling voice of yet another who is facing cancer and acknowledging  the prospect of leaving her young children behind. The doubts and fears of so many others who desire to finish the dissertation or take the next leadership leap yet, can’t break free from the competing demands of life.

These stories are a real part of our everyday existence. And, those experiences influence how we lead and how we see ourselves as leaders.

Our message of support is simply “You are not alone.”


Ironically, affirmation has nothing to do with us and our impression of who you are. It is about becoming the person each one of us was called to be. To be asked to give advice is an honor.

To suppress, ignore, or deny your calling and not listen to your own heart…  that is a grave mistake.

Our pathways, our leadership styles, and how we engage each other are all different. For that, we are exceedingly grateful. We each know that no one can walk the path, make the decisions, or experience the victories and trials each one of us is destined to face. We affirm just by being there.

We also want to affirm when we celebrate one of the most important victories that anyone can experience:  when you chose you over someone else’s version of you.

It is the first time we speak truth about where we are, the first time we tell someone that the advice that they are giving doesn’t fit, and the first time when we challenge someone’s assumptions about what they believe to be true about us.

That is the challenge against patriarchy and paternalism that we had hoped to inspire.

In those moments when we compare ourselves to others… the fears, insecurities, and doubts become weapons of mass destruction against those we lead, those with whom we partner, and most insidiously, in our interactions with other women whom we “aspire” to be.

Ultimately, affirmation is about unconditional acceptance. For ourselves and for others.


Our philosophy is that we lift as we lead. To be clear: Leadership is not just when we climb the ladder.  Leadership is lived in our everyday moments of action and interaction. Most importantly, it is not just with someone we like or someone who is like us. It is honoring those fundamental differences that, as human beings, we have in thought, perspective, worldview, contribution, and worth.

We lift when we honestly and self-reflectively look at ourselves and see ourselves with a sober reflection of who we really are at the core.

We lift when we challenge the elitism and entitlement of bestowed leadership, even our own conceptualizations and applications of it.

We lift as we honor another’s calling whether it is in choosing to aspire to higher leadership or honor the circumstances in her life at the moment.

We lift when we refrain from judgment about another and the choices that she is making.

We lift when we reject the notion that we know better than the woman who is walking in her own shoes.


We are committed to doing things differently.

We are committed to fighting the normative definitions of power and privilege by avoiding the re-creation of those structures which elevate others to a greater importance than they should be.

As much as we appreciate the compliments, we ask that you don’t see the lives we live as somehow better than the one you are currently living or, idealize our lives as something you should “aspire” to have.

We are talented, phenomenal, and gifted women. It is not because we tweet or because we reached out. It is because of who we are – real, whole, and flawed human beings.  We make mistakes. Our egos get in the way. We struggle with who we are as leaders, as women, as administrators, and as parents with tots and teens. We are ambitious, in our own unique ways, in our career aspirations and goals which are all fundamentally different. We don’t always agree. Some of us like taking the “lead,” others are more comfortable “behind the scenes.” Neither one is better than the other.

We transform leadership when we create a shared space that inspires others to be the best of who they are capable of being.  We transform a community when we honor and respect others who engage in that seemingly endless, although profoundly rewarding, journey.

How do we hope we do it?

The way we want to live as #wlsalt sisters is to honor and uplift those women who are

  • in our daily lives walking with us during our best and  worst moments,
  • in our self-defined communities when we are working together for the greater good,
  • on our campuses working side-by-side to enhance students’ experiences,
  • in the solid networks and deep relationships with those whom we have worked,
  • in our by-blood and by-choice families as we love our mothers, sisters, aunts, daughters, and
  • with our best friends who have been with us through thick and thin.

These are the women who are worthy of our unmitigated, unapologetic, and unadulterated praise, admiration, and respect.

These are the real sheroes in our lives.

31 Women: Susan Komives

Susan Komives

Susan Komives

How many of you read something by Susan Komives in your student affairs graduate program? How many of you used one of Susan’s books in your student leadership course or training? How many of you had the pleasure of working with Susan on a committee or board for NASPA, ACPA, or CAS? Student affairs could easily become six degrees of Susan Komives, but we truly might only need one degree.

Dr. Komives has been a pivotal in the development of scholarship around leadership. She is a professor of College Student Affairs at the University of Maryland and president of the Council for the Advancement of Standards (CAS) in Higher Education. But her accomplishments and influence on higher education and student affairs can best be summed up by the many people who have been touched by her. Here are just a few.

“She foundationally shaped the field of leadership studies in higher education through her own work and through mentoring the next generation of leadership scholars and professionals.” – Kris Renn, Michigan State University

“I have (as I’m sure most student affairs people have) admired Susan Komives from afar since graduate school when one of the major textbooks we had to buy was the “Komives, Woodard & Associates Student Services book” (AKA ‘ the Green Book’). But last year, I had the pleasure of getting to present an ed session on CAS at the ACPA convention with her, Gavin Henning, and Laura Bayless. Just thinking about it now, I can recall the feeling in my stomach when I was asked to be a part of the presentation team. I was being asked to present with THE Susan Komives!? What an honor!  I can honestly say that Susan is one of the kindest and most caring individuals to work with. She is incredibly warm, genuine, and reassuring. The session went great and I learned so much just in the short amount of time I was able to spend in preparation and planning with her, Gavin, and Laura. This year at ACPA, I was asked to once again, participate in a similar session. I was disappointed to have had a major conflict because of the leadership role I play in ACPA. But was honored to be included (again) and asked to participate in a session on CAS.  I was at two events at ACPA that honored Susan this year. She received the ACPA Lifetime Achievement Award on Monday at the Awards luncheon, and at the Business Meeting on Tuesday, a resolution was read honoring her retirement. Susan’s contributions to the field of student affairs are so numerous and impossible to count. I was never a student of hers at Maryland, but I know many, many who were. Her work lives on in their continuing contributions, research, journal articles, and presentations. What an incredible person and I can think of no better person to highlight during Women’s History Month than Susan Komives.” – Heather Gasser, University of Idaho

“Few individuals have had such an overwhelming impact on the field of student affairs as Dr. Susan R. Komives. She has influenced the lives of college students and contributed to the field as a practitioner, vice president, researcher, scholar, thought leader, internationally-renowned speaker, ACPA President, Council for the Advancement of Standards (CAS) President, co-founder of the National Clearinghouse for Leadership Programs, and perhaps most importantly, mentor. Susan’s influence on student affairs and higher education will continue long after her retirement through the lives she has touched, the scholars she has helped develop, and the practitioners she has inspired.” – Gavin Henning, Dartmouth College

“I owe my student affairs life to Susan Komives. In September 1983, I was a burnt out area coordinator who had already decided to leave the field at the end of the semester to follow my father into the construction business. It had been an incredibly rough year and I determined that I just didn’t have what it took to be a student affairs professional. I went to the CSPA-NYS conference in September (because I had already paid). Susan was the keynote speaker and her speech transformed my view on my experience. One thing she spoke about was the difference between a burnt out professional and a tired excited professional. I learned I was the latter. At that conference she spent time with me, listened to my tale of woe, and gave me good counsel. On my drive home I recommitted to student affairs and sent her a letter to that effect the next week, thanking her for changing the direction of my life.

Four years later at ACPA I was with a friend when we ran into Susan, who I assumed wouldn’t remember me. When my friend introduced us, Susan took my hand and turned to my friend and said, ‘Cheryl, you know those days when despite your best efforts you wonder if you are making a difference in people’s lives? Well, when I have those days, I open my desk drawer and take out and read a letter that I have read many times that says that I made a difference in at least one person’s life. That person is Patrick Love.’

From that day forward we have been dear friends and colleagues. We have written and presented together and are big fans of each other. Never doubt the ability to change the world through words, kindness, and the willingness to listen. Thank you again, Susan!”       -Patrick Love, Rutgers

The list of Dr. Komives’ accomplishments, awards, and awards named after her could fill pages. However, her heart and dedication to student affairs has been so much more than that.

A few weeks ago, while at NASPA, I joined a few friends at Lt. Dan Choi’s keynote address. After sneaking in at the last minute to join them, I realized that to my left, was Dr. Susan Komives. I offered my hand and whispered, “Hi, I’m Niki Rudolph.” With a smile and a quick shake, she responded, “Susan.” It seemed so fitting, so congruent with all that’s been said about her. Despite her accolades, she’s just Susan.

Well, Susan, we cannot thank you enough for your contributions to our understanding of students, to our development as professionals, and for your commitment to the profession. As you retire from the faculty and step down from CAS later this year, we know you will continue to be a big part of the student affairs family.

Susan Komives, ACPA 2010 Annual Convention

Susan Komives, ACPA 2010 Annual Convention

This is the final installment of a month-long effort to recognize amazing women leaders in student affairs. If you know of a wonderful leader, we encourage you to write your own blog to honor them or tell us about them in the comments. We thank you for reading throughout March, National Women’s History Month, for all the spotlights on great leaders.

31 Women: Jan Winniford

Jan Winniford

Jan Winniford

Since 2006, Jan Winniford has led the student affairs division at Weber State University, serving as the Vice President of Student Affairs there. However, her dedication to the professional development of the student affairs community, and her commitment to students far exceeds her time at Weber.

Prior to her time at Weber, Dr. Winniford served at Texas A&M University for over 26 years, finishing there as an Associate Vice President for Student Affairs and adjunct faculty member in the Student Affairs Administration in Higher Education Master’s program.

She completed her Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from the University of Texas at Austin, her Masters’s degree in Student Affairs Administration and Counseling Psychology from The Ohio State University, and her Ph.D. in Higher Education Administration at Texas A&M University.

To provide an idea of Dr. Winniford’s level of commitment to student affairs, here are examples of her service and recognition:

  • NASPA Region III Vice President from 2002-2004
  • John Koldus Award for Distinguished Service to NASPA, 2005
  • NASPA Pillar of the Profession, 2010
  • Conference Chair for NASPA 2009 national conference in Seattle
  • Board member of Scott Academy for Leadership and Executive Effectiveness
  • NASPA Board of Directors
  • NASPA Foundation Board of Directors
  • Program Chair for NASPA 2000 annual conference
  • Director of the NASPA Symposium for Women Aspiring to be Senior Student Affairs Officers
  • NASPA’s Mid-level Professionals Institutes and Alice Manicur Symposium for Women Aspiring SSAOs
  • Texas A&M University’s Distinguished Achievement Award for Student Relations in May 2000

We would like to thank Dr. Winniford for her service to students, for her teaching and mentoring of so many professionals, and for her dedication to our field.

This is a month-long effort to recognize amazing women leaders in student affairs. If you know of a wonderful leader, we encourage you to write your own blog to honor them or tell us about them in the comments. Keep watching throughout March, National Women’s History Month, for more spotlights on great leaders.

31 Women: Tisa Mason

Tisa Mason

Tisa Mason

In her post for the NASPA Women in Student Affairs community, Dr. Tisa Mason wrote, “I always have faith in the little things we all do to make a difference.” She continues to encourage the hearts and minds of students, staff, and faculty at Fort Hays State University, where she serves as the Vice President of Student Affairs, the first female in the role.

Prior to her work at Fort Hays, Dr. Mason served as the Dean of Student Life at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, the Executive Director of Sigma Kappa Sorority and Foundation, The Director of Student Life at Christopher Newport University, and the Assistant Dean of Students at Hanover College.

In addition to her work on campus, Dr. Mason is a past president of the National Interfraternity Conference Foundation (also the first female in that role), a former trustee for the Sigma Kappa Foundation, and is certified through the American Society of Association Executives. She is on the board for NASPA and the Association for Fraternal Leadership and Values (AFLV), and is President of the Center for the Study of the College Fraternity.

Dr. Mason received her Bachelor of Arts in sociology/anthropology from Transylvania University, her Master of Science in Education in Counseling and Guidance/Student Personnel Work in Higher Education from Eastern Illinois University, and her Doctor of Education in Higher Education from the College of William and Mary.

At William and Mary, she was also the recipient of the Galfo Research Award. Additionally, she received the Outstanding Advisor award while at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater.

We thank Dr. Mason for her continued work in encouraging students, staff, and faculty to be and do more, and we thank her for her wonderful example of leading from the heart. You can follow Dr. Mason on Twitter at @tamason.

This is a month-long effort to recognize amazing women leaders in student affairs. If you know of a wonderful leader, we encourage you to write your own blog to honor them or tell us about them in the comments. Keep watching throughout March, National Women’s History Month, for more spotlights on great leaders.

31 Women: Theresa Powell

Theresa Powell

Theresa Powell

Dr. Powell exemplifies the commitment and dedication that makes student affairs so effective. Since 2002, Dr. Theresa Powell has served as the Vice President for Student Affairs at Temple University. Prior to Temple, she served as Dean of Students and then Vice President for Student Affairs at Western Michigan University, and in positions with the Ohio Board of Regents and Wilberforce University in Ohio. She was also a tenured faculty member while at Western Michigan University.

Dr. Powell has a B.A in sociology and education from the University of Pennsylvania, an M.Ed. from Texas Christian University, and a Ph.D. from The Ohio State University.

Dr. Powell is a past president of NASPA and a NASPA Foundation board member. In addition to her many accomplishments, she has been recognized with:

  • 2008 recipient of the Fred Turner Award for Outstanding Service to NASPA
  • 2003 NASPA Pillar of the Profession
  • 2000 recipient of the prestigious Ohio State University Maude Stewart Award for contributions to higher education and student affairs

She has written and presented at regional and national conferences on student culture and diversity, student leadership, and professional development of women administrators. Dr. Powell is an active member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., in addition to community work in the Philadelphia area.

We would like to thank Dr. Powell for her leadership and dedication to students and her work in developing the student affairs work that we do.

This is a month-long effort to recognize amazing women leaders in student affairs. If you know of a wonderful leader, we encourage you to write your own blog to honor them or tell us about them in the comments. Keep watching throughout March, National Women’s History Month, for more spotlights on great leaders.

31 Women: Barbara Hancock Snyder

We thank Dr. Pat Whitely for her contribution of this post for #31women.

Barbara Snyder

Barbara Snyder

Barbara Hancock Snyder, the Vice President for Student Affairs at the University of Utah, is a terrific example of leadership and collaboration. She has served as Vice President at Utah since 1999 and previously served as Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs at the University of Nebraska at Kearney from 1988 – 1999. Barbara received her B.S. from The Ohio State University, her M.S. in Counseling from St. Cloud State University and the Ph.D. in Higher Education Administration from Iowa State University.

Described by her colleagues, students, and staff as “warm, caring, but always clear about expectations,” Barbara is widely recognized for her expertise in national public policy, Greek affairs, and executive compensation. She has also served as a long standing member of the NASPA Foundation and recently concluded her term as the Foundation’s Vice President. During her tenure, she was responsible for restructuring the board, increasing fund-raising, and leading a recently concluded strategic planning process.

In 2010, NASPA awarded Barbara the Scott Goodnight Award for Outstanding Performance as a Dean. This award is given to a lead student affairs officer who has demonstrated sustained professional service in student affairs work.

Barbara has been an exemplary leader in Student Affairs, contributing each and every day to her University of Utah community, while also being one of the key leaders in NASPA over the last decade… and for this, we say Thank You, Barb!

This is a month-long effort to recognize amazing women leaders in student affairs. If you know of a wonderful leader, we encourage you to write your own blog to honor them or tell us about them in the comments. Keep watching throughout March, National Women’s History Month, for more spotlights on great leaders.


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