Shaka Sydnor focuses on relationships to help students flourish
The Dean of Students Office is committed to offering support to students so they thrive during their time at Virginia Tech. More importantly to students and families, it is a place to start when they have questions or problems.
The Dean of Students Office is staffed with mentors and advocates who can point them in the right direction; be a sounding board; and help with personal, social, and academic challenges. That includes everything from food assistance and medical care to crisis and emergency response, first-generation student support, interfaith programs, new student and family programs, and disability services. The Dean of Students Office often serves in a coordinating role for multiple resources throughout the university. It is a busy place.
As associate dean of students and director of Dean of Students Office, Shaka Sydnor keeps things going, providing oversight for the office, its team, programs, and operations. Sydnor also engages with colleagues in Student Affairs; with academic deans, department heads, faculty, and academic advisors; throughout Virginia Tech’s campuses; and with partners beyond campus.
“My goal is to continue to learn about Virginia Tech and to make myself available so that Virginia Tech can continue to learn about me,” said Sydnor. “I believe that relationships are vital to supporting students, so I plan to use the summer to engage with colleagues and students across campus and learn what I can so that our team can be the best advocates for student success.”
Sydnor’s position is a new one. He came to Virginia Tech in February from the University of Virginia, where he had been assistant dean of students since 2016.
“One of the things that I have loved since coming to Virginia Tech is the innovative energy across the university,” Sydnor said. “It’s been energizing to come into a division that is thinking differently about the way we interact with, develop, and educate our students. We’re not content with doing something because we’ve always done it that way. We’re challenging our students and ourselves to think about how we can do this differently. That’s one of the coolest things about coming to Tech. That was something that stood out to me when I was a candidate for the position and something that I have continued to see since I started a few months ago.”
Two summers ago, Student Affairs broadened the portfolio of the dean of students to include New Student and Family Programs and Services for Students with Disabilities. “During this reorganization, it became necessary to have a leader who would be able focus exclusively on the programmatic and operational aspects of the Dean of Students Office,” said outgoing Dean of Students Byron Hughes. Hughes will begin a new role as assistant vice chancellor for student life and dean of students at the University of Tennessee on July 1.
“With the breadth and depth of the services offered by the Dean of Students Office, Shaka’s role is an essential one,” said Martha Glass, assistant vice president for administration for Student Affairs, recently named interim dean of students. “He makes it possible for the team to fulfill its commitment to assist and advocate for students, from orientation to graduation.”
Sydnor said he is looking forward to several new and expanded initiatives. They include serving more students who are experiencing food insecurity through The Market of Virginia Tech; growing both the Aurora Interfaith Living-Learning Community and the GenerationOne Living-Learning Community for first-generation college students; and ensuring that students experiencing financial hardship are able to access emergency resources through the Student Emergency Fund or other short-term resources.
“As Student Affairs embarks on the new residential well-being model for on-campus housing this fall, we have transitioned Tara Frank into the new role of assistant dean for residential case management and support,” said Sydnor. “In her new role, Tara will co-lead a team of five staff members within residential well-being and develop a coordinated case management model to ensure students have access to the Dean of Students Office and other resources across campus.”
Other members of the Virginia Tech dean of students team are:
· Tess Blethyn, assistant dean of students, who provides oversight for food insecurity support initiatives and is the embedded dean for the Roanoke campus.
· Tamara Cherry-Clarke, assistant dean for first-generation student success, who provides oversight for first-generation initiatives and is program director for GenerationOne: A First-Generation Living-Learning Community at Virginia Tech.
· Kimberly Gautier, administrative manager, who manages operational needs and administrative case management.
· Phillip Hernandez de Wright, assistant dean of students, who provides oversight for the Student Emergency Fund and scholarship program and is the embedded dean for the greater Washington, D.C., metro area.
· JillAnn Knonenborg, assistant dean for interfaith leadership, who provides oversight for interfaith engagement initiatives, is program director for Aurora: An Interfaith Living-Learning Community at Virginia Tech, and is liaison to campus Faith Communities at Virginia Tech – the campus ministry collective.
· Abbey Rowe Erwin, graduate assistant, who offers support to off-campus life initiatives and assistance to first-generation student support.