Updated: April 5, 4:50 p.m.
By Laura de Leon
President Maria Hernandez Ferrier formally introduced the university’s new vice president for student affairs this week.
Oklahoma native Melissa Mahan began employment Monday and thanked the university’s student affairs staff for their support during War Room, a communications meeting where program leaders make announcements on university events and development.
“I want to provide a stability and leadership for the staff that is there,” Mahan said during an earlier interview with The Mesquite. She said they have a great staff in place and her position will help with strategic planning for the services they are providing, and enhance student retention and support for the university’s strategic goals.
One priority is “making sure that the services that we have really enhance student engagement,” Mahan said.
Ferrier said Mahan comes to A&M-San Antonio with an “incredible resume.” Mahan’s previous experience working with student affairs—in a student demographic that resembles A&M-San Antonio—was one strength which Ferrier said made her a strong candidate.
Mahan sits on several boards including the Council for the advancement of Standards in Higher Education in Washington, D.C.
“She has the depth and breadth for everything we are looking for in student affairs,” Ferrier said.
The Handbook of Student Affairs Administration, a guide for student affairs practitioners, backs Ferrier’s emphasis on a diverse skill set.
Still a relatively new field, the field of Student Affairs is a growing sector, especially in American universities where, the author says, student affairs programs were first developed in response to “changing roles of students in higher education.”
Campus officials say the position was developed to provide leadership, direction and a general oversight for all the aspects of student affairs. The vice president for student affairs position was initially held by Mary Ann Grams. When she vacated the position, Kenneth Mitts, vice president for finance and administration, stepped in as “acting” until Mahan’s start date.
During Tuesday’s meeting, Ferrier thanked Mitts, “for stepping up during this challenging time.” Mitts managed student affairs for nine months while a national search for the student affairs leader was conducted.
In a recent interview, Mahan said she will oversee enrollment management, admissions, registrar, financial aid, career services, disability, student life and wellness, student activities, international student services and mental health counseling.
Mahan’s previous experience as associate dean of student affairs at the Broken Arrow startup satellite campus at Northeastern State University, she says, gave her confidence and a boost for a new challenge.
“I’ve developed all of their student service area at (Broken Arrow),” she said, adding that currently everything is up and running really well.
With approximately eight years in higher education employment, Mahan said she was hired at Broken Arrow to develop a student services area.
Mahan said she and her husband were looking to relocate and began a search in San Antonio because of the weather and the interest to retire there. While looking for possible positions, she noticed that Texas A&M-San Antonio was a startup university and was interested because she thought it was a good fit with her previous skills and development at Northeastern State University.
“I feel like the skills that I have could really benefit this campus,” she said. “I was excited that it was a startup because I did that before.”
Mahan said it takes a really different skillset to be able to develop from the ground up. She said she knows what it takes to work in a start-up university position and is prepared and likes to be challenged. This is one reason she was excited to apply for the position.
Current enrollment at this university is substantially less than the approximately 10,000 students enrolled at Northeastern State University. Enrollment at A&M-San Antonio grew about 190 percent from fall 2008 to fall 2012 and projected enrollment growth for fall 2015 is 6,000 students.
The uniqueness of the vice president for student affairs position at A&M-San Antonio, she said, is that there is no template to go by. Unlike other universities that have had time to develop a written policy, her position will allow her to be creative and develop the area from scratch.
“What works at one campus, may not work at a startup campus,” you have totally different demographics.
The median age at A&M-San Antonio is 35, but also includes students that are 18 through 80. Mahan said an adult learner has a very different need, than a traditional age student.
“Yes they all need to graduate but the way they get there is very different,” Mahan said.
With full time jobs, life circumstances and juggling priorities, she said, the services that need to be provided on a non-traditional campus are going to look different.
She said because of her experiences she understands the different needs in all ages and learner types. She said she is ready to work with the existing staff to plan for services that will benefit all students.
Mahan said she was interviewed by multiple A&M-San Antonio students. After meeting with them, she said, the concerns on A&M-San Antonio’s campus reflect issues she has seen in her previous position. During the meetings, Mahan suggested the development of a student advisory board to act as a sounding board to her decisions.
“That was one of the things that I really enjoyed, meeting with those students and see if they would be receptive to something like that, and of course they were,” she said.
Mahan said the students she met with were very bright and talented, and the general feel at A&M-San Antonio was what she is familiar with.
Eva Mullen, social science senior and jaguar ambassador, was one of the students that met with Mahan during the interview process for the vice president for student affairs position earlier this year. Mullen said students also provided feedback to the university after they met with candidates.
In a Feb. 6 email, Mullen said students should care about the potential candidate and the responsibility they will have because “as a student, this position is a vital part of almost all aspects of a student’s daily life at (A&M-San Antonio).”
Ferrier said in there was about 40 applicants. She said the national search was narrowed down to three candidates by a search committee that included faculty, staff and students. The final decision to hire Mahan, she said, was then made through consensus.
“I’m just really very excited to be there,” Mahan said. “I’m looking forward to working with the students.”
Mahan’s general message to students is to make sure they know that she and the university student life and wellness administrators are there to provide the opportunity to learn and grow.
“We are here to help students succeed and we want to make sure they understand where to find those resources,” Mahan said.
Mahan said she has an open door policy and is open to student suggestions. Her office is located at Main Campus Building in the Welcome Center.