Maxwell’s advisory board has a vital role in guiding the school’s efforts in diversity, equity and inclusion. At a recent Maxwell School Advisory Board meeting, member Mary Daly G’91, G’94 posed a question—or perhaps it was a challenge. As she…
Shelley Crawford in the Dean of Students Office Helps Guide Students with Caring and Commitment to Their Success
Two years as a mentor to nine Posse Scholars from Miami had a profound and lasting impact on Shelley Crawford.
Crawford ’13 was assistant director of special programs with the Office of Financial Aid and Scholarship Programs in 2014 when she was recommended to take on the extra role of Posse mentor. The University partners with the Posse Foundation, a nationwide initiative, to provide full tuition and youth leadership opportunities to high-achieving public high school students from diverse backgrounds.
“I remember going to program training in Miami and thinking, ‘what have I committed to? I already have three children of my own and now I’m adding nine,’” Crawford says. “When I met the students, it was just so much energy.”
Her reservations, however, were only for a moment. “I wanted to do it because I was ready to help students holistically,” she says.
During her time as mentor, Crawford held group meetings with the tight-knit group and one-on-one conversations to check in on how they were acclimating academically and socially.
The mentoring was part of the program for the first two years but her commitment and the connections Crawford made with the students continue today.
“I told them from day one we’re family. I’m still connected with them today. They all graduated in 2018, and they all have jobs,” Crawford says. “They changed my life—they made me more aware of what I wanted to do. I’ve always had a love and a passion to help students as a whole.”
Crawford was able to pursue that passion as she transitioned in June to a new role as a case manager in the Dean of Students Office, where she helps guide students to resources they may need academically, personally or financially. It wasn’t easy to leave her position she enjoyed in financial aid, the students she worked with and her colleagues, but it was an opportunity for growth and a chance to grow deeper connections with students.
“I was always seeking ways to see how I can be of benefit to them and impact their lives through my role on campus,” Crawford says.
In the Dean of Students Office, Crawford works with a team that assists students with finding the right resources and solutions to the concerns and challenges they may be facing. Students can make appointments with staff members or can be referred to the office from another campus office or another student or faculty member.
Crawford enjoys learning about the students and lets them know they are heard—and that they are cared about. “Hearing their stories, how active they are and how they want to impact their communities, it’s just so rewarding,” she says. “It’s important they know there is someone here they can talk to who will be there during a time of crisis and on their graduation day.”
Crawford, who was born in Syracuse and graduated from Corcoran High School, has been building toward her current role since she started at the University 21 years ago. She started at University College, working part time with the Arthur O. Eve Higher Education Opportunity Program (HEOP) and financial aid, before moving into the Office of Financial Aid full time in 2008.
Crawford approached her work in financial aid as if she were the student and what she would need to know. “What are the new policies or what is it in the application process that may be making it difficult to get the information,” Crawford says. “Many times it is just someone taking the time to help the family understand the information.”
Crawford worked closely with specialized programs for underrepresented and first-generation college students—such as HEOP, KIPP (Knowledge is Power Program), Liberty Partnerships Program, On Point for College, Student Support Services Program and Posse, to name a few. She connected with the campus partners and organizations that directed the programs to provide feedback and see how she and the University could be of service to the programs to better benefit the students.
For efforts to assist On Point for College with building efficiencies in their process, Crawford and two of her colleagues were awarded the Campus Angel Award from On Point, which provides support services for prospective college students in Syracuse’s inner city. “You just never think you’ll be recognized for going above and beyond because if it’s second nature to you, you just do it,” she says.
During her time with financial aid, Crawford also piloted an inclusion and diversity training program for all financial aid staff members centered on Division of Enrollment and the Student Experience values: inclusion, trust, compassion, respect, courage, transparency and service.
Among the many highlights of her time with financial aid, getting to know the students was something she cherished. She attended their events at the end of the academic year and was excited to see them graduate, as she followed their journeys from first-year students. “I’m really proud of them,” Crawford says. “I wanted them to know we want you here and we want you to be successful.”
Along the way of helping students find success, the mother of three—to Yakira, Talia and Jyriar—found time to pursue a bachelor’s degree in social work from the Falk College of Sport and Human Dynamics. “Through the program and the field experience, I walked away with such a knowledge base of human kind and how you can impact people’s lives—and that was my goal,” says Crawford, who graduated in 2013.
Crawford had three motivations in getting her degree: for her own personal growth, the chance to impact people and wanting to make her children and family proud. “I am proud to be a first-generation college graduate,” says Crawford, who will graduate from Bay Path University with a master’s degree in higher education in May. “It brings tears to my eyes because of the journey that I’ve traveled, and I’m always trying to inspire students—both traditional and nontraditional.”
Keith A. Alford, chief diversity and inclusion officer and director and associate professor, School of Social Work in the Falk College, has known Crawford since she was a social work student and has seen how she cares for students. “Shelley has always impressed me as being a person who elevates the successes of students,” Alford says. “She values diversity and inclusion, and puts it in the forefront of her efforts.”
The students and families she’s connected with have also recognized her commitment.
Crawford’s office has special mementoes from students and families—among them, a sculpture done by a student; a decorative African symbol that means “grace,” given to her by a grateful mother; photos; and handwritten sticky notes from Posse students during a retreat, that tell Crawford “you are amazing” and “you are loved.”
These are the reminders that makes Crawford think often of her life quote by Theodore Roosevelt: “People don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.”
“That is an embedded thread of who I am,” Crawford says. “I know a lot of the information, but the way I communicate about the resources lets you know how much I care for you.”