First-year students and transfer students in their first year who have already achieved academic success at the University were honored at the Success Scholars reception Feb. 23. The Success Scholars program recognizes new students who earned a GPA of 3.75…
Helping Students Reach Their Potential With Steve Herndon, Assistant Vice President for Student Living
Living in a residence hall on North Campus or an apartment on South Campus is more than just a place to rest your head at night for students. They find friendships, build community and develop relationships that can sometimes last a lifetime.
It’s also a place students can learn, thrive and develop into leaders.
Steve Herndon, the University’s new assistant vice president for student living, is excited to lead a team responsible for helping students find their community and realize their potential through their housing experiences.
In January, Herndon came to Syracuse from the University of Dayton with a reputation as a respected leader in residential education, housing and student development, combining the valuable ways residential living both builds a strong community and impacts a student’s holistic development.
“My job is essentially creating a structure that clearly defines our contributions and approach to how we’re going to partner with students in their learning and development, around community engagement, around identity and belonging and around health and safety,” Herndon says. “These are all critical experiences and values for our students’ success at the University.”
On this “’Cuse Conversation,” Herndon discusses how his team helps students reach their full potential, why Syracuse University was the perfect fit for the next chapter in his career as a leader in higher education and the profound role residential living plays on campus.
01What made Syracuse University and Student Experience the perfect fit for the next chapter of your career as a leader in higher education?
When I made the decision to leave my former institution, the University of Dayton, after being there for 19 years, I was looking for a new experience, but also looking for an experience where the environment would be conducive for my success and my ability to thrive. That’s being in an environment that’s truly committed to the holistic development of its students and staff, and in an environment where my identities are welcomed and affirmed. So far in my six months, that’s been my experience.
Why I love student living and see the potential of student living here at Syracuse is because our students learn a lot of valuable information and develop critical skills for their development through our communities. That’s what student living stands for, community engagement, identity and belonging.
02How does one go about tackling the monumental task of bringing together our first-year students and helping them develop a community?
It starts with how are we preparing and training our staff to be able to help implement what we want for our students and their experiences so they’re able to become those active learning partners? We’ve got to be prepared to make sure that our environments are such that people know that they matter and they know they belong. That starts individually as we build relationships.
How accurately are we communicating our values and the value of the student living experience to our students? Are we creating environments where I can walk in and know that I’ve been thought about, that someone cares about me and that someone knows that I exist?
How are we helping our students to understand and normalize some of the parts of the experience that feel extraordinary because they make them feel uncomfortable? As we build those relationships and get to that place of trust, we also want to help them to understand and normalize discomfort, which is going to be a natural part of the experience.
03You earned both a bachelor's and a master's degree in English from North Carolina State University. What inspired you to make the transition from English degree recipient to become a respected leader in student and residential learning?
I’ve always loved learning, even as a child. I was a resident advisor when I was an undergraduate, but when I graduated, I accepted a teaching assistantship in the English department. While I loved learning, at the time I didn’t see my place being in the classroom.
It all started when I accidentally ran into a former supervisor on campus, and she mentioned there was a residence director position becoming available in the spring, and that I should apply. I applied and was offered the position. It was in graduate school that I determined that I could live out my passion for learning and development through student affairs, primarily through housing. My official career began in graduate school as a residence director providing direct supervision for resident advisors in one of the residence halls on campus.
Being an English major helps you appreciate and become comfortable with the interplay between the frontstage and the backstage as I call it. How individuals show up in the foreground or on the front stage is often influenced by backstage experiences and narratives. For me, an effective educator is one who can ask the right questions to gain an understanding of the backstage narrative and experiences that are influencing how one is showing up in the foreground. That’s been very helpful for me in my supervisory relationships and providing overall support, asking questions to get a better understanding of what’s beneath the surface that I don’t know and can’t see.
Note: This conversation was edited for brevity and clarity.