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Diverse Conversations: The Crucial Role of Student Life

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In this installment of "Diverse Conversations," I sat down with Dr. Marcus Chanay, Vice President of the Division of Student Life at Jackson State University. Dr. Chanay is a expert in the area of student life, having spent a decade helping to shape and mold his department. In this interview, he discusses the crucial role that student life plays within the modern university. Without further ado, let's begin.

Q: What role does student life play at a medium-sized urban HBCU?

Student Life plays a vital role in the holistic development of students especially at HBCU's. At Jackson State University we meet the students where they are and ensure they are competitive in this global world and are successful citizens. We believe in developing their mind, body and spirit as they are engaging in their academic pursuant. We work with our students in becoming civic minded professionals. All students are required to have a minimum of 120 hours of community service and or service learning hours to graduate from Jackson State University. For our student engaging in the community the University has received the Carnegie Foundation Award for the Advancement of Teaching for our Community Engagement Classification through 2014 and the 2010 President's High Honor Roll for Commitment to service.

As a medium sized HBCU we are engage our students in leadership through our Center for Student Leadership and Inclusion which our 120 Student Organizations are housed and our Student Leadership Institute. As a medium sized HBCU we are preparing our students for graduate and professional school and careers through our Career Services Center. Our students participate in our Tigers2Work which alerts them of employees on campus, graduate professional day, Military Day, Federal Works Forum, Internships and Career Fair. Our goal is to ensure we provide as many opportunities to ensure students success.

Q: What is the relationship between student life and the academic program?

The relationship between student life and academics is seamless. Our Service Learning offering is a great example for the past 10 years Student Life and Academic Affairs have had a great relationship in developing service learning courses and ensuring all students enrolled in these courses have off-campus sites to ensure their success. We established a Service Learning Fellows program which Deans and Chairs make faculty recommendations. Through this year long process faculty were coached in learning how to develop their courses to involve a service learning component. We now have course offerings for all five academic colleges.

Q: Please talk more about student life in the context of Jackson State University's Strategic Plan. What excites you and what possibilities do you see?

The Division of Student Life was very much a part of the University's Strategic Plan. The University believes every student has an opportunity to be a leader and every student should be engaged in the community through civic engagement. This is a very exciting time at the University where we believe there is only "One JSU." From the moment our students step on campus to when they walk across the stage at commencement, we as a University believe students are our priority. Engaging our students in community service gives them an opportunity to give back. These students are our future so we want to ensure our preparation ensures their success. We want our students to believe they are future leaders of tomorrow in their perspective disciplines. Our President Dr. Carolyn Meyers fully understands this and fully believes in the "One". In her vision it's all about the students, without our students, where would we be.

Q: How do you, as Vice President for the Division of Student Life, interact with students?

As Vice President I totally enjoy the interaction with students. I make myself assessable and support students and student organizations in their endeavors. I believe in walking the campus, hanging out with students in the Student Center. Involvement with students keeps the pulse going. I have an open door policy for all students and will go all the way with students to help them achieve their goals. I am a mentor to many current and former students, something that I do not take lightly.

Q: What do you think are the biggest challenges facing college students today?

There are many challenges I thing that students are facing today, trying for find the ability to afford college tuition. Many of our students struggle each semester with trying to pay for school. The sad part about many students is they have debt from undergraduate and they have not even stepped into a graduate program and they are unsure of what they want to do. Students come to college with dreams of what they want to do or what mom, dad, grandparents want them to do but are underprepared. Students are also faced with trying to find themselves. They are not sure who they are or really what they really want out of life. Social media has taken over our students. They tend to be more engaged in Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, etc., instead of books.

Q: What are some of the biggest changes you've witnessed during your time at Jackson State University?

The biggest changes at Jackson State are the combination of facilities, academic offerings and support services being offered. I have been at the University since 2001. In that time I have seen the construction of our Walter Payton Recreational & Wellness Center, Student Center, College of Liberal Arts, College of Business, Campbell College Suites, Engineering Building, Johnson Hall, One Jackson Place and the renovation of Dixon Residence Hall and the Reddix Office Complex. I have seen and experienced academic offerings increase which includes our engineering program, Ph.D. in Urban Higher Education and the establishment of the School of Lifelong Learning, to name a few. These past 12 years I have seen the development of many support services for our students which include Center for Service and Community Engaged Learning, Center for Student Leadership and Inclusion, JSU Veteran Center, University Commuter Program, Parents Program and the Latasha Norman Center for Counseling and Disability Services.


Q: What's your proudest accomplishment in your time here?

I have many proud accomplishments at the University. The one that rally stands out is when this student from New Orleans, LA came to the University as a freshman in the Fall Semester of 2005, the same fall that Hurricane Katrina hit. The hurricane hit during the first week of the semester beginning. This student was one that was hanging with the wrong crowd and found himself getting into trouble during freshmen orientation. When the Hurricane hit his family was displaced. This actually increased his acting out. In his first semester, he was in trouble at least three times and was on the verge of being suspended from school, at that time I was the Dean of Students. I and two other co-workers decided to take this student under our wings. As we begin to learn more about him, he begins to trust us and slowly began to pull away from his crew that he was hanging with. The trust led him to improve in grades which lead to a summer intern, which led to him graduating with honors participating in several student organizations and going on to pursue a M.B.A and is now successful and working for a fortune 500 company.

Well, that concludes my interview with Dr. Marcus Chanay. I would like to thank him for consenting to this interview and for his contributions to the field of higher education.