Being able to change and shape the organizational culture of an institution, regardless of where you’re positioned in it, is important to remember when it comes to including students and staff alike in university processes. Often, it leads to more equitable and effective outcomes for all.
Amy Hecht, Vice President (VP) for Student Affairs at Florida State University, sat down with Kitty Hadaway, GoodCourse Universities Lead, to discuss her journey into HE, making progress on student safety, and more.
I’m Amy Hecht. I’ve been at Florida State for five years. My role is VP for Student Affairs. It covers all of the outside-the-classroom elements of university life: residential; fraternity and sorority life; recreation; counselling; health services and more.
For so many of us, it’s our undergrad experience. I didn’t know you could work on college campuses, but I was very involved in student government and my sorority. I’d come to get a degree, but I ended up spending more time outside of the classroom with my advisors.
I worked for my sorority doing travelling consulting, at about 60-70 universities doing training for college campuses, and then I went on to graduate school. I enjoy student affairs because it’s so diverse, from relationship development to orientation, you’re never doing the same thing. Different generations of students also bring different challenges.
We try to make sure we’re serving our students really well and addressing their needs, but also the needs of the industry that will hopefully hire them.
I love to learn, so I enjoy being surrounded by academics and research. We try to make sure we’re serving our students really well and addressing their needs, but also the needs of the industry that will hopefully hire them.
We still see students take online courses, which is mainly for flexibility. Students are really committed to extra-curricular activities, meeting in our lounge spaces, and taking part in sororities and fraternities. Because many of our students didn’t get their first year on campus, we’re seeing a bit of awkwardness around managing the campus environment, roommate conflicts, et cetera.
We have a lot of our students living off campus. Many are wanting to move on campus, which has been an interesting shift. For this generation who missed out on so much, they want that traditional university experience, living in halls with a roommate, and we weren’t prepared.
We have a multi-tiered approach. Even though the majority of our students live in the community, it’s very much a college town, so we tend to know where students are, even if they’re not on campus proper.
Crime in Tallahassee is up, and we know apartments can be targets when students move away for the holidays, so we encourage due diligence.
We do a lot of training around Title IX and have a robust reporting mechanism around this. We also have a variety of teams: case management deal with victims of crime or serious injury; we have teams that remove the red tape so they can get what they need and get back to class. We have confidential reporting which means people can access support too. We also have teams that deal with mental health crises.
One of the tenets of organizational learning is that regardless of where you’re positioned, you’re able to change and shape culture — positively or negatively. We get together once a month and I’ve just hired a Director of Culture and People. This position will temperature-check the culture of the institution, especially looking out for whether culture is negatively affecting someone’s morale or their ability to do their job.
Communication is key, especially between teams. Students don’t experience things as separate entities.
Be open. It’s a journey and there are so many different paths. Be open to learning and to new experiences.
Lorri White, who is a relatively new HE leader at De Paul University. Pat Whiteley at the University of Miami, is a great VP. Jason Pina — we’ve done some great projects together. Ainsley Carey, one of my first mentors; and Teresa Powell, VP at Temple University, who also gave me opportunities. Felicia Lee, VP and Chief of Staff, who is now a corporate leadership coach — she taught me many important lessons.
What Got You Here Won’t Get You There. When I transitioned into a different role, it helped me develop self-awareness, make myself a bit uncomfortable and acquire new skills for a new role.