The Interview USA
Bowling Green State University
Vice President for Student Engagement and Success

Glenn Davis

At the heart of transformative education lies a simple yet profound principle: putting students first. This approach is at the heart of the work done by Glenn Davis, Vice President for Student Engagement and Success at Bowling Green State University.

Glenn sat down with Max Webber, Co-Host of The Interview, to share his insights about the importance of a multi-level support system, promoting civil discourse on campus, and fostering a sense of belonging for all students. 

Glenn's Journey

Max: Can we start with an introduction to yourself and your current role?

I’m Vice President for Student Engagement and Success at Bowling Green State University, a mid-sized public university in Northwest Ohio with about 18,000 students in total. We're highly focused on student success. We also take our position in our immediate community very seriously, while at the same time looking at the state, regional, and global impact of our students, staff, and faculty.

Max: How did you arrive in your current role?

I've been in this position for about nine months, and it’s in the new division of Student Engagement and Success. Our focus as a division is to make sure that our students can take fullest advantage of everything that we have to offer at BGSU and that they graduate with the confidence, resilience, and skills that they need to be successful in their career and their lives. With that as our primary objective, we’ve worked backward to determine how we can best design an experience that will help students achieve their goals.

I have a traditional faculty background. I was an English professor for about 15 years at an institution in Minnesota and started to become interested in student success as a discipline in 2012. I ended up with an opportunity to learn more about student success through the Reimagining the First Year project, sponsored by AASCU. That experience introduced me to resources, research, and most importantly, people who were doing this really important work. Then, four years ago, I came to Bowling Green as a Vice Provost, where I had several different responsibilities, one of which was Student Success. My current role is an evolution of that position.

Max: What's the key focus for you in terms of ensuring students can succeed at your institution?

We recognize the need to address three levels of the student experience. First, we focus intensely on individual students and ensure they are getting expert faculty mentoring, academic advising, and coaching. Additionally, we have case management for students who are experiencing complex challenges and are in need of support. We are also careful to develop strategies that impact populations of students - by affinity, major, scholarship program, and so on. Finally, we’ve taken a close look at our systems and structures to ensure that they are serving all of our students in an equitable way. 

Max: What’s your approach to fostering a sense of belonging for students of all backgrounds?

Belonging is one of our focuses when designing experiences for our students, particularly as they're making the transition into our institution. It all begins with orientation, making sure students get off on the right foot. But when we are developing any initiatives, we have to understand that everybody has their own idea of what belonging looks like. For some students, it’s having access to affinity groups, but for others, it might be a connection to a student organization, an academic program, or a faculty-led research group. We are very intentional in helping our students understand what opportunities are available to them, what resources they can access, and how to get connected. We want students to try things out early to discover if they are right for them.

Max: Students have many demands on their time, and it can be hard to get everyone engaged. How do you make sure that all students are aware of key practices and behaviors?

We use a guiding question on our campus to help make sure that these conversations are always front and center. For example, what would our university look like if it established the conditions and systems to support the academic, financial, and social-emotional needs of its students? It's a challenging question, but it gets to the heart of what we need to do for our students to empower them to be successful. So when we are developing activities, initiatives, and programs, we keep that question at the center of the design and assessment process. We need to make sure that our students have opportunities not only to connect with others who may share similar interests or backgrounds, but also to expand those circles as well, to be open to connecting with students, faculty, and staff with different experiences.

Max: How can we encourage students to engage in civil discourse across difference?

We absolutely want our students to have a strong understanding of how to engage in meaningful and civil discourse, and also what it means to do so as members of a community. So we want folks to be able to engage broadly, and at the same time, to recognize the impact their speech may have on their fellow community members. To accomplish this goal, we hold a number of different speaker sessions and workshops and also encourage our student organizations to bring in speakers who are of interest to their groups. 

Max: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received in your career?

Put students at the heart of everything. You need to center their experience and let that guide your direction. And most of all, you need to be transparent – let students know that they matter.

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