The Interview USA
New Jersey Institute of Technology
Vice President for Student Affairs

Marybeth Boger

As the role of student affairs practitioners evolves, the imperative to embrace a holistic approach becomes increasingly apparent, recognizing that student success encompasses more than just grades. This understanding is central to the approach of Marybeth Boger, the Vice President for Student Affairs at the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT).

Marybeth sat down with Max Webber, Co-Host of The Interview, to share her perspective on topics such as the need for an inclusive environment where all students feel welcome and the importance of fostering respectful dialogue across divides.

Marybeth's Journey

Max: Let’s start with a brief introduction to yourself and your institution.

I’m Marybeth Boger, and I'm the Vice President for Student Affairs at the New Jersey Institute of Technology, also known as NJIT. We’re located in downtown Newark, New Jersey. NJIT is one of the leading Polytechnic research universities in the United States, with close to 13,000 students enrolled. We're primarily a STEM institution, but we also have other areas of study such as the school of architecture and our business school. While almost 90% of our students are from New Jersey, we also are home to about 1,500 international students from 87 different countries. We are known for being academically rigorous and producing excellent graduates who graduate and move on to successful careers. For us, prioritizing a holistic approach to fostering student success, encompassing both academic and personal development, is one of the key focal points of our mission. 

Max: I’d like to hear more about your journey. What inspired you to pursue a career in higher education?

I’ve been at NJIT for close to 20 years now. My journey began as the Director of the Learning Center, gradually transitioning through roles within the Office of the Dean of Students, ultimately leading to my current position for the past five years. With a lifelong dedication to education, dating back to my high school days of tutoring and mentoring students, my initial pursuit of an undergraduate degree as a teacher shifted as I became aware of the broader impact I could have outside of the classroom. Overall, this fueled my commitment to championing student success through mentorship and support. 

Max: What’s your approach to cultivating a sense of inclusion and belonging for all students from different walks of life?

It is important to begin by understanding your students' backgrounds and needs. To meet their needs, you must first comprehend who they are. When we discuss inclusion and belonging, we need to ask ourselves what it means for an individual to truly feel like they belong. I never want to assume that I understand someone's sense of belonging, so it is essential to have conversations with students to gain insight into what they need to feel included. Once we have educated ourselves, we must also educate the university community in all areas. Ultimately, everyone in the learning community has a role in creating an inclusive and welcoming environment.

Max: How do you endeavor to get every student involved when it comes to embracing inclusion and belonging?

It can be challenging to get all members of our student body involved in embracing inclusion and belonging. For me, the starting point is providing opportunities for our students to articulate what it means for them to feel included. What does it mean for them to have a sense of belonging? At NJIT, we have more than 150 clubs and organizations that a student may join. Some of our organizations are culturally/identity based, allowing students an opportunity to make meaningful connections. We encourage students to engage so that they feel a part of the university. There is something here for everyone or an opportunity for one to start their own club or organization. I believe our students know that they have the support of the NJIT community whether it be faculty, staff, or other students.  

Max: Free speech has become a contentious issue on college campuses. How can we encourage students to have constructive conversations across difference?

As a university, it is important to establish clear expectations and community standards at the start of any program we run. Our goal is to encourage students to express their own views while also being respectful of others’ perspectives. We want our students to understand that there are multiple viewpoints, and there may not be one right answer. To this end, we create listening spaces where students can come together to discuss important issues. Students need to feel safe. With the upcoming election, our focus is not on influencing how our students vote, but rather on educating them about their civic duty and the importance of participating in this democratic process. By encouraging our students to vote, we empower them to have their voices heard and to be a part of the change they want to see in their community. 

Max: How has the Student Affairs landscape changed in the aftermath of the pandemic?

There are two main areas: mental health, and engagement. We have a population of students that, for two years, really engaged with their academics separated from the university. After the pandemic, it was critical to help students learn to either connect for the first time or reconnect with the university. Many students were desperate to have these opportunities, but returning to campus can also be intimidating, so we also needed to teach them how to ask for help. We found multiple ways to share and encourage students to utilize resources available on campus. Students were used to being online, so we continued to grow our following on social media to keep students informed. We also had to think outside the box with how we were going to deal with the rising need for mental health support. We've seen a rise in anxiety, depression, and even suicidal ideation. Not every student is ready to enter a Counseling Center; we recognized that we needed to meet the students on their own terms. One thing we’ve implemented is bringing telehealth to the university, and engaging with mental health companies to provide online mental health services for student support. This has been an excellent additional resource for students with accessibility needs or who are not comfortable talking to someone face-to-face. One of the key pieces for us is addressing issues of loneliness and isolation. If a student does not feel comfortable coming to us, we will provide avenues for services to reach them.

Max: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

Always show up as your authentic self. You can’t always understand everything students are going through but it is important that they see you as a person who is willing to try to understand and help. It is our job to ensure that they are prepared academically and personally to begin their professional journey.  

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