The Interview USA
Georgia State University
Vice President for Student Engagement

Michael Sanseviro

With a growing focus on diversity and inclusion, it’s imperative that Higher Education institutions across the world create a sense of belonging for the different communities they serve. For Michael Sanseviro, Vice President for Student Engagement at Georgia State University, this not only means creating spaces where communities can come together but also promoting education and engagement between individuals of different backgrounds. 

Michael took the time to speak with Chris Mansfield, Co-Host of The Interview, to share how Georgia State facilitates cross-community dialogues, and how Student Services can prepare students to broach differences and develop lifelong communication skills. 

Michael's Journey

Chris: Let’s start with a brief introduction to yourself and your institution… 

I’m Michael Sanseviro, the Vice President for Student Engagement at Georgia State University, one of the top ten largest universities in America. We are a minority-serving institution – for example, we have more African American graduates than any other university in the country – and we also serve more students who are first-generation or low-income than the entire Ivy League. Our students leave here equipped to succeed, so our institution has a positive impact on generations to come. 

Chris: What brought you to Georgia State University?

I did my PhD at Georgia State and, in 1996, I actually started my career in Georgia as the first Complex Director, converting the Atlanta Olympic Village into student residences. I then went to Georgia Perimeter College to be Director of Student Life and open a new campus, before moving to Kennesaw State where I eventually became Dean of Students. Having been in this career for over three decades, I started thinking about where I wanted my last stop to be, and with the fortuitous consolidation of Georgia Perimeter College and Georgia State, and my connection to this institution both academically and professionally, it made a lot of sense to come back and serve this wonderful, diverse student body.

Chris: How do you promote belonging and inclusion on campus? 

After talking with students on my return here I realized that many of them have multi-layered identities, so I wanted there to be a place where they can embrace and celebrate all aspects of who they are. This translates to a focus on ensuring there are spaces, regardless of individual identity and affinities, where all students can find their community, as well as embrace opportunities to meet and converse with people from intersecting communities. The solution was to turn the entire second floor of our Student Center into a vibrant space with all our Culture, Community, and Identity programs in one place, as well as create The Intersection, a physical space for programming and dialogue, where students can come together and simultaneously connect with people of similar and different backgrounds. Additionally, as an institution, we celebrate different cultures and heritages every month. For example, February is Black History Month and  March is Women’s History/Herstory Month, providing opportunities for meaningful dialogue for all students about the experiences and challenges of individuals in those communities, and collectively discussing ways Georgia State can help address those challenges. 

Chris: How do you best engage busy students with these activities? 

We have over 50,000 students, so we accept that we may not reach them all, but we still try to reach students who may not traditionally engage. We do this through various incentives, by helping students understand that their engagement outside of the classroom will have an impact on their current student success and on their future successes – be it in their careers, with their families, or through serving their communities. This connection to larger themes allows us to create pathways through which students can earn rewards for their engagement, while also allowing staff to connect activities to the academic enterprise. A benefit of the pandemic was that we learned how to engage people in virtual spaces too, so in addition to in-person programming, we’ve created several online engagement opportunities. Whether it’s a fully virtual experience or a simple social media check-in to gain feedback about our belonging, identity and placemaking work, these initiatives help us meet students where they are, and engage them through the means that they prefer. 

Chris: Particularly in an election year, how do you help students converse effectively across different perspectives?

We encourage our students to not only understand their own point-of-view but also explore multiple ways of approaching any situation. We start conversations from a place of similarity, allowing them to find common values and beliefs. Then, when students need to have those difficult conversations, they can talk about their differences in a respectful and focused way, with the understanding that embracing uncomfortable or challenging dialogue will help them grow. The University is a marketplace of ideas, so our function is not to protect students from these difficult conversations, but we want them to build a skill set that will help them manage personal and professional challenges in the future, and that’s why we launched a resiliency app called Panther Strong at the beginning of the pandemic. We’ve seen students who engage with Panther Strong’s resiliency-building prompts achieving better grades, demonstrating better retention, and successfully navigating academic and personal life, so not only did it help with difficult conversations and communication skills, but it also helped academically. We’re currently focusing on expanding Panther Strong, while also launching other initiatives to help students hone their communication and problem-solving skills. 

Chris: How do you go about opening your teams up to new ideas and change?

We make sure that everyone at every level has access to, and an understanding of, critical data points and metrics that lead to success. This means our staff can use relevant data to inform their work, while also evaluating whether their work is having an effective impact. If an initiative isn’t having as much impact as we hoped, we give our teams permission to sunset it, or think about how we can evolve and shift those projects elsewhere. We also try to involve students, allowing us the space to focus on the things that require administrative expertise, while ensuring we’re always putting the evolving student experience at the forefront. 

Chris: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received during your career?

You have to look at your work in an evolutionary manner. It’s served me well to remember that, no matter where I'm at or what circumstances I’m dealing with, it’s just another step in an evolutionary process. Too often we perceive ourselves as experts and get stuck in our approach, or we become too comfortable and seek to avoid change, so looking at your work, and yourself, as constantly evolving will really keep you grounded and keep you continually growing. 

Curious to see what the future of training looks like?
Chris Mansfield
Client Services
Chris is one of the Client Service leads at GoodCourse, dedicated to helping institutions better engage their audience to create a more inclusive, safer, and more successful environment. To request to be featured on the series, get in touch at

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