Ensuring the needs of all students are met is a challenging and complex task. This is even more so the case for demographics with extra needs, like first-generation students. For Vanice Antrum, Associate Director at the Center for Student Engagement at Georgetown University, ensuring these needs are met in practical ways is critical to the success of the student cohorts under her care.
Chris Mansfield, GoodCourse’s co-founder, sat down with Vanice to discuss her journey into higher education, the programs she has helped coordinate, and how she fosters a sense of belonging for everyone on campus.
I’m currently serving as the Associate Director at the Center for Student Engagement at Georgetown University. We have multiple different areas that we support, like student engagement and activities – clubs, organizations, groups – and our policy debate team. We also have our student orientation transition, and family programs and outdoor education who are part of our larger office.
In my specific role, I’m more responsible for student engagement and activities, meaning I advise the student activities commission. I also support our two program coordinators who provide support for our Georgetown Program Board, our Advisory Board for Club Sports, and our board for Georgetown Opportunities for Leadership Development programs.
On a day-to-day basis, I ensure people understand the university’s policies on student organizations and operations, and I make sure funding is allocated correctly for student events. I also help with event and competition planning. Sometimes my role involves conflict resolution, mentorship; whatever students need, we are the support system.
Like many other people, I was a very ‘involved’ undergraduate student. I went to Salisbury University, which is in Maryland, where I’m from. I was very involved in various organizations, like the Black student union and the organization for Latin American students.
I got really involved in the orientation program, and then asked the advisors how they got into that field of work. A big part of my journey was my master’s degree and my time as a graduate assistant. I spent 20 hours a week working in grad school advising student organizations.
I ensure people understand the university’s policies on student organizations and operations, and I make sure funding is allocated correctly for student events.
I gravitated towards the DEI space because diversity and inclusion initiatives were the reason I was able to make it through undergrad. It felt natural to give back.
I was on the retention task force, which is a collection of professionals from various different offices who work towards making sure that students progress from their first to second year of study. Particularly, I focused on supporting students from diverse backgrounds.
That entailed supporting our intercultural orientation program, which gave our students the opportunity to come to campus early. We used a service called the Education Advisory Board (EAB), which helped us figure out the stumbling blocks people commonly fall over, and how we can ensure we support students and provide interventions early.
What I’ve taken from that experience is the understanding that my students are more than their social interaction and academics. I’m focused on how the skills our students are developing will contribute to the career they want.
A lot of the time, students just need motivation – hearing you can do this, I believe in you – so making sure that’s being communicated to them is key. It’s also crucial to reach out if a student is showing signs of distress, and make sure wrap-around services are there for them.
One way I approach my work is by asking students what they’re looking for from their time here. We try not to follow a prescribed model of what students should be doing in their first, second and third-year.
Instead, we ask students, if we were to host a talk on this topic, would you come? We have to be mindful of the resources, both financial and human, that we put into our programs. One way we do this is through surveys and conversations. Georgetown students are looking for opportunities that are going to enhance their resume – to develop skills and enhance their leadership abilities. Students also want to have a good time, so there needs to be a balance.
Because so many of our students began their studies with us remotely, they need to be shown just how much there is for them to get involved in. Student organizations will post their events on social media, and we send an email called What’s Happening on the Hilltop, so all of our students take advantage of what we offer.
We also partner with other organizations on campus to ensure we’re not duplicating efforts – coming together for one impactful program is better than three small hit-or-miss events.
We do a great job of supporting our first-generation students. There are two major programs, one of which supports low-income first-generation students. I participated in the planning, implementation and assessment of that program. In my new role, I make myself a resource to students and share the opportunities we have to engage students.
First-generation students can also participate in our Georgetown scholars program, which includes things like the hidden curriculum in HE, where they’re walked through tips and tricks because they’re the first person to attend college. There’s a mentorship aspect to that, where they can engage with alumni who went through Georgetown.
Make sure you set boundaries and establish a work-life balance early. One thing people don’t realize about this work is that we give a lot of emotional labor to students, showing up for them in ways other faculty members don’t, as it’s a more pastoral role.
Be authentic, but set boundaries. I wanted to be everything to everyone – but you shouldn’t do it at the expense of your own wellbeing.
Right now, my VP of Student Affairs when I was an undergrad, Ellen Neufeldt. She is now president at California State University, San Marcos. She is very student-centered and always felt accessible, and I see her doing the same thing now. I admire her ability to progress in the Higher Education space while still keeping students at the forefront.
The Untethered Soul by Michael Singer – it’s an opportunity to look at how you engage with yourself and engage with the world, and how you become mindful of what influences your thought process. It really helped me conceptualize how I show up for other people and internalize the interactions I have with others.