New faces in the Division of Student Life hired this year

Colombo satisfied with progress

The MIT Division of Student Life (DSL) has undergone a slew of hiring in the last two years. These additions have been focused in three major areas: student development and support, the Student Activities Office (SAO), and residential life.

In the sector of student development and support, the last two years have seen a new associate dean, Judith Robinson; a new Director of Community Development and Substance Abuse, Don Camelio; and a new Director of the Office of Student Citizenship, Christy Anthony. Dean for Student Life Chris Colombo, said that he is pleased with the work the new staff has done. He cited as an example Camelio’s work in working with student leadership to revise the administration of the Good Samaritan policy, which regards students seeking alcohol-related medical attention.

The associate dean of the SAO, Leah Flynn, has been at MIT since the fall of 2010. This fall, Joel Pettigrew joined the SAO as the Program Coordinator for Student Activities and Event Management. The Residential Life division is headed by a new associate dean, Naomi Carter. Residential Life has also seen the addition of five individuals since summer 2012 to fill the new Residential Life Area Director (RLAD) positions (although seven RLADs were chosen, two of them were previously Residential Life Associates — RLAs).

Other new staff members hired this academic year include Lorena Tovar, Senior Administrative Assistant for the Public Service Center; Nilam Kotadia, Manager of Assignments in Residential Life and Dining; Katie Hoppe, Administrative Assistant for the Department of Athletics, Physical Education, and Recreation; and Chris Artis, Financial Analyst for DSL Administration.

Peter Cummings, the Director of Finance and Human Resources, said that the majority of hiring was done to fill vacated positions rather than newly created positions. Colombo and Cummings said that the turnover rate of administrative staff at MIT is comparable to that at other schools, citing his own experiences at Johns Hopkins and Columbia as examples. Within the sector of student life, Colombo said, whether people choose to stay at a certain university or move depends on what opportunities for advancement are available at their university. He added that personal preferences such as job location and environment can also play a role.

When screening candidates, DSL looks for “people who have expertise and have either been through academic programs or have been in positions in the student affairs world,” said Colombo, and DSL looks for candidates who have appreciation for how their own field intersects with other areas of student life. DSL does consider how candidates might fit into the unique environment of MIT, but Colombo also believes that there are “basic aspects within the student development world” that cut across MIT and its peer institutions.

With such a large percentage of new staff, Colombo and Cummings are taking steps to ensure a smooth transition. Colombo said that often when someone comes to a new university, the first six months are an adjustment period, and Cummings has helped put things in place to help with the orientation of new staff.

“With this level of turnover, one thing that we’ve had to be more intentional on is bringing staff in — the phrase is ‘onboarding’ — and really expanding from the basics of ‘Here’s your office and now go do,’” said Cummings. Because of this, they consider a new DSL staff member’s first year a period of teaching him or her how to navigate MIT, what students’ lives are like, and how to get things done.

That the department emphasizes the first six months and “after that, if our goals have been achieved, they’re going to be comfortable in their environment,” said Colombo.

When Kotadia, who joined DSL over the summer, first came to work in the department, she had “buddies” to help her navigate the job. After she became more comfortable on the job, she began to work more on her own, but she says she still has resources in her group to help her as questions arise.

Colombo says he is particularly excited to work with this group. “They’re a superb group of individuals,” he said. “They work very hard, and they have a clear understanding of what MIT’s mission is about and how DSL’s mission fits within MIT’s mission. They are excited about their work.”