An Approachable Administrator
Melissa Sturm-Smith, Associate Dean of Students, Drake University
I’m a student affairs professional. I support student activities, organizations and government here at Drake.
I approach my job as an administrator with the perspective that I’m actually an educator. I believe I’m helping to educate students through their cocurricular learning opportunities. Whether it’s supervising student staff, student clubs and organizations, students who come through my office for misconduct issues, I think there’s a learning element to it. At the end of the day, I always approach it from the perspective of an educator.
This job is perfect for me. Seven years ago, this job became available as assistant dean of students. This job is the job I would’ve described to you as a master’s student as my ideal job. It’s the right-size institution, the right mix of responsibilities. It was “it.”
My greatest challenge is that students change over time, and with that comes different issues. Students in this generation, millennials, need a lot of direction, like to work in teams and like acknowledgment. They’ve changed the way that we supervise student employees, the way that faculty interact with them, and how we build parent relationships as well. I think a lot of the issues in student affairs stay sort of the same, but as the students change, it puts a new spin on the issues that we’re dealing with.
I’m in this because I really love working with college students. That’s what I find rewarding; I find college students’ unbridled enthusiasm and excitement about what they’re doing energizing to be around on a daily basis. It can be exhausting sometimes, but at the end of the day I feel really lucky that that’s my work environment.
I ended up at Drake by getting a job in the alumni office. After about two years, I became an assistant director, and I made it really clear to my supervisor that I was happy to be at Drake but I really loved working with students. By the time I left the alumni office, my job was almost entirely student outreach. Drake’s been a place that’s really supported my ability to grow as a professional and also helped me pursue some personal passions as well.
Right now, I am working on a PhD in educational leadership and policy study with an emphasis in higher education. I’m not sure yet where that will lead me. I love my job and I love what I do, but I think there may be other things I can do, too.