Idealism Into Practicum

Associate Dean of Students Margaret Leary (above left), Associate Provost for Inclusion and Diversity Esteban del Rio (above right) and sophomore Crash Ketchum (above center).


The ideas were plentiful, the energy was intense and the collective mood was downright ebullient. Colorful post-it notes covered the walls, making a sort of inspirational patchwork quilt: “Watching students grow/transform.” “Passion for changemaking.” “Culture of care.” “Aha moments for students.”

This summer, dozens of campus partners got together with more than 100 members of USD’s Student Affairs Division to get specific about how the university is planning to keep students engaged and excited about learning over the next five years.

Among the attendees were Associate Dean of Students/Director of Student Affairs Assessment and Planning Margaret Leary (above left), Associate Provost for Inclusion and Diversity Esteban del Rio (above right), Vice President and Provost Andy Allen and sophomore Crash Ketchum (above center).

Judging by the wealth of ideas that emerged from the two-day session, participants didn’t have to dig very deep to come up with examples of what inspires them about working with Student Affairs.

“After that post-it note exercise, we asked them to think of headlines we want to see in five years,” explained Leary. “Recurring themes were more financial aid so that more students can afford to go here, a continuing focus on diversity and developing students’ healthy mind, body and spirit.”

Some of those headlines were aspirational (“USD Student Loan Debt Lowest in Nation”); some were whimsical (“USD Creates Youtopia”); and some were extremely specific (“All USD Students Received Their Flu Shots.” But the common thread woven throughout was the genuine caring of those in the room. All were determined to transform idealism into practicum.

In many ways, building a better student life experience comes down to building stronger relationships. “We want to work more closely with faculty in integrating the academic and non-academic experience,” says Leary. “We’re looking to create seamless learning, in and out of the classroom.” And that worthy goal is going to require buy-in from across campus: “Our plan is to integrate this approach in a coordinated effort, for both faculty and non-faculty.”

Designed to take USD through 2019, the plan has two initiatives: to stress the concepts of learning without borders, and living USD values. Learning without borders emphasizes the creation of inclusive spaces and places, working in partnership with faculty as well as systems and technology, and providing student access to services. Living USD values stresses healthy mind, body and spirit, diversity and inclusive excellence, and a commitment to local and global changemaking.

Of course, making sure the community is welcoming to all is important. Dr. del Rio believes the whole campus community should be involved. “Everyone who works at USD needs to see a way that their work can fit into being ready and prepared to respect others’ diverse experiences.” His strategic plan for diversity and inclusive excellence aims to “conceptualize difference as a manifestation of culture, especially in the context of the Catholic intellectual tradition.”

Allen stresses the importance of a holistic approach to educating our undergraduates, he says. “It’s about mind, body and spirit,” he says. “As a faith-based institution, we need to make sure our students grow spiritually. It’s our job to take them out of their comfort zone, to get them out into the world and see other cultures and other ways of doing things.”

Ketchum, a marine biology major who’ll be serving as Associated Students chief of staff this year, says it was cool to witness the thought and passion that goes into planning for future students. “Plus I got to connect with people I don’t normally connect with,” he recalls with a grin. “I mean, I spoke to the whole group. Afterwards, Student Affairs Vice President Carmen Vazquez came up to me and gave me a hug. She said, ‘Thank you Crash, for being here. We really needed you.’ I felt really special and valued. I want that for other students too.” — Julene Snyder