By Beth Khalifa
Arizona Summer Wildcat
Melissa Vito, a 1974 graduate of the UA, was named permanent dean of Students on May 30th after being selected from a group of five finalists. She became acting dean of students last August, replacing Johnetta Brazzell, who became the vice president for student affairs at Atlanta's Spelman College. Previously, Vito served at the UA as the director of new student orientation, director of student activities and associate dean of students. She also worked in the financial aid office.
Wildcat: What first interested you in student affairs?
Vito: Actually, when I graduated, I really was thinking about different careers. I saw an advertisement in the paper for a job in the Financial Aid Office, and I thought, well, okay, that could work. Then I started to realize that this (student affairs) is a profession and that I really liked what I was doing. Knowing you can make a difference in people's lives, you can be creative, you can change policies, there are a whole range of different things that you can do. It was really about 15 years ago that I intentionally decided that student affairs was the profession that I was going to be in.
Wildcat: Now that you are the dean of students, what are the glaring issues you face?
Vito: An immediate issue is to start to get all the areas of Student Life to feel like they are a part of one coherent area. There were a number of issues impacting minority students and I think the students felt there really wasn't a voice. I set up an advisory committee and I tried to be more active in a one-on-one way with students. I want to build on that, but I'd also like to set up a larger advisory group to keep up with what the issues are and what the students are facing.
Wildcat: How will the position as dean of students be different from your previous position as interim dean of students?
Vito: The portfolio is bigger because Student Union and Residence Life are now part of the area. Psychologically, the fact that I'm here and I know I'll be here a year from now will make it easier as we start to develop our strategic plans.
Wildcat: What are some of your goals as dean of students?
Vito: A major goal is that we develop positive linkages with faculty on the academic side so students feel their education is part of a whole process. Ever since I've been in the dean's office, I always asked students what they know about a dean's office, and 99 percent of the time it's Code of Conduct or discipline, it's like a place you want to avoid. I want to have the student perception of the Dean of Students Office be a little bit more proactive, more energetic and friendlier.
Wildcat: You mentioned before that budget cuts will denote restrictions. What are those restrictions?
Vito: All the areas of Student Life have taken major budget cuts. I would like to help the staff to sharpen our focus so what we do, we do well.
Wildcat: Do you feel the elimination of study programs is necessary and, if so, why?
Vito: I think that we need to take a look at what we are offering. We have tended to pride ourselves on the fact that we offer a hundred-plus majors. The reality is, there is a reason why our peer institutions don't offer certain majors Ä it's just an enormous resource toll.
Wildcat: The Office of Minority Student Affairs was recently eliminated due to budget cuts. What will you do to improve the campus environment for minority students?
Vito: I'd like to work to do more activities that bring students together because that's something the students wanted.
Wildcat: Outside of advisory committees, how do you learn about student concerns and what is the best way for students to voice those concerns?
Vito: Actually, I've learned a lot through committees and through just being out. I'll stop and ask students what's happening and how things are going.
Wildcat: The Dean of Students Office, as you mentioned, has the added responsibility of administering to the Student Union. What does that reponsibility entail for you?
Vito: We've got a lot of challenges Ä everything from a search for a director to helping the Student Union develop a strategic plan for where it wants to head and what the role of the Union really is in this community, to helping with its specific issues like privatization and what the physical expansions are going to be.
Wildcat: The Student Union rated low in a recent report (the Student Union Task Force Report). How difficult will it be to improve that status?
Vito: The Union really needs a lot of support right now. It has received an allocation from the university for next year ($500,000) and we need to think about how it will be utilized.
Wildcat: Overall, how has the campus environment at the UA improved since you completed your studies?
Vito: There's more ethnic diversity. It's also a lot bigger, it's grown about a third over time. Read Next Article