With the 2018-19 school year officially beginning, students are adjusting to changes implemented over the summer. One of the shifts in administration occurred when Interim Dean of Students Jacquie Kondrot retired, leaving the position open.
Title IX Coordinator Gillian Ford stepped into the role as interim dean on June 15, 2018 and finished on Aug. 23, 2018. Hired over the summer, Vice President of Student Affairs and Dean of Students April Thompson filled the vacant spot and is preparing to start her first year at Allegheny.
Ford initially worked at Allegheny as chief of staff in the Office of the President, where she conducted a search for a Title IX coordinator. Since she had a background working in victim services, she was offered the position temporarily, Ford said. The job ultimately became a full-time role, and she began working as Allegheny’s Title IX coordinator in 2015, according to Ford. Similarly, Ford was offered the role of interim dean by Allegheny College Executive Vice President Eileen Petula in 2018.
Petula said her decision to hire Ford as interim dean came from her background, both with the college and in her career with women’s services. At Allegheny, Ford reports directly to Petula, which made her an appealing candidate for interim dean, according to Petula.
“(Ford) has a really great background,” Petula said. “She cares deeply about students. She has a lot of personality traits that I thought would be really good for that interim role. She can keep the ship steady.”
As Interim Dean, Ford oversaw the entire division, including all of the main components of student life at Allegheny.
“The dean really oversees that entire umbrella,” Ford said. “I was responsible ultimately for working with those directors of those divisions directly … Essentially, anything that impacts student’s health, well-being and student life on campus.”
While she worked as interim dean, Ford kept her role as Title IX Coordinator, though her job was not as busy during the summer since there were fewer students on campus, according to Ford.
“I had more flexibility time-wise to help spend more time in the Dean of Students Office to help with the transition,” Ford said.
Despite the flexibility Ford had with time, the amount of work she had to do still presented a challenge during the summer. The office staff work well together, which allowed Ford to learn as much as she could as quickly as possible, Ford said.
“There’s a learning curve,” Ford said. “I think you go into something thinking things happen a certain way, and you realize you were wrong. My tendency is taking things on. I want to be involved. I wanted to understand it. The biggest challenge was having enough hours to do what I wanted to do to feel I did a good job.”
One of Ford’s greatest strengths in the position was her personality, which included her ability to listen and her organization, according to Petula.
“Her greatest strength was her personality in terms of her ability to listen to staff,” Petula said. “She’s very calm and organized. The way she approached the interim role was very healthy. She knew it was for a very small period of time, so she didn’t come in and try to make any big changes. She was really listening to the staff … and she tried to see things from different eyes. She provided some really good perspective.”
Rachel Leech, ’21, worked for Ford and residence life over the summer. Leech’s job with Ford included answer her phone and giving her messages, Leech said.
“She took on the role very well, I thought,” Leech said. “Just taking everything that was thrown at her. She was very fun.”
Although Ford’s role as interim dean has ended, she plans to work with Thompson to help with a few tasks she began during the summer, including coordinating a search for a new director for the Office of Public Safety.
Thompson said she and Ford have been communicating throughout the summer, discussing the position so Thompson could prepare for her new role. The best piece of advice Ford gave Thompson was to rely on the team in the dean’s office, since the people are “fantastic” and the colleagues care deeply about their work, according to Thompson.
During Allegheny’s search process, Thompson was contacted by a colleague who works at Swarthmore College, near Philadelphia. She expressed interest in the position and was invited to campus to meet with students on the search committee.
“I was very excited to meet the students,” Thompson said. “I got invited for a second interview, and at my lunch with students, I just absolutely fell in love with the whole place. The students are so energized to be here. People seem to love Allegheny. Who wouldn’t want to come here? Once you see the campus and once you come here, there’s something about it. It’s special.”
Petula, who chaired the search committee for a new dean of students, said Thompson stood out as a top choice amongst the final candidates.
“All the finalists were highly qualified, wonderful people who could do the job,” Petula said. “I think the search firm and the search committee brought really good candidates. But (Thompson) stood out, she was the top choice. There was a spark with (Thompson) that we felt … she was a perfect for for Allegheny. The word transformational was used in terms of what she could add to enrich the student experience.”
Thompson’s career in student affairs began when she was a resident assistant at the University of Arkansas, where she graduated as a first-generation college student. Since graduating, Thompson has worked as the associate vice president and dean of students at Binghamton University and as the associate dean of the College for Campus Life at Dartmouth College.
Since arriving at Allegheny, Thompson has focused on learning everything about the college and her position.
“I have to learn everything from scratch,” Thompson said. “I have been at a very large state school system. I have to start from square one and relearn everything, which is why I’m going through orientation with students. I need to learn from students and from faculty, so that’s my first, biggest challenge. It’s a huge learning curve with the students … We’re all going to go through growing pains together.”
Thompson said she plans to place heavy emphasis on mindfulness and wellness. After speaking with Allegheny counselor Charity Patterson, Thompson realized the importance of practicing mindfulness in daily life.
“It’s part of who we are,” Thompson said. “I’m most excited to get students engaged in the concept.”
Petula said she believes Thompson will be a good addition to the school in the midst of all the changes occuring on campus.
“(Thompson) sees how processes could be different,” Petula said. “(Thompson) cares deeply not only for the students, but for her staff, so she’s looking at ways she can better utilize hours for her staff here, so they’re the most impactful they can be.”
Both Ford and Thompson spoke highly of their colleagues, and Thompson said she received a warm welcome when she arrived. Ford said her favorite part of the interim position was working with the staff and getting to know the students who were on campus during the summer.
“Students bring a completely different energy to everything, and I got to know students on a personal basis,” Ford said. “I think it gave me a chance to enhance my ability to understand students in the Title IX realm. It’s all about people and their experiences. I love that, just getting to see students from that perspective. That was definitely the highlight of my summer, being with people and students (and) getting to know them.”
With Thompson stepping into her new role, Ford looked back on her own experience.
“It was truly my pleasure,” Ford said. “I loved every minute of it. I really did. I got a lot out of that experience. I really believe it will have an impact on how I interact moving forward on campus and with colleagues and students … It will help me grow moving forward.”