State of Student Affairs 2022

“I am emboldened today to envision an even brighter future for students at UGA - a future of increased student engagement, of improved student health and well-being - a future where we anticipate student needs even more fully, target resources and services even more closely, utilize our amazing people and resources even more effectively - a future where students will have the skills, mindsets, resources and support to be well and flourish across their time at UGA and far beyond, so they can reach their fullest potential.”

– Victor K. Wilson, Vice President for Student Affairs

State of Student Affairs 2022 Address

February 15, 2022

Thank you, Carter, for that kind introduction. And thank you all for joining us for the State of Student Affairs—so happy to see you. I am excited to be here together, and in Memorial Hall, our historic home for student life at UGA.

As I say every year – our beginning and end in Student Affairs is always #forthestudents. UGA students are the best and brightest in the world. It’s our joy to work with them—help them succeed and flourish—at UGA and in life, long after they leave us.

And with students, we have so much to celebrate.

  • This past fall brought the largest group of students—more than 40,ooo—in the history of the institution.
  • Four- and six-year completion rates have climbed to record highs.
  • Our retention rate for first-year students rose to 95%.
  • We had the largest applicant pool in UGA history, of more than 39,000 prospective students.
  • Our newest students represent 63 different countries and 43 states and are the most academically talented group ever.
  • We have increased the diversity of the full student body by more than 7% in the last decade – that’s more than 4,000 additional students from racial/ethnic minorities.
  • For the first time in a very long time, our students have earned a national championship in football, which has made many, many folks, including me, very happy.
  • This year we had student Olympic medalists and Fulbright scholars and achievers in so many ways.
  • And while it has been another unusual and challenging year with COVID-19, again, you have risen to the occasion.

It is a great and historic time to be a Georgia Bulldog. Your efforts and dedication continue to make so much possible for our students.

In all, I hope the next few minutes will be a time to reflect on and celebrate all that you have accomplished this year together and on behalf of students. And also—a time to look forward as we accelerate into the future of student life.

To say it mildly: I think we were all hoping by this point to be fully past the pandemic.

While we have faced enormous challenges and changing circumstances and perspectives, you have clearly shown up and delivered for students and our UGA community.

Today we are tired, but we are resolute. You have proven your strength, your creativity, our togetherness. We have seen what we can do with a compelling need. We bring solution to opportunity. We work together. We come together. We live our mission every single day #forthestudents.

To be clear, what we have experienced in the last years has changed us forever. We are not going back exactly to where we were, as individuals, as Student Affairs. Our work will not be exactly the same. It is better already, and I am assured it will only continue to grow.

You have worked incredibly hard, but as I see in your faces here together, there is great pride in what you have done. I am unbelievably proud of all that we accomplished this year.

I know day-to-day it continues to be challenging—we are still short-staffed and overburdened in certain areas. But I can say with certainty your work has made a tremendous difference for students and our campus. Your work is valued far beyond me or Student Affairs. It is valued by students, families, faculty, senior leaders, alumni, employers, residents across the state, and far beyond. I hope you know and feel that.

Thank you, and on behalf of a grateful campus and university community, thank you.

Please know we are looking for every way possible to reward and support you further in your work and experience at UGA. There will be additional compensation coming soon for some to address compression issues. The institution has raised and continues to seek ways to raise entry salaries and salaries overall. We are hopeful there will be raises for all coming this year through the state and continue to advocate for those. As the President noted recently, raises for staff is his number one priority for the legislative session this year. And candidly, I am one of the biggest cheerleaders for this.

Our upcoming Diversity and Inclusive Excellence plan for Student Affairs will have some key new efforts to enhance the recruitment and onboarding of staff, improve the staff experience, and promote professional growth and pathways, particularly for our underrepresented staff.

You, Student Affairs staff, are the heart of our existence as Student Affairs. I continue to be honored and humbled to work alongside and in support of you. Thank you again.

This year there are so many highlights and meaningful efforts to share. To name a few, we have successfully:

  • Tested and vaccinated and treated COVID (and flu and everything else), counseled students, and supported student mental health and well-being in the Health Center
  • Worked to resolve student concerns and offer resources and make arrangements through Student Care and Outreach
  • Helped our largest-ever group of students with disabilities get accommodations and support in the Disability Resource Center and Testing Services
  • Worked to create a happy and vibrant residential experience in safe, welcoming spaces and facilities through University Housing
  • Ensured students are getting out and being active and growing through Engagement, Leadership, and Service and Greek Life
  • Provided invaluable outlets for students and staff for exercise, recreation, and sport with Recreational Sports
  • Supported key student populations and unique student needs through Multicultural Services and Programs, International Student Life, the Pride Center, and the Student Veterans Resource Center
  • Provided important services and inviting spaces for students and the community to come together in the Tate Center
  • Helped students grow through challenging times with Student Conduct
  • And continued the core operational work that makes all these efforts possible: deploying our financial resources and new Student Affairs Development and fundraising, managing our Human Resources, Communications, Data and IT efforts, learning and assessment, planning, staff development, administrative support, and so, so much more.

This year we helped to lead the work of the President’s Task Force on Race, Ethnicity, and Community. This fall, we installed beautiful new markers on Tate West Lawn to honor the nine historically Black fraternities and sororities. I have been waiting for more than 40 years to celebrate and share this achievement. I am so grateful to see this become a reality as a permanent space for our communities to enjoy.

We have also advanced work on a new residence hall, which will open this coming fall – named for the first African American students to enroll as freshmen and complete their undergraduate degrees at UGA. Black-Diallo-Miller Hall is an amazing new development, which will provide not only a great new space for students to live, but one with a historic recognition, for which I am excited and justifiably proud.

I am excited to share that we have recently begun the rollout of our new residential curriculum, which will help guide and align our efforts with students across the residential experience, ensuring they find community and develop.

In terms of student engagement, this year Student Affairs expanded efforts to engage, advise, and support students and student leaders across the campus experience. We created new online modules for student leader onboarding and training. We developed new frameworks for service and leadership to guide our efforts.

Along with in-person offerings, we have continued to innovate new online and hybrid opportunities for students to come together, learn, and build community.

We have helped the institution develop a new campus-wide plan to foster active learning for students and complete its ten-year accreditation.

We have launched new websites for all areas of Student Affairs, meeting students mobile first, and we continue enhancing the UGA app.

Our collaborative teams on student learning, digital engagement, and IT have created new synergies and connections across Student Affairs.

And particularly, for student well-being. Together we have advanced wide-ranging efforts to create a more active, healthy, and successful student body, including:

  • The launch of a new Well-being and Success Network, bringing together well-being partners campus-wide.
  • Development of a new strategic plan for well-being at UGA, completed with the national JED campus partnership, a leading voice in student well-being.
  • The introduction of Christie Campus Health as a partner to provide additional, on-demand counseling resources for students.
  • The launch of new telehealth resources at the University Health Center, including TAO – Therapy Assistance Online—to better meet students where they are.
  • We have made all initial screenings free for students through our counseling center, CAPS.
  • Students can also now reach a CAPS staff member directly 24/7—when they need it most.
  • We launched an exciting new, combined campus well-being fair, Be Well UGA Fest, holding our first event this fall.
  • We have now raised more than $1 million in private funding through the Sunshine Fund to support students in need, along with additional funding through government and campus partners to support student emergencies.
  • We have also had numerous communications and outreach successes, including:
    • A new well-being website for students bringing together campus resources
    • Integration of well-being resources on the UGA mobile app
    • New displays of well-being resources in the Tate Student Center
    • Integrated communications to students throughout COVID
    • And the inclusion of well-being resources on all UGA course syllabi
    • … Just to name a few.

Of course, COVID-19 has brought unexpected new challenges and urgency to our work as well. As academic life shifted to remote or hybrid delivery, student interactions changed too. Even returning in person, for many students, COVID has heightened feelings of isolation, anxiousness, and loss.

While the engagement data for this past fall is encouraging, some students have not yet fully rejoined campus life. We continue to seek ways to reach these and all students and support their engagement and well-being through this time—and to help them to develop the skills and mindsets they will need to be well and flourish throughout their lives.

For all of the new challenges that COVID and the last two years have brought for student well-being, there have also been some important benefits. In other words, some good news:

  • Simply COVID has helped us integrate our well-being resources and services more quickly than perhaps any other force could have. The Health Center and Student Care and Outreach and Housing and others have become expert in uniting medical guidance, care and support, available resources, campus spaces, and residential life. It is pretty amazing what we have been able to do.
  • We have realized new efficiencies and synergies in sharing data, programming, services, and resources – doing things smarter and in a more coordinated way, with less overlap and perceived competition.
  • COVID has created far greater institutional awareness and support for well-being and well-being resources and services. For those on campus who may not have even been fully aware of the Health Center, many have now visited multiple times and experienced the high-quality care we have always provided and been so proud of.
  • COVID has also helped us bring in campus partners more readily, as all now more clearly see the need and the potential that comes in working together. Whether that is academic leaders, schools and colleges, auxiliary service providers, senior administrators, or students, the well-being team is bigger and stronger than ever.
  • During this time, we have also benefited from an influx of resources. Whether direct federal funding for UGA or students through the relief acts, or through University system or campus initiatives, we have been able to provide additional support for students in need in many ways.
  • COVID has also magnified our need and commitment to a shared vision and approach to student well-being. We are more united now in common cause – and moving more actively and proactively.

All these successes owe to the spirit of common cause and coming together in shared purpose. We have come so far in our service to students, and together we have achieved so much.

Let’s give each other a strong and much-deserved round of applause [lead applause].

Our mission for students at UGA has never been more central and vital and our work never more recognized and valued on this campus than today. The State of Student Affairs is resilient and strong.

With that same strength and purpose, I am emboldened today to envision an even brighter future for students at UGA.

  • A future of increased student engagement.
  • Of improved student health and well-being.
  • A future where we anticipate student needs even more fully, target resources and services even more closely, utilize our amazing people and resources even more effectively.
  • A future… where students will have the skills and mindsets and resources and support to be well and flourish across their time at UGA and far beyond… to reach their fullest potential.

Our demonstrated commitment to supporting students has shown University and System leadership that Student Affairs is the best positioned, best equipped expert to lead our campus in these critical next steps.

I am thrilled today to introduce a new series of initiatives and efforts to enhance student engagement and well-being at UGA.

As President Morehead shared at the recent State of the University address, Student Affairs is now at the center of UGA’s support for student mental health and well-being.

I would like to personally thank the President for designating a million dollars over two years to this important effort—and showing the confidence and commitment in us to lead it.

To further accelerate our ongoing work, the President has charged us with leading an additional, major administrative effort to strengthen UGA’s mental health and well-being offerings, which include clinical and non-clinical programs, resources, and services.

This new charge aligns perfectly with our history, our mission, our long-term plans, our ongoing efforts, the well-being and success initiative, and our constant commitment to students. We are at the forefront of our campus, our state, and our peer and aspirational institutions, in moving this direction. The data points us in this direction. Most importantly, students are pointing us in this direction.

It is the right thing to do, and it is the right time. [Repeat.]

Through these next steps together, we will be able to continue to:

  • Improve awareness of student well-being as a core priority for our community
  • Provide more convenient, quality access to care and resources for students
  • Enhance the speed, efficiency, and quality of programming
  • Maximize use of available funding, resources, and facilities
  • Streamline administrative coordination
  • Be nimble in addressing emergent or hot topic issues
  • Attract new and additional investments in well-being, including from private donors
  • Continue our momentum and build on our exemplary efforts to date
  • Formalize existing campus-wide collaborations, moving toward true integration of resources and services

Today, as part of our well-being initiative, I am announcing that we will leverage available resources and new funding for the following new efforts:

Increased access to quality mental health services.

  • By increasing mental health clinical support for students through CAPS, the ASPIRE Clinic, the Psychology Clinic, and the Center for Counseling and Personal Evaluation.
  • By adding a dedicated group mental health provider to enhance proactive mental health education and support for identified student populations, working to improve group and campus norms and promote healthy behaviors.

We will utilize new funding to further expand well-being support across campus.

  • By bringing on new Community of Care Coordinators with Student Care and Outreach responsible for promoting student engagement with mental health services and educating faculty and staff to build a community of care across UGA.
  • By creating additional suicide prevention programming.
  • By providing new and bolstering existing eating disorders awareness programming and support.
  • By initiating a new text messaging service for well-being to expand and coordinate proactive outreach and resource provision.

We will also utilize new funding to support students in being more active, healthy, and successful…

  • By formalizing a peer mentoring network at UGA to provide training for students through NASPA’s certified peer education program.
  • By creating a new student well-being makerspace, in partnership with student organizations, to provide a dedicated space on campus for students to engage in activities designed to enhance their well-being and mental health.
  • By starting new student innovation grants to support enterprising students and groups to lead well-being initiatives and research projects.
  • By initiating research grants for UGA students to engage faculty researchers working in mental health and well-being disciplines to improve campus understanding and approaches.
  • By providing physical well-being grants to students to underwrite costs for participation in positive physical well-being and recreational activities.
  • By creating a new program to coordinate with campus and local food providers to make “leftover” food available for students with food insecurities.

And these are only some of the additional ways we will continue to enhance our support for students in the coming days.

To accomplish these critical efforts and utilize all our available staffing and existing resources to the fullest extent possible, we will also be bringing together a new student well-being portfolio in Student Affairs, led by a new Associate Vice President for Student Well-Being, who will report directly to me.

This new portfolio, which formalizes the core of the Student Well-Being and Success Network in Student Affairs, unites vital departments, people, and broad efforts working daily to enhance student health and well-being. This portfolio will join related units around a shared vision and extend our integrated approach to well-being. This new grouping will offer many new potential synergies and help forge closer working relationships for departmental leaders and staff—most importantly, all to benefit students.

This new portfolio will consist of the following Student Affairs departments, which will all report to the new Associate Vice President:

  • The Disability Resource Center
  • University Testing Services
  • The University Health Center, which includes Counseling and Psychiatric Services (CAPS), Health Promotion, RSVP, and the Fontaine Center
  • Recreational Sports
  • And… Student Care and Outreach

Together these areas annually facilitate more than a million student interactions, across all dimensions of student well-being: Physical, Social, Financial, Community, and Career Well-Being.

I am ecstatic for the opportunities this new organizational structure will provide. There are so many possibilities and so many great people coming together. I anticipate that you will all join me in working to make this new portfolio a tremendous success for students and our community.

We will be launching the search for the new Associate Vice President for Student Well-Being position very shortly. This position will be funded fully from existing resources within Student Affairs. The new departmental reporting lines will officially take effect on July 1 of this year.

To support this new well-being portfolio and bring together areas focused on student engagement more fully, we will also be updating the reporting line for University Housing, which plays a critical role not only with student well-being, but engagement, transitions, and the broader incoming student experience. Also beginning in July, Housing will now report administratively through existing Associate Vice President, Eric Atkinson.

With Dr. Atkinson’s current reporting units, Greek Life and the Office of Student Conduct, as well as Student Affairs Communications and Digital Engagement, I am confident there will be amazing new synergies here as well supporting student engagement and the residential experience.

Together these exciting next steps move us clearly forward in our service to students. We are stepping boldly into the future and accelerating our work in shared spirit. Candidly, with all happening around us and with our students, we have little choice but to move forward in this way!

I am eager to realize the great benefits for students these efforts will afford, and I know you will bring that potential to life.

As I close today, I offer a call and a challenge for us.

As I have shared, I am grateful and humbled for your talents and dedication to students, your peers, your departments, to Student Affairs, and the University of Georgia.

We could not, in any way, do what we do for students without you.

Before there was a COVID, I have always known that we were prepared for whatever comes by having the best staff in areas across the student experience. But in this time you have really lived and proved it.

I know we will continue to find success because of you. While we could never thank you enough, thank you for all that you do. Please know your all efforts are seen and felt and valued.

Today I call on us to renew.

Please take the time with families and friends, and your staff colleagues and supervisors, to truly connect and greet other. We are strongest together… when we support each other and lift each other up. This is one of the enduring lessons of this time.

May you find renewal and renewed vigor for yourself—and to make a difference in the lives of our students and our community.

I also offer a challenge. I will own I am still celebrating our football championship, so I will use a football metaphor.

We just had one of the greatest seasons in the history of the program. So much to celebrate and appreciate, so many people to thank, and I am absolutely doing that fully.

But there is a point with all the congratulating and celebrating, work for next season has already begun.

I challenge us all to keep the main thing the main thing, get out there and attack the day, and let’s win it all again. In this case, there is nothing wrong with a “do-over!”

Together we have achieved magnitudes, but today I know we are the most prepared and capable and ready we have ever been to create the best student experience possible at UGA. I am thrilled to join you in taking our efforts to the top.

Let’s make these the greatest days. Thank you for all you do. Go Dawgs!