Kelly Wesener Michael joins COE’s higher education, student affairs faculty as Practitioner-Scholar in Residence

Kelly Wesener Michael
Kelly Wesener Michael

Former NIU Dean of Students Kelly Wesener Michael will join the College of Education’s Department of Counseling and Higher Education (CAHE) as a Practitioner-Scholar in Residence, effective July 1.

Wesener Michael, who holds an Ed.D. in Higher Education/Higher Education Administration from Indiana University Bloomington, will teach classes in higher education and student affairs, mentor dissertating doctoral candidates and collaborate with faculty colleagues to widen the Social Change Leadership curriculum.

She also will provide support to some of the College of Education’s student success initiatives.

“I’m really excited,” says Wesener Michael, who came to NIU in 2006 as executive director for Housing and Dining.

Student Affairs and CAHE have a strong working relationship because they’re the program for our profession, and we’re invested in creating amazing professionals who we’re going to work with in the future,” she adds. “This is an opportunity for me to contribute differently to the profession and to the institution at a time when Student Affairs also has an opportunity to adapt and change.”

Provost Beth Ingram plans to appoint an interim leader for the Division of Student Affairs and will initiate a national search for a permanent successor during the next academic year.

Laurie Elish-Piper, dean of the College of Education, and Suzanne Degges-White, chair of Counseling and Higher Education, meanwhile, are eager for Wesener Michael’s arrival.

“The NIU College of Education is committed to providing meaningful engaged learning experiences for our students, and having Dr. Wesener Michael in the Practitioner-Scholar in Residence role will expand our work with engaged learning in our graduate programs in higher education,” Elish-Piper says. “Through intentional alignment of curriculum, competencies and outcomes, she is determined to build a diverse pool of student affairs professionals for NIU and for universities everywhere.”

Laurie Elish-Piper and Suzanne Degges-White
Laurie Elish-Piper and Suzanne Degges-White

At the same time, the dean says, “Dr. Wesener Michael’s expertise in student affairs will support our student experience work to ensure we are providing the resources and opportunities for all of our students to be successful.”

Degges-White sees Wesener Michael as a good fit.

“Our Higher Education program in CAHE has a strong legacy of preparing student affairs and higher education professionals at the master’s and doctoral level,” Degges-White says, “but we all recognize that the field of higher education continues to change over time – and that the last decade has presented the urgent need for cutting-edge knowledge and nimbleness in responding to the shifting landscape in the profession.”

That’s exactly what Wesener Michael offers, she says.

“Dr. Wesener Michael deepens our bench,” Degges-White says. “She has over two decades of experience in a variety of roles in the higher education arena, and the depth and breadth of her experience will be a welcome supplement to our program.”

Ground-floor perspectives are plentiful for Wesener Michael.

As NIU’s associate vice president for Student Affairs and Chief Student Affairs Officer since 2013, she has overseen a large division dedicated to providing “the best student experience possible, both inside and outside of the classroom.”

Units under the Student Affairs umbrella include Counseling and Consultation Services, Disability Resource Center, Health Services, the Huskie Food Pantry, Military and Veteran Services, Commuter and Off-campus Programs, the Northern Star, Student Conduct and Students’ Legal Assistance, Housing and Residential Services, the Holmes Student Center and Campus Dining.

Kelly Wesener Michael
Kelly Wesener Michael

The division also oversees involvement opportunities, such as student organizations, the Student Government Association, fraternity and sorority life and the Campus Activities Board.

Now, Wesener Michael says, her graduate students in CAHE will benefit not only from the services those programs provide but also from their instructor’s behind-the-scenes expertise of how they operate.

“The key to success in a graduate program is the theory-to-practice, and I bring with me real-world experiences, real-world case studies and real-world circumstances that I hope they’ll be able to learn from,” Wesener Michael says.

“Bringing this experience I have to the CAHE program, I will be able to not only frame things from the practitioner’s perspective, but also as the leader of a Student Affairs division – a really different perspective than other practitioners have – I think will be of great benefit,” she adds.

For example, she says, “it’s easy to teach about a budget, and what that means in higher education.”

However, “to give students an actual budget worksheet with a case scenario where they have to make difficult decisions and give rationales for why they might make those decisions – that’s the joy of this work, being able to have them apply what they’re learning to real-world circumstances so that they’re prepared and ready.”

She expects just those results.

“The best student affairs practitioners are grounded in the reality of the challenges of the job, and how to take those head-on with confidence – because you’ve talked about it before. You had a sense that these things might happen,” Wesener Michael says.

“Part of this move is building self-efficacy for our students,” she adds. “People with self-efficacy are much more resilient, responsive and successful, and the graduate school years can be the time that built that self-efficacy because we are introducing them to not only the theory but how that works in the real world by giving them a little taste of it. That’s the combination that makes a student successful beyond graduation.”

Kelly Wesener Michael
Kelly Wesener Michael

Wesener Michael also brings an immediate and current understanding of the field as well as a seat at the table.

“I’ve been in the conversation. The Association of Public and Land-grant Universities has a student affairs officers group, and I’m on the executive and programming committees,” she says.

“What those groups have consistently spoken about is that what we need from student affairs practitioners, now and into the future, isn’t always being taught in the classroom – and how can we align those things to make sure that our students are coming prepared to be the future professionals we need them to be.”

The field is shifting quickly from a “specialists” model – a counseling specialist or a recreation specialist, for example – back to a “generalists” model as the culture of needs changes.

Meanwhile, Wesener Michael says her work in CAHE should benefit all NIU students.

“I’m hoping for the opportunity to integrate the Social Change Leadership curriculum into the leadership curriculum of all the student organizations so that we’re starting to build out a leadership development model that’s consistent across campus and so that all student-leaders are working toward the same kinds of competencies,” she says.

“This will develop next-generation leaders through student organizations, as well as the curriculum, in a way that’s going to really meet the global needs of our nation moving forward.”

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