Last year, when the Ebola virus terrified the United States, two students from Southern Methodist University worried they might be infected.
The students had flown back to their campus in Dallas with two volunteer nurses who had shown signs of the disease. Amidst their fear, Joanne Vogel got to work.
Vogel, as associate vice president and dean of students at SMU, asked the two students to quarantine themselves and coordinated the health center to monitor the students’ symptoms, the dining hall to deliver meals and other people to bring the students’ homework to them.
“I’m not sure what I would’ve done if they had said no,” Vogel admitted. “But I’m pretty persuasive.”
On Wednesday, Vogel said a dean of students must be able to coordinate in the midst of crisis, a skill she said sets her apart from the other candidates competing for Pitt’s open vice provost and dean of students job.
Vogel is one of four finalists for the position, which has been vacant since January 2015. Provost Patricia Beeson appointed Kenyon Bonner, former director of student life, last year to fill the position in the interim. Bonner, who interviewed on Tuesday, and two other administrators in higher education are also candidates.
During a public interview Wednesday morning, Vogel discussed student wellness — specifically in terms of sexual violence — students receiving value from the cost of tuition and integrating graduate student and undergraduate student life.
Before applying for the job at Pitt, Vogel served for 11-and-a-half years in student affairs at Rollins College in Florida and for 14 months at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.
During her interview, which Pitt faculty, staff and two students — both members of the Student Government Board — attended, Vogel offered herself as a candidate with a deep understanding of the job. Vogel said she would know how to connect the role to Pittsburgh.
“Are you going out in the city, and are you engaged?” Vogel said. “You have to be out making relationships, you can’t simply say, ‘I’m the dean of students at Pitt and I’m going to stay on campus. It’s a reach out, not a reach in.”
Her vision for the dean of students role stretches deep into her training as a counselor and mental health expert. Aside from her bachelor’s degree in history and political science, Vogel holds a master’s degree in mental health counseling and a doctorate degree in counselor education and supervision. Wellness in all its forms — including both mental and financial — is the compass Vogel said she would use to lead Pitt’s students.
“I take everything back to wellness,” Vogel said. “Whether that’s emotionally, whether that’s environmentally. Is the environment safe? I’d say financially and occupationally, how engaged are you?”
Like Bonner in his interview on Tuesday, Vogel addressed the high cost of tuition, specifically at Pitt, and said the dean of students must work to show students the price tag is worth it.
“I’m watching tuition rates rising to dollars that just don’t bring in diverse candidates, that also don’t bring in diverse students and are a deterrent,” Vogel said. “Are we really able to give students back what they’ve invested?”
“Yes you don’t want to price yourself out … but you are getting more, being in a place like Pitt, so it can justify the cost,” Vogel said. “But I think we have to look and look deeply into what we can deliver on. As long as you feel that it was an investment, that you got a return on your investment … those are important things to students and families.”
On other issues, such as sexual assault, Vogel said tweaks to language and organizational structure can improve student life.
“My thing is, I want students to know where to go,” she said. “If I call it the peace center, which is the opposite of violence, that isn’t going to resonate.”
As dean, Vogel said she would work to increase victim advocacy resources and expand such resources to include victims of all violent crimes, including muggings and robberies.
Having a campus resource that can help students cancel their credit cards and renew their driver’s licenses if they get mugged is just as important, Vogel said, as making sure victims of sexual assault receive the medical and emotional support they need.
“I’ve looked a little [at Pitt], but what I didn’t see is a victim advocacy arm,” Vogel said. “I think if you can get to people who perpetrate crime, and not create more victims, you can treat less victims. I’m a firm believer in that you have to know something about everyone.”
Jack Heidecker, a member of Student Government Board who attended the interview, said Vogel’s adeptness at discussing Pitt and her goals helped her stand out.
“We want someone who works well with students and understands their needs and action items that can make the student experience better,” Heidecker said.
In her interview, Vogel made clear she has researched Pitt, and emphasized the position’s potential to collaborate with other faculty and staff.
Robin Kear, a liaison librarian in Hillman Library who attended Bonner’s interview on Tuesday and Vogel’s interview on Wednesday, said she can see why both would make good deans.
“There are great advantages to an internal candidate and their knowledge of Pitt, but there can be advantages to a fresh face,” Kear said.
At Pitt, which is about 70 percent undergraduate to 30 percent graduate students, Vogel said the dean of students should work to establish herself as the dean of both levels of students, not just undergraduates.
When a dean launches various programs, especially programs related to safety, Vogel said, she should include both groups of students.
“When we talk about student safety and risk — it’s not just undergraduate students, it’s all students,” Vogel said. “Is this the position for undergraduate students or all students? I’m more interested in being the dean for all students.”