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Dean Jones: Student Resilience

Colgate University

Dean Jones: Student Resilience

A familiar warmth fills the dean’s office in McGregory Hall. Whether it be from the bowl of candy on the center table that never seems empty, the jovial laughter echoing from the deans themselves or the motivational quotes at the front desk, this office emanates comfort, a feeling many Colgate students seek and find in this space.

Sarah H. Jones is the Associate Dean for Administrative Advising on campus and has worked at Colgate since Feb. 2016. She previously worked at Cornell in orientation and first year programs for 10 years prior to coming to Colgate. In explaining dean advising, she notes that previously, Colgate utilized a class-dean advising model where a dean is assigned to a class year. Now, its model assigns deans to students, allowing deans the opportunity to grow with their students for all four years, and vice versa. She appreciates her ability to support students more directly and advises approximately 500 students, a number that does not daunt her. 

“One of the reasons we moved away from this model, and rightfully so, is because there are touchpoints related to every class that are high need times,” she explained. “First-year students are homesick around three weeks into school. Seniors have various points throughout the year that feel more stressful than others and so moving to a model where every dean supports students from all four class years has really helped to make sure that we can be attentive to student needs wherever they are and wherever we are in the semester.”

What makes the dean’s office so integral to the Colgate student experience is its network of connections to all offices on campus, including the student health center, counseling services, first-year seminar professors, faculty members, CLTR, and countless others. The goal is to provide both breadth and depth in these relationships and to inform every student of the multiple resources they have available to them. Students may feel somewhat overwhelmed, especially during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic last year, a year that felt lonely for many on campus, making resources like administrative deans of the utmost importance.

“We want everyone to be in a position where they can thrive but unfortunately that’s just not what the world at large has been for the last couple of years,” she recounted. “I think we were really trying to meet with as many students as we could and be there for them but even so, when your only option is to do it over a Zoom screen or the phone, it’s hard. If somebody wants a hug, you just want to be able to give them a hug. Not to say that’s what students come in here for. It was just difficult for everyone.”

Though she faced difficulty in her position as a result of the pandemic, she never let it hinder her from embracing her position and further strengthening her relationship with students, which is her main drive that makes her appreciate the job so much. 

“I really love just how passionate and excited Colgate students are, either about what they’re learning or what they’re involved in,” she explained. “I think that’s one of the things [about] having a liberal arts education myself that made me really want to return to a liberal arts school. I don’t go a day without hearing about some exciting things someone is working on or something they read that they found really interesting.”

To strengthen the student experience, Jones also highlighted the role that the office plays in the third century plan, a strategic framework designed to focus Colgate on the attainment of a series of long-term goals, including improved diversity, equity, and inclusion in the Colgate community. Currently, deans have a loose association with the residential commons. The office’s hope, with the addition of a fifth commons detailed in the plan to enhance student experiences, is to assign deans to each of the five commons to further support students and provide easier paths of access, with a focus on BIPOC and first-generation students. 

“How can we best provide all of the support possible and continue to advocate and garner new and additional support?” she highlighted. “I think that’s something that we as a team have been very focused on, I’m sure prior to my time here and during my time here as well.”

Jones is passionate about her position and her office, expressing her adoration for students at Colgate and wanting to remind them that they deserve a place here and should all be proud of themselves.

“Our whole team cares so deeply about students. [We] want to help students find the best path for themselves, and have the best experience they possibly can. We know there are going to be ups and downs for everyone and we want to try to support people when they are having harder times but also help students celebrate their successes as well … I’m so glad that I come to work every day with a group of people who are excited to be here and excited to support students.”