Between moving into his new office in the Michigan Union and making the hour drive from Toledo, Ohio every day, the new Dean of Students Ed Willis has been busy these last two weeks. But he has still found time for Maize Craze, New Student Convocation, Festifall, Black Student Convocation, Artscapade and the first home football game.
Willis, who took over as dean of students in late August, is one of the many new administrative faces around campus, but he said he is anxious to familiarize himself better with students.
“The way I do my work as dean of students is that I do not necessarily wait for students to come to me,” said Willis, the former dean of students at the University of Toledo. “I’m always looking out for students’ well-being.”
“I’m trying to get out to as many student events and activities as possible so people are aware of me and know me,” he added. “I think people will know who I am once I get out and about.”
Willis is the University’s first permanent dean of students since E. Royster Harper was promoted to interim executive vice president of student affairs in 1999. She replaced Maureen Hartford, who took the presidency of Meredith College in North Carolina.
Since then, Senior Associate Vice President of Student Affairs Frank Cianciola has served as interim dean of students.
Before going to the University of Toledo, Willis also held positions at the University of Missouri at Columbia, Rutgers University, St. John’s University and North Carolina A & T State University.
Willis said he recognizes that there are some challenges that come with his new position at the University, like managing a larger campus community and becoming familiar with issues that students here struggle with, versus those that are on the minds of students at the University of Toledo.
“I used to wear out a couple of pairs of shoes at Toledo and then repair the soles,” he said. “I’ll have to get them fixed more often or just get more shoes.”
Having had no previous ties to the University and entering at a time when the University’s administration has many vacant posts. He also faces the challenge of getting to know the faculty, staff, students and alumni.
Willis said it is difficult to help students without first being aware of who and what is available for them.
“Certainly students are always concerned about trying to navigate the University. Part of it is trying to find ways to break down barriers for students,” Willis said. “Making sure I have a grasp and handle on the University of Michigan community, so I can help students navigate it, is my number one priority.”
His job focuses on helping students become successful alumni, either by showing them the resources available to them, helping them with problems that are affecting their academic abilities, or promoting student organizations or student events, he said.
“Students are certainly coming to our campus these days with all kinds of issues that they are dealing with at home – personal, academic and financial,” Willis said. “We just need to be prepared and understand what those issues are.”
“Some of them are a little more deep-rooted and we need to work with them and give them the resources to get them back on course,” he added. “When you are dean of students, you can’t always pick and choose the issues that you deal with. You never know what is going to walk through the door.”
Although he is still getting settled in and cardboard boxes still decorate his office, he said he is excited about the new administration.
“I’m sure I’ll take a look at things and contribute to whatever is happening here,” he said. H added that his experience here has been positive and he is not going to be making any major changes soon.
“In the two weeks that I have been here, people have been just awesome – real warm and welcoming. Anything that I have asked, people have responded to,” Willis said. “People seem to be excited about me being here too, and that’s a good feeling.”