College reorganizes Student Life to separate residential life, recreational activities

The college has remodeled the Department of Student Life to create one position tasked with supervising residential life and another supervising student activities and MacVittie College Union (pictured above). Student Life operated under this structure three years ago (Udeshi Seneviratne/ photo editor).

As of April 4, Residence Life has once again become a separate entity from the Department of Student Life with a new director, Sarah Frank. Residence Life previously functioned within the Department of Student Life under Senior Director of Student Life Chip Matthews. The Department of Career Development has also welcomed a new department head in director Jessie Stack Lombardo.

As the former Associate Director of Student Life, Frank was chosen to lead a now designated sect for campus living. This selection was due to her experience in residence life in comparison to Matthews and even former Director of Residence Life Celia Easton, according to Vice President of Student and Campus Life Robert Bonfiglio.

Matthews will retain his position with enhanced responsibilities while Frank will absorb the residence life responsibilities.

“Sarah is overseeing the Area Coordinators and she’s overseeing the housing process. Really what we’re going back to is Residence Life. I oversaw all of that stuff,” Matthews said. “So Sarah’s picking that back up and I’m taking on these other things and focusing more on student activities, the College Union, the mascot and all that stuff that has to do with Student Life.”

Both Bonfiglio and Matthews anticipate that this change will be more visible on the administrative side of the college as opposed to the student side. 

“So I think when you see a split, she’ll be going to more meetings and she’ll be the person who’s talking more out front. I don’t think that a student is going to necessarily see that, like a person who isn’t within the division or within the department,” Matthews said. “I don’t think that it would have a dramatic effect on anyone other than Sarah Frank and myself.”

In 2016, Bonfiglio wanted to develop academic advising spearheaded by Easton. Due to a lack of funding for a new director of residence life and Matthews’s interest in taking on more responsibility, he was promoted to the Director of Student Life and assumed Easton’s responsibilities.  This lead to resident life being absorbed by student life.

Since Frank was a fit candidate for the role and Matthews had other responsibilities to pursue outside of res-life, it was time to separate the departments again.

“This is a residential college. We knew that we couldn’t go without specific leadership in Residence Life forever,” Bonfiglio said. “We thought we would could go for it for a while. Academic advising is kind of on its feet now and there is a different and more integrated approach to Residence Life and student activities.”

Matthews hopes that this change will optimize the objectives of the Department of Student Life.

“For many people, Residence Life never went away ... and if you think about it, like other colleges, Residence Life is housing,” Matthews said. “Student Life doesn’t convey housing and I think there was always a struggle there. I think going back to the title Residence Life is going to make things a little bit more easy to navigate for someone on the outside as far as understanding what that means.”

Matthews will take on new roles such as developing learning initiatives for student employees, a mental health first aid training program and a professional staff development program, according to Bonfiglio and Matthews. 

Matthews plans to help maximize the learning outcomes of those in student employment and work study roles on campus, like resident assistants or College Union managers. Similar to SafeZone and CPR training, the mental health training program will focus on teaching students, faculty and staff mental health first aid in two four-hour sessions, according to Matthews.

“I think there’s some things to be said about your ability to be more agile or nimble when you have a specialty. So if our housing people are just focusing on housing, they’re going to be able to respond quicker and with a little bit more focus, and the same thing for the activity side,” Matthews said. “Ultimately what we’re looking at is what is the best experience that we can provide the student. What’s the healthiest? What’s the safest? What’s the most engaging?” 

The Department of Student Life’s redirection also involves a new model for the Department of Career Development along with its first director in two years.

“We wanted to take a different look at how we were developing the career readiness of our students. Two years ago, our [Career Development] director Stacy Wiley resigned, and some other staff members resigned as well. So we had the chance basically to start from scratch,” Bonfiglio said. “I went on a little study tour, read a lot of articles, went to some seminars, read some books all about career development and then presented to the cabinet and to the college foundation a plan to reconstruct Career Development.”

Stack Lombardo took on the role as associate director of the Department of Career Development in November 2018 after her previous role as the associate director for the Career Development Center at Buffalo State College.

Stack Lombardo’s goals involve refocusing the department from just a scope on graduating seniors.

“[We’re asking] how can our department support retention efforts on campus? And also how can our office support faculty in the work that they’re doing with either undecided students or helping students identify more of their options with their major and providing a support to the different academic departments,” Stack Lombardo said. “So not really just the senior job search type of stuff, but really coming in and trying to formulate that career plan early on and identify a major that they really feel connected with.”

Bonfiglio claims that a main objective of restructuring both Student Life departments is to reformat the college’s structure from time to time.

“I’ve been here a good while and it’s important for an organization to take a good look at itself and then hit the refresh button every now and then.  Every time you hire you have a chance to bring in some new ideas and some different approaches,” Bonfiglio said. “And we have a lot of very accomplished staff here doing good work and to compliment those folks with some new approaches to me ensures that our students are going to be well served.”