Saturday, August 13, 2022

Ole Miss Student Affairs Gets a Makeover

Vice chancellor involved staff in restructuring process to improve operations, better serve students.

Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Brandi Hephner LaBanc meets with various department heads to discuss the upcoming fall semester. Photo courtesy of Ole Miss Communications
Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Brandi Hephner LaBanc meets with various department heads to discuss the upcoming fall semester. Photo courtesy of Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – The University of Mississippi’s Division of Student Affairs will look a little different when the fall semester starts.

Effective July 1, the offices were consolidated into four major areas under the student affairs umbrella: University Police Department and “communities of practice” built around the Office of the Dean of Students, wellness and student success, and enrollment management.

The new structure also aligns like areas that previously operated independently (i.e., academic support center with First-Year Experience, veterans and military services and retention), reconnects enrollment services and admissions and merges the Ole Miss Student Union’s oversight with campus programming.

Since joining the Ole Miss administration in July 2012, Brandi Hephner LaBanc, UM vice chancellor for students affairs, carefully observed existing operations. While she acknowledged practices that were sound, Hephner LaBanc also recognized areas where there was room for improvement. Rather than arbitrarily changing things, she wisely invited staff members to assist in revamping the structure.

Her openness to their input and willingness to consider their suggestions have produced a tighter, more efficient model similar to student affairs divisions at other universities.

“I feel the strength of this model is that it builds relationships between personnel and myself that are more proactive,” Hephner LaBanc said. “It also allows me to spend more time with students, which is very important for me in understanding their issues.”

The restructuring also separates the Office of Conflict Resolution and Student Conduct from the Office of the Dean of Students, which will still hold responsibility over the Associated Student Body, Greek-letter organizations, multicultural affairs, service/volunteerism and the leadership development of student organizations.

Sparky Reardon, assistant vice chancellor and dean of students, supervises the offices of conflict resolution and student conduct, dean of students and the Ole Miss Student Union. Calvin Sellers will remain chief of University Police.

Leslie Banahan is assistant vice chancellor of wellness and student success. Under her supervision are campus recreation, the Career Center, University Counseling CenterCenter for Student Success and First-Year ExperienceUniversity Health Services and Student Disability Services.

Lionel Maten, assistant vice chancellor for enrollment management and housing, directs admissions, financial aid, Luckday and student housing. Merrill Magruder is coordinator for special projects and divisional operations.

Members of the committee that assisted Hephner LaBanc in the restructuring support her efforts and are enthusiastic about the changes.

“Dr. Hephner LaBanc has done a wonderful job of restructuring student affairs administrators and staff into collaborative teams that will hopefully improve the services and benefits to our students,” said Maten, formerly director of student housing, who chaired the committee. “Her ability to listen across the board and to put into action objectives and policies that reflect everyone’s input create a win-win situation for all.”

UM Provost Morris Stocks said Hephner LaBanc’s proven administrative skills honed at Northern Illinois University and elsewhere, coupled with her passion for helping students, indicated she would be the ideal leader to move UM operations to the next level of excellence.

“In a very short time, she has gained the support and appreciation of students, her student affairs team and the university community,” Stocks said. “She has successfully led her division through an effective and productive self-study. I am confident in Dr. Hephner LaBanc’s leadership. She brings energy and a fresh, experienced perspective to a stable and highly productive student affairs division.”

Before joining UM, Hephner LaBanc was associate vice president for student affairs and enrollment management at Northern Illinois University. She also served students in multiple administrative roles at Arizona State University, University of North Carolina at Wilmington, University of Akron, Baldwin-Wallace College and Kent State University.

Upon receiving her undergraduate degree in accounting from Akron, Hephner LaBanc worked with Merrill Lynch before eventually returning to school. While she loved the accounting field, Hephner LaBanc realized that she greatly enjoyed her Greek experience as an undergraduate and decided to pursue a graduate degree in higher education while working with Greek life at Kent State.

Her work as a Greek adviser at Kent State, Arizona State and UNC-Wilmington created a good foundation and prepared her for the world of student affairs and enrollment management, she said. At Ole Miss, an institution home to 31 national fraternities and sororities, Hephner LaBanc appreciates the role these organizations play on campus and in the Oxford community.

“I understand the value of it,” she said. “I always like to say I’m their biggest advocate, but I also know so much about it that I’ll hold them to their own standards.”

Besides the opportunity to work more closely with students, it was the campus, the town of Oxford and the people she met that made her want to be a part of Ole Miss. A self-proclaimed gym rat and sports fan, she and her husband, David – who is the university’s facilities projects and space management coordinator – are enjoying experiencing the Grove and Rebel football.

“It’s a dream job,” Hephner LaBanc said. “Where better (to work) than Ole Miss?”

— Ole Miss News Desk

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