April 28, 2021 | By Jake Weber
It’s always challenging, wrapping up your old job before starting a new one. But for Sharese Shannon Mathis, it was impossible. So three weeks into her tenure as Albion’s assistant dean of campus life, Mathis returned to her old place of work—to receive their honor for being named Adviser of the Year for 2020-21.
This award-winning enthusiasm for working with students is well matched by a combination of training, experience and a clear focus on what she sees as her goals for Albion’s new office and position.
Mathis’ background includes work in residential life, Greek life, student organization advising, campus conduct and diversity education. At Siena Heights University, she served as chief diversity officer and taught first-year seminars and a required course in community development. Her experience in the higher-ed sector also includes a corporate role focused on retention—work that she sees as relevant to the job in front of her.
“Bottom line, our ‘business’ is students and graduation,” she says, pointing out that campus life and co-curricular activity are integral to the entire spectrum of a college education.
“Sometimes we help students figure out what they want to do through co-curriculars. If they want to do accounting, we might encourage them to be treasurer of an organization,” Mathis says. “We partner with students to shape their learning experiences, and that’s how they know they belong here.”
“Belonging here” is a surprise for Mathis herself, who wasn’t in the job market when a friend (and former colleague of Leroy Wright, vice president of student development and dean of students) encouraged her to apply for the position. “I sent in my application and then I forgot about it,” Mathis says with a laugh.
But, as she puts it, “When the chief belonging officer reports directly to the president, that means diversity is a priority.” This, Mathis says, is how she knew she wanted to be at Albion. “That’s a bold statement.”
Mathis directs the Office of Campus Life, which encompasses the former offices of Intercultural Affairs and Campus Programs and Organizations. Along with overseeing all aspects and operations of both the newly created office and the Kellogg Center, she’ll work with orientation (another area of expertise) and oversee student organization advising and diversity education.
She’ll also be front and center when conflicts arise, and is well experienced in turning challenges into opportunities for growth. One such opportunity came during her first day at Albion when students protested against racist graffiti on campus. Just a few hours into the job, Mathis met with members of Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority in addition to the students organizing the demonstrations and listened.
She’s on their side, and she wants them to know it. She is also holding the students accountable for their role in the partnership.
“One thing that’s coming out of the conversations is the students saying, ‘We want transparency,’” Mathis says. “I’ve only been here a little while, but I feel like the emails from President Johnson are answering their questions. The students said they weren’t reading them, and I said, ‘The answers are being given to you.’”
Incorporating more video into those communications was discussed, says Mathis, who adds, “The message I keep repeating to students is that they have a voice. Without them, we don’t exist. At the same time, they have to be respectful and they can’t be last-minute. But they can know I’m going to fight for them and what they want.”
At the end of the day, Mathis says she has one goal.
“What I really want is for everybody to be great. I want my staff members to be great, my students to be great, my boss to be great. That sounds basic and that doesn’t mean we’re not great now,” she smiles. “But we can always be greater.”