A Strong Role Model
Terry Vecchio: Passionate new dean of students. Title IX coordinator. Advocate for students.
Vecchio believes that Springfield College is unique in providing a collaborative environment among offices in order to ensure a successful student experience.
The new Springfield College Dean of Students Theresa A. Vecchio, EdD, can look back at her career and know that every job she has had, to date, has readied her in becoming one of the key advocates on the campus that students need to succeed.
From the 1990s when she worked as a clinician at a local hospital helping pregnant women on crack overcome their addiction, to most recently serving as the College’s interim vice president for student affairs and dean of students, Vecchio has the experience to effectively get the job done.
The role of dean of students is not easy—and is not for everyone. But Vecchio brings compassion and smarts that will benefit students as she helps them manage their academic success, and lends support to their emotional needs, and more.
“The clinical experiences that I’ve had have helped build this foundation for me to work with parents, students, faculty, and staff,” she says. “It’s relational. You have to have relationships with people to be able to get things accomplished and to mentor students.”
“My job is to keep us informed as an institution, to make sure students, faculty, and staff know that we are here for them, and to educate people in preventative measures so that these incidents don’t occur in the first place.”
The more challenging aspects of serving as dean of students, such as working with students and families during difficult times, also benefit from someone with clinical experience, Vecchio says.
“It’s important to have the ability to defuse a situation that may be challenging,” she explains.
In the recent past, the dean of students and the vice president for student affairs were combined into one position. Under the vision and leadership of President Mary-Beth Cooper, however, those are now two separate roles on campus. Shannon M. Finning, PhD, was hired in the summer as the new vice president for student affairs.
“President Cooper comes from a student affairs background so, her support and mentoring in my interim role, were very helpful,” Vecchio says.
Vecchio began her career at Springfield College in 1993 as director of alcohol and drug education and services, a post she held until 2001. She primarily worked with her staff to provide intervention for students facing challenges transitioning to college life or dealing with alcohol and drug issues. From there, she worked as associate dean of campus life handling crisis management, student conduct, student advocacy, and the day-to-day responsibilities of the office.
Under the restructuring, Vecchio will now oversee several departments that provide support, programming, and opportunities for students, including the Office of Student Volunteer Programs, the Office of Spiritual Life, and the Office of Alcohol and Drug Education and Community Standards.
The job of dean of students is not accomplished in a vacuum. Vecchio believes that Springfield College is unique in providing a collaborative environment among offices in order to ensure a successful student experience.
“Knowing the needs of students, the pitfalls, and the theoretical aspects of student learning are key components of the work of the dean of students and in the student affairs division,” she says. “Having really strong people around you is critical.”
In addition to her new role as dean of students, Vecchio will serve as the College’s Title IX coordinator. In this role, she is charged with developing, overseeing, and enforcing policies related to Title IX, a comprehensive federal law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in any federally funded education program or activity. There is much emphasis on Title IX at U.S. colleges and universities these days, Vecchio says, and upholding the rights of all members of the College community will be a priority for her. “The most important aspect of this role, she says, “is to ensure that students, faculty, and staff are treated respectfully, fairly, and compassionately throughout the process.
“Our students are caring and accessible. It’s really quite satisfying to work with students who see the bigger picture.”
“My responsibility as the Title IX coordinator will be to oversee the policies, and make sure we’re educating the community about our processes, services, and resources. I will work with other staff members to provide transparency regarding our policies and procedures and to ensure that all students, faculty, and staff will have access to a thoughtful process,” she says. “It will be a large part of my Title IX role.”
One reason for transparency is to encourage students, and faculty and staff members who have been harassed or victimized to come forward, she says. But even before that, Vecchio feels strongly that it is the job of College administrators to educate all members of the community to make sure these incidents don’t occur.
“My job is to keep us informed as an institution, to make sure students, faculty, and staff know that we are here for them, and to educate people in preventative measures so that these incidents don’t occur in the first place,” she says.
For the past seven years, Vecchio has been involved in a campus task force that focuses on the experiences of first-year students, and now will chair this task force. Knowing that during the initial six weeks of school, students might struggle with a number of issues, such as adjusting to being away from home, time management, and managing their finances, the task force has identified specific student outcomes related to having a positive experience. Before arriving on the campus, new students will be asked to take a survey to assess what they believe their needs will be during the first year. At the end of the first year, students will take another survey to evaluate whether their experiences met their expectations.
“It’s important that we identify students’ needs, and make sure they’re getting the services they require so that we can appropriately challenge and support them in moving forward to success,” Vecchio says.
Vecchio’s other responsibilities will include providing ongoing and training support within and beyond the division of student affairs on topics including but not limited to diversity, Title IX, working with disruptive students, and identifying students in crisis.
Underpinning Vecchio’s responsibilities is the College’s Humanics philosophy of educating the whole person in spirit, mind, and body for leadership in service to others. To better the student experience, Vecchio will work with College leadership to support and help bring to fruition the five strategies that President Cooper identified when she arrived on campus in 2013. Those priorities for the College’s future include emphasis on diversity and enrollment.
Vecchio is proud to say she “loves the campus and loves the students.” She believes the culture on the campus—one in which students, faculty, and staff work hard to assist each other in finding success and achievement—is unique. And, Vecchio finds it exciting to work in this type of environment.
“Our students are caring and accessible. It’s really quite satisfying to work with students who see the bigger picture,” Vecchio says. “They’re looking to really do things, in a genuine way, to better other people’s lives.”