Catching Up With the Dean of Students

August 29, 2011

Peter Konwerski discusses his priorities for the new academic year, as well as his Twitter “addiction.”

By Menachem Wecker

When Peter Konwerski, senior associate vice president and dean of students, says his office door is always open, he really means it.

Whether late nights, holidays or weekends, Dr. Konwerski, B.A. ’91, M.A. ’93, Ed.D. ’97, is often responding on Twitter to students, alumni, faculty, staff and anyone else who will listen. This has led to speculation – at least in our offices – that he might be some kind of superhero.

In an interview, Dr. Konwerski explained.

Q: It’s been just over a year since you assumed your new role. What are some of the things that have most surprised you over the last year?

A: I had a terrific first year as dean of students. It was a fast-paced, exciting year of learning on the job every day, particularly given the vast array of issues and challenges that come my way. While I was surprised by several things I encountered throughout the year, I think – thanks in large part to the terrific staff who surround me – I was well supported and prepared to deal with the variety of interesting situations that took place across our campuses.

Q: And some of the most rewarding things?

A: Getting to know our students – celebrating Commencement in May, hearing about the transition of students to alumni, learning about their job prospects, grad school plans and their Teach for America or Peace Corps placement – quickly followed by the opportunity to meet and welcome new students and parents into our community each June. Those are two wonderful reminders of what makes my job so rewarding.

Q: What are some of your priorities for the coming year?

A: Basically, we have set four priorities for the year: 

  • Continuing to work in partnership with the provost to integrate student life and learning to enhance the student experience through programs and services that support academic success, student engagement and wellness.
  • Strengthening our community to foster institutional affinity, which will help students feel a lifelong affiliation with their alma mater.
  • Supporting our diversity and inclusion efforts and enhancing our career, civic and leadership development programs to prepare students to make purposeful contributions to our diverse, global society.
  • Making sure we establish effective systems and processes to maximize our financial resources to meet the emerging needs of our unique student body – including undergraduate, graduate, distance and professional students.

Q: What made you decide to take the social media leap? What are some of the returns on your social media investment that keep you Tweeting?

A: My staff and I had been talking about social media and having greater student contact all year, but while I was at a national professional association conference in March, I attended a session with a panel of student affairs leaders talking about social media.

One of the panelists remarked that it was important to “be where the students are,” and that really resonated with me. When I returned to GW, I told my staff that I would be “jumping in,” and on April 1, I took the plunge. I have been hooked – some say addicted – ever since!

Twitter has proven to be a tremendous tool, which allows me to connect with hundreds of students and student organizations, as well as alumni, faculty, staff, academic and administrative departments and trustees and friends of GW. In just 140 characters, you can send an important update broadly or a direct message to just one student who raises a specific concern. I have also used Twitter to poll students, inform parents and stay in touch with alumni friends.

What sold me on the power of Twitter was actually a GW student, Keith Osentoski, who wrote an op-ed about one of my first tweets in the next edition of the Hatchet. That showed me the power of social media!

Q: With a new crop of freshmen arriving, and many other students returning to campus, what are some of the things students ought to be aware of for the coming academic year that might not be so prominent on their radar?

A: We are working on a new academic success model to monitor, track and enhance student success with colleagues in schools and colleges. This will ensure that we provide each student with the right resources to achieve his or her academic goals and aspirations.

The terrific team that is launching our new student engagement model will reach students directly and support their development right from the start, including a new focus on graduate, distance and professional students, as well as the long standing support for our undergraduates.

My staff will continue to manage two presidential priorities: career services and civic engagement. We will keep both of these high on the priority list throughout the year, so continue to look for progress on both fronts.

Additionally, we intend to put even greater focus on education and prevention, particularly in areas like alcohol, drugs, physical and sexual assault, violence, as well as diet and nutrition, and to create a culture of civility, so that we all look out for one another and help students make smart choices and decisions.

Q: Is there anything you wish students were more aware of as far as ways they can interact with you and your office?

A: Our door is always open, and you can always reach me or my staff by phone, text, email or on twitter, @GWPeterK.

My staff members are real people, who live and work with students, and there are always staff members on-call in the event of a crisis or emergency.

Q: You’ve earned three degrees from GW. What first drew you to the university? What are some of the reasons you’ve been so hooked ever since?

A: I take great pride in being a Colonial three times over, as well as being a member of the GW faculty. Wearing all those hats – former student, current alumnus, administrator and educator – is my GW identity.

There are two main things that drew me to GW and have kept me here since: First, the people. Our unique and diverse students are truly special. As emerging leaders, they leave campus every year ready to make a difference in the world, and they do time and time again in so many ways that really matter. Couple them with the amazing faculty, staff and alumni resources here on campus and in the D.C. area; we are so lucky to have that pool of talented people to pull from who make the GW community a great place to work and learn.

Second, like they say in real estate, “location, location, location.” I have made GW and the Washington metro area my home for nearly 25 years. It is a city I love, and a region I love to explore. Beyond just the classes, lectures and events on campus, think of the array of restaurants, museums and cultural institutions, as well as recreational amenities, hiking trails in and around D.C. or just a day trip away. What can’t you do in D.C.? Oh, and don’t forget the politics. I love a great debate!

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