The George Washington University named on Thursday M.L. “Cissy” Petty as the inaugural dean of the student experience, a position she will start in mid to late July as the university continues preparations for the fall 2018 semester.
Dr. Petty, currently vice president for student affairs and associate provost at Loyola University New Orleans, is known for her strategic leadership, thoughtful approach to student affairs and her passion for issues of diversity and equality. She has a reputation for ensuring that all students feel a deep connection and a sense of belonging to their college experience.
“I am thrilled to be joining GW at such an exciting time for the institution,” Dr. Petty said. “As the university undertakes the creation of a new organization and re-envisions the student experience, there are incredible opportunities to build upon existing strengths to take GW to a level of pre-eminence in the student experience.
“I am eager to meet with and hear from students, faculty and staff about ways in which we can provide opportunities for every student to achieve academic success and personal growth.”
In her current role, Dr. Petty leads a team dedicated to all aspects of the student experience, often collaborating with faculty and the university community to develop strategies that support students. She currently oversees Student Involvement—including Fraternity and Sorority Life, Student Government, Black Student Association, Multicultural Student Association, Commuters, the Sophomore Experience, New Student Orientation and Leadership Development—as well as Residential Life and Housing, Food Services, the University Health and Counseling Center, Career Development, Student Conduct and Intercollegiate Athletics, Recreation and Wellness.
During her time at Loyola, she led a major reorganization of the Office of Student Affairs, collaborated on $31 million in campus renovation projects impacting the student residential experience and strengthened programs and the university by increasing the diversity of the student affairs professional staff by 35 percent, among numerous other accomplishments. Having arrived at Loyola eight months after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, Dr. Petty encouraged and participated in recovery projects with staff and students. She collaborated with others within the campus community to instill the importance of service for the greater good.
Senior Vice Provost Laurie Koehler, who is leading the development of the Enrollment and the Student Experience (ESE) organization, described Dr. Petty as “a proven change agent who has used assessment and strategic planning to implement institutional priorities.”
“Throughout the search process, all of us who came in contact with Cissy were impressed by her commitment to students, her collaborative nature, her ability to think critically about an organization to identify areas of opportunity and growth and by her positive attitude and sense of humor,” Ms. Koehler said.
Prior to leading Loyola’s student affairs division, Dr. Petty served as the vice president of co-curricular education and dean of students at St. Lawrence University in Canton, N.Y. She also has held student affairs roles at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro, Mississippi University for Women, the University of North Carolina, Asheville, and the Florida Institute of Technology. She earned her Ph.D. in higher education administration from Florida State University, where she also completed her B.S. and M.S. degrees. She held a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro.
Recognized nationally as a thought leader in the field, Dr. Petty has taught courses on leadership development and counseling at the graduate and undergraduate levels and has presented extensively. She has held numerous leadership roles in professional organizations, including the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA) and the American College Personnel Association (ACPA). NASPA’s Foundation awarded her the Pillar of the Profession award in 2014, their highest peer recognition for outstanding leadership in the profession. She currently serves on the NASPA Foundation Board of Directors and on the editorial board of the Journal of Student Affairs and Research Practice.
Her colleagues at Loyola New Orleans credit Dr. Petty with overseeing the transformation of several areas of importance to students, among them Title IX enforcement and diversity and inclusion.
Loyola University New Orleans President the Rev. Kevin Wildes said Dr. Petty “helped the campus community at large to better understand and address the challenges faced by our students.”
Alice Bourque, director of health services at Loyola, said Dr. Petty is “kind-hearted and deeply committed to the development of students and colleagues.”
“It is part of her soul,” Dr. Bourque said, “and you can see it illustrated daily.”
Peak Sen Chua, co-chair of the search committee and former GW Student Association president, said that Dr. Petty “not only impressed the search committee and the student consultative committee by detailing her extensive leadership experience but also by illustrating her role as a student advocate with and for students.”
“We are confident that Enrollment and the Student Experience will foster a campus culture where students are empowered as lifelong learners to unleash their potential and experience personal growth and development,” he said. “With an approach which treats students equitably, we're looking forward to seeing Dr. Petty partner with our campus community to drive the conversations and action steps on diversity, inclusion and community engagement forward.”
Caroline Laguerre-Brown, vice provost for diversity, equity and community engagement and co-chair of the search committee, said that Dr. Petty will bring “great experience and a deep commitment to students to her new role as GW’s dean of the student experience. We look forward to welcoming her and supporting her successful transition.”
In January, Provost Forrest Maltzman announced the creation of ESE as a result of President Thomas LeBlanc’s call to enhance the undergraduate student experience. ESE will leverage the strengths and experience of the current Division of Student Affairs (DSA) and the Enrollment Management and Retention (EM&R) Division to support a more connected, comprehensive and student-centered approach to the student experience that will integrate the academic experience with student life beyond the classroom. The Dean of the Student Experience will be the chief student affairs officer at the university, tasked with identifying and creating new approaches and best practices to enhance the student experience, and strengthen partnerships and processes within the university.
“Cissy is an outstanding leader who will be a champion for all students and their experience at GW,” said Dr. Maltzman. “I am confident that her collaborative nature and her previous experience with leading change and building teams will help her be successful in this inaugural role.”