The 2023 State of the Division and In-Service - University of Houston
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DSA News
December 20, 2023

This year’s State of the Division (SOD) took place on November 2nd, 2023, and began with a warm welcome from Dr. Thompson and an introduction of our keynote speaker, Dr. Daniel Maxwell, interim vice president of student affairs. The theme of the SOD presentation was based on “The Past, The Present, and The Future” of the Division of Student Affairs (DSA).


The State of the Division used data from our past strategic plan to analyze our success in the present, as well as plan for the future strategic plan. Before diving into the past, Dr. Maxwell took note of President Renu Khator’s State of the University address, where she explained that in order to become a Top 50 Public University, we must increase our graduation rate from 65% to 75%, and to accomplish this increase, we as a whole must build the support system.

In his analysis of the past, Dr. Maxwell recounted the previous strategic initiatives from the Fall 2019 – Summer 2023 strategic plan: Student Success, which focused on championing exceptional opportunities to support all UH students; Division Cohesion, which focused on creating and fostering a cohesive division identity; Resources, which focused on evaluating, actively pursuing, and leveraging our resources to enhance the UH experience; and Partnerships, which focused on forging and strengthening to expand our reach in the UH community and the community of Houston. The data collected focusing on these strategic initiatives over the period FY 2019 – FY 2023 showed that we, as a division, met and exceeded each of our goals.

While each strategic initiative achieved growth over the last four years, Student Success was the initiative that noticed the greatest increase in sub-tactics completed over time. Dr. Maxwell acknowledged this and highlighted a few departments that contributed to this increase, such as Cougars in Recovery, which saw a 27% increase in membership, a 50% increase in utilization of Recovery Housing, and awarded $55,000 scholarships to the CIR community. The Center for Student Empowerment was awarded $12,000,000 by hosting the Dream.US Scholarship Reception, positively impacting over 600 students by providing support with tuition, books, and other needed expenses. The Women & Gender Resource Center experienced a 358% increase in the number of services to individuals impacted by sexual misconduct due to the implementation of a full-time staff member. These were just a few of the departments and their impacts that helped to increase Student Success over the past few years and will continue to aid in UH’s journey to the Top 50.

Transitioning into the present, Dr. Maxwell cited a quote from Joseph Meyers to explain how The Cougar Experience is the culmination of all four of the past strategic initiatives: “Shaping an environment where people naturally connect is more like creating art than manufacturing a product. This marks a major shift: from a programming community (i.e., following a master plan) to using principles of organic order to develop an environment where community can emerge.”

Dr. Maxwell described how the DSA plays a major role in fostering a caring, inclusive campus community where students at UH can develop and sustain a sense of belonging. He explained that sustaining this sense of belonging is about our programs, services, activities, facilities, and how we positively contribute to a campus community where every student feels like they belong. Creating these spaces where students feel they belong provides the opportunity for them to take the risk to engage more. Dr. Maxwell emphasized that this is the kind of work that the DSA does every single day, and how important it is to continue this work because in doing it, we create a meaningful Cougar Experience for every student.

Looking towards the future, the presentation detailed what the Division of Student Affairs’ next strategic plan will look like. With a mission to cultivate an environment that facilitates belonging, well-being, student success, and a vision to build a transformative Cougar Experience of a Top 50 Public University, the 2023 – 2027 strategic plan exemplifies what the DSA hopes to accomplish within the next few years. Dr. Maxwell reviewed the mission and vision stated above and the new revised values, including care, collaboration, community, empowerment, innovation, and integrity.

Next, he transitioned into The Journey to Top 50, a portion of the presentation that summarized how the DSA plans to aid in UH’s journey to becoming a Top 50 Public University. Dr. Maxwell detailed statistics such as how a university achieves Top 50 status, enhancing UH’s strategic priorities, and fostering student engagement.

Dr. Maxwell outlined the key strategic initiatives for the 2023 – 2027 plan, encompassing efforts to enhance retention rates for First Time in College (FTIC) students, elevate student performance metrics including credit hours and GPAs, improve retention specifically for Pell-eligible FTIC students, boost alumni engagement and donations to DSA, reduce costs for economically disadvantaged students, amplify overall student engagement, strengthen involvement at UH Sugar Land and UH Katy campuses, and deepen connections within the Third Ward community. Additionally, Dr. Maxwell detailed the metrics and benchmarks that the DSA aims to achieve, focusing on securing Top 50 status, aligning with UH's strategic priorities, and nurturing student engagement.

Following Dr. Maxwell’s informative State of the Division presentation, the In-Service Program with Dr. Terrell Strayhorn began. From the start of his presentation to the very end, Dr. Strayhorn brought a lively and charismatic energy that kept the audience engaged as well as entertained. The overarching theme of his presentation centered on the powerful impact of belongingness in academic settings and how we create that sense of belonging in the workplace.

In an effort to get the audience involved and engaged with the presentation, Dr. Strayhorn began his conversation with an impromptu selfie session. He asked everyone to take out their phones and snap a few pictures with their tablemates, coworkers, and anyone else in the room, then post onto social media. This was just the beginning of an informative and immersive presentation.

Throughout Dr. Strayhorn’s presentation, his emphasis was placed on the pivotal role of Student Affairs staff members as facilitators of a welcoming environment for students navigating higher education. He spoke about how each one of our departments within Student Affairs work together to create a bigger experience for students, and through our programs and services students find their sense of belonging. Dr. Strayhorn explained through statistics and reports that when students have a higher sense of belonging, they succeed more academically and are more likely to graduate on time.

He spoke on how important diversity and representation are to creating a sense of belonging. He explained the difference between equality, equity, and liberation, and how it’s never enough to simply say “diversity is important”, emphasizing how imperative it is to act on those words. Ensuring that each student feels represented and seen is important due to its direct impact on the student’s sense of belonging. Students deserve to feel that they “deserve a seat at the table”.

To finish his enlightening and lively presentation, Dr. Strayhorn shared a personal story from his childhood about his grandmother and her impact on his personal understanding of the word “belonging”. This story reached the audience on an emotional level, evoking a sense of compassion and understanding throughout the room and connecting with every person in a personal way. It was the perfect end to a passionate and dynamic presentation that solidified Dr. Strayhorn’s message about belonging. The resounding message was that fostering a sense of belonging isn't just a goal—it's an ongoing journey requiring collective commitment, active listening, and intentional actions from everyone involved that creates positive results for students and the university.

Following the State of the Division address and In-Service Program, the Office of the Vice President for Student Affairs sent out an anonymous survey for attendees to fill out and leave anonymous feedback about the event. The comments received from this survey have been overwhelmingly positive, commenting on Dr. Strayhorn’s wonderful presentation his powerful delivery. Some of the responses were as follows:

“I thought the speaker was both dynamic and passionate. I took away quite a few “pearls” that I will apply personally and professionally – in my own role here on campus and when working with students.”

“I appreciate that the speaker did research on the resources we offer and included them in the presentation. It felt great to be mentioned and seen.”

“Dr. Strayhorn was an outstanding presenter. Not only was his delivery powerful, but the content was relevant, compelling, and motivational. This was an outstanding in-service!”

From an impactful in-service program to an informative address on the state of the division, this year’s State of the Division and In-Service program was a success, providing the DSA with a helpful update on what we accomplished, where we are, and where we plan to be.

Written by Alyssa R. Wilson, Marketing Assistant (Student Worker)