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April 3, 2012 12:24 am

Interim Dean Selected, Ready to Bridge Gap

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On Feb. 24, President Urgo sent out an all-campus email informing the College community that Laura Bayless would be stepping down from her positions as Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students at the end of the academic year. Five days later, however, Urgo sent another email explaining that Bayless had left her position and would be on leave the rest of the semester.

Then, on March 19 President Urgo sent an all-campus email informing the Campus community that Roberto Ifill would serve as interim Dean of Students for the academic year 2012 –2013.

Roberto Ifill prepares for his new position as Interim Dean of Students. (Photo by Kevin Baier)
Roberto Ifill prepares for his new position as Interim Dean of Students. (Photo by Kevin Baier)

Officially, Ifill will begin his tenure as interim dean in July, but he has already begun preparing for his new position. “[I’ve] been getting familiar with people…[and] meeting with the senior staff,” said Ifill.

This is not the first time that  Ifill has been in an administrative position, particularly one focusing on student life. Throughout most of his career, he has worked in higher education, serving many different roles such as analyst, arbiter, and planner. For the early part of his career, he was, “involved in academic advising,” as well as student life issues ranging from roommate conflicts, parking, mental health, and transitioning to post-graduate independence. He also served as Dean of First Year Students and Assistant Dean of the College at Williams College.

He served as an Assistant to the President of Macalester College as Chief Diversity Officer with a specialty in multiculturalism. He was instrumental in coordinating and implementing campus responses to highly charged incidences and subsequent campus shutdowns. One such incident involved racist graffiti displayed outside a student’s room.

While at Connecticut College, Ifill served as Dean of Planning, Associate Dean of the College, and Assistant to the President. He entered Connecticut College with the intention of developing a strategic plan but ended up developing an evaluation and self-report for the college’s accreditation requirement. While developing this report, Ifill said, “I worked with student life,” on many of accreditation metrics related to students.

It wasn’t until Ifill began working for the Mellon Foundation did he learn about St. Mary’s. The foundation works with liberal arts colleges around the country and  Ifill said he was intrigued by the reputation and success of the college. Upon further investigation, Ifill said his first thoughts of St. Mary’s were, “This is a wonderful kind of institution…with great management.” Since 2008, Ifill has served as a visiting professor of economics.

Although he only has a year as Dean,  Ifill sees this as a great opportunity for himself and the college. Ifill said this transition allows the student life division to find out, “who do we [student affairs] want to be…[and provide] a wonderful year long transition…making it a great job” for the next Dean of Students.

Ifill described himself as a “bridge” making “…a real connection between student affairs and the rest of college.” Ifill said President Urgo is “very supportive,” and “excited” about his year-long tenure and that he wants, “people in these offices to feel connected to the educational objectives [and opportunities] of the college.”

Ifill provided three goals for his time in office: “providing a good transition”; “connections [and] integrations”; and multiculturalism. He said “thriving on diversity” allows the College to form community. Referring to his passion for music, he said, “harmony depends on diversity…without diversity, harmony would just be a single chord.”

On promoting diversity,  Ifill said, “Let’s amplify [diversity]” by employing more campus programming (such as St. Mary’s Here and Now), early warning systems and peer counseling to help prevent at-risk students from “slipping through the cracks”; and student leadership initiatives such as those put forward by De Sousa Brent scholars.

Ifill anticipates his biggest challenge being, “to make sure I’m in real, regular contact with everyone,” while also making sure the student voice is heard effectively. He anticipates his biggest success being that, “all the finalists will really want to come here.”

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