At the start of his second full semester at Northern Arizona University, Dean of Students Andrew Dies looked right at home, his office well decorated with framed credentials and personal touches — Mickey Mouse mug and all — as if he had been there for years.
Dies began at NAU in late July after serving as the Dean of Students at the Armstrong and Liberty campuses of Georgia Southern University. He filled the position last held by Cindy Anderson, who retired after 35 years at NAU in various roles, and is also currently acting as senior associate dean of student conduct until the position is filled.
“I was up and down the east coast since 2003, so I was looking for a new experience and I saw the [NAU] job posting,” Dies said. “It’s a great position and I like how tight-knit NAU is and that we’re a younger institution and a lot of things are moving and shaking. I like working at dynamic places that aren’t set in their ways.”
Dies, who is currently pursuing a doctoral degree in educational leadership from Georgia Southern University, said he has never lived as far west as Arizona — and was surprised by the lack of humidity when he arrived this summer from Savannah, Georgia.
As Dean of Students at NAU, Dies reports to the Vice President for Student Affairs and oversees student organizations, family and parent services, veterans and military services, Greek life, student rights and responsibilities — including student conduct and Title IX investigations — and neighborhood relations. Dies tells incoming students his role is like a combination of their high school principal and guidance counselor.
“We’ve got 31,000 students total here and they’re all my responsibility,” Dies said.
He spent his first months at the university working to help define a new department, Student Affairs, which was separated from Enrollment shortly before his arrival. He and his team spent the fall updating the Student Affairs’ strategic plan and will now begin working on a plan specific to the Office of the Dean of Students, which Dies said will call for protocols to manage in-the-moment situations like student misconduct, while also setting long-term goals for the department.
“That makes our response more consistent, but also when eventually I’m going to leave here at some point, as will all of my staff, that makes the business continuity much more effective and much more impactful,” Dies said.
Since Dies’ arrival, the department has also “beefed up” student assistance by training faculty and staff to manage situations they may see on campus. Dies plans to continue increasing student assistance with more fraternity and sorority chapters, new trainings for advisers of student organizations and conversations with students about appropriate off-campus behavior.
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“We’ve got to start thinking creatively about how we’re serving our students because they’re evolving,” Dies said. “That’s an exciting challenge for me. I’m stubborn enough to buckle down and figure out how we can make it happen.”
Plans to address students’ ongoing mental health needs, which Dies believes is the biggest challenge of his new role, are already in the works. In addition to Campus Health’s six new counselors and increased counseling sessions to address a longtime waitlist, Dies said NAU is one of only a handful of universities that will offer a popular resiliency program to its students.
The Student Resilience Project, created by Florida State University, is an online program that uses interactive audio recordings and videos featuring faculty from the university to improve student wellness by teaching them how to manage stress, recover from trauma and increase their sense of belonging, FSU News reported in 2018, when the program was made available to Florida State students.
At NAU, the resilience project will join existing online lessons on topics such as sexual assault prevention, alcohol abuse and diversity and inclusion. Dies said there will be a mini rollout this summer, with plans to deploy the project in the fall for all first-year students.
In November, NAU also hired Joshua Maher, former assistant director of government and external affairs at California State Polytechnic University in Pomona, to be its associate vice president for community relations.
According to the job description, Maher’s main responsibility is to improve the “reputation and credibility [of NAU] locally and regionally.”
Maher formerly managed constituent affairs and program and policy issues for the City of Riverside in California. During this time, he worked to promote the city as a destination for nearby college graduates.
“I am excited about the energy Josh brings to this role,” NAU President Rita Cheng said in a November email to staff. “His experience and his success in both higher education and city government are the perfect fit for NAU as we continue to build great relationships between the university and our community.”