After a monthslong national search, Montclair State University has selected Dawn Meza Soufleris, Ph.D., as Vice President for Student Development and Campus Life effective April 5.
The university sent out a press release announcing Soufleris’ appointment on Jan. 14. According to the press release, “The vice president oversees 22 departments with nearly 300 employees and some 700 student workers.”
Karen Pennington, current Vice President for Student Development and Campus Life, will be retiring on April 1, 2021 to ensure a smooth transition. She was appointed to the position in 1998 when Montclair State had a student population of 12 thousand and will be retiring after 22 years in office with a student population of 21 thousand.
Pennington mentioned what she was most proud of during her tenure.
“I am proud that no matter how much the student body grew in size that we did everything we could to treat each student as an individual and remember that they came with their own thoughts, hopes and dreams,” Pennington said. “I am particularly proud of seeing so many students graduate and go out in the world and live their best lives.”
According to an email sent from the office of the President, the search committee was chaired by Donna McMonagle, Vice President for Finance and Treasurer at Montclair State, and included two students: Paulette Gando-Duenes and Jasmine Metellus, along with other deans, provosts, vice presidents and professors.
Jasmine Metellus, a senior business administration major at Montclair State, was selected by Cindy Meneghin, Director of Student Communications, and got the approval of President Susan Cole to be a part of the search committee.
Metellus said she was looking for a candidate with a “students first” mindset.
“We felt instantly connected from the time [Soufleris] was wearing red and expressing her love for the University,” Metellus said.
Metellus was also looking for a candidate who would be able to relate to the campus community.
“Knowing and acknowledging how intersectionality works for our own individual ways and how it affects us in society is essential especially to this position because we’re in a university that promotes inclusivity and diversity for all to be heard and included,” Metellus said.
She further explained why Soufleris seemed to be just the right fit for the Red Hawks community.
“So having Dr. Soufleris reflect and represent on these principles that we follow ourselves shows the influence it makes on students because we’re able to relate to one another whether as a first-generation student like me or a student that identifies as Latinx, this is the representation that is important for people like me to see because these are spaces that I wouldn’t see myself in,” Metellus said.
Although Metellus is graduating in May, she is excited to see what comes from Soufleris’ appointment.
Soufleris had been informed by one of her colleagues of the job posting at Montclair State. Soufleris said she was attracted to the university because it was a state school, it was a Hispanic Serving Institute and it had the feeling of family among the university despite its 21 thousand student population.
“My grandmother was from Mexico, my grandpa’s from Mexico,” Soufleris said. “And so to be able to work at a Hispanic serving institution, given my background, was just something that I’ve always wanted to do.”
Soufleris, who has a Ph.D. in Sociology, attended public schooling throughout her life and went through the State University of New York education system. She also grew up in a Hispanic and Irish home.
Soufleris recalled a time when a group of first-generation students was surprised to hear that someone with such similar experiences could serve in a position of educational leadership. “People like us don’t become people like you,” she remembers the students saying.
“We’re gritty, and we’re tough and resilient and we’ve got dreams of doing things maybe a little different than our families or doing things that will help our families, which gives us a lot of drive,” Soufleris said. “I am beside myself that I am going to a university that caters to first-generation students because you got one right here. I am [a] fully 100% of state-educated soul and I truly believe that state education is just such a value for students.”
Soufleris and Pennington have participated in weekly Zoom meetings to prepare for the transition. That time period, in April, is at a time Soufleris described as a “vibrant month” for universities nationwide, as it comes on the heels of commencement season and the end of the academic school year.
When asked about the best advice given to her by Pennington, Soufleris said it was “to be herself.”
“She’s been so warm and welcoming,” Soufleris said. “I think she is invested in helping me be successful and I’m so appreciative of that. I’ve never had a person in the role that I’m about to take be so accessible and be so engaging and be so honest. And I think that’s only going to help.”