Five minutes with Vice President for Student Affairs Blanche Hughes

Blanche Hughes
Blanche Hughes, Vice President for Student Affairs

In today’s “Five Minutes with SOURCE,” Vice President for Student Affairs Blanche Hughes sat down to discuss her role in the Courageous Strategic Transformation plan and its impact across Colorado State University.

The two terms we use to describe CSU’s plan for the future are courage and strategy. How does the Division of Student Affairs exemplify both terms in your work on behalf of our students? What makes your team courageous? Strategic?

Strategic planning is typically top-down, so CST is a new approach with thousands of faculty, staff and students across the University coming together to develop this plan and carry it forward. People across the Division of Student Affairs have been actively engaged in the process and with our realignment this year, we have spent significant time asking ourselves: what is best for our students moving forward? What is best for our staff? Being strategic with our resources and our goals has certainly been a focus as we emerge from the pandemic.

I feel like the courage piece has come in when we have challenged ourselves to have the hard conversations about what we need to change to better serve our students, what pieces we have been missing in creating an inclusive culture, what we need to let go of in order to move forward, and how we can be vulnerable with one another in voicing these needs. We recognize that Student Affairs, and higher education as a whole, have to evolve to meet the needs of tomorrow’s students and to create an inclusive culture.

In our Courageous Strategic Transformation plan, we commit to student access and success within an extended learning community characterized by curiosity and belonging. What are key roles the Division of Student Affairs plays in both helping students succeed and ensuring that they feel that they belong at CSU?

A sense of belonging is critical to student well-being and success. We recognize that students can only thrive in the classroom when they are physically and mentally well, when their basic needs like housing and food security have been met, when they feel engaged and included in university life, and when they have the tools and resources needed to address life’s challenges when they pop up. I see our role in Student Affairs as supporting the whole student so they can excel academically, take full advantage of the CSU experience, find the right resources to navigate challenges and successfully graduate.

A residential university like CSU offers students so much more than a degree! I see our role as helping students succeed and belong by finding passion for their field of study and connecting classroom learning to real-world experiences, having an opportunity to participate in sports, clubs, and organizations to help them develop leadership skills, exploring new ideas and cultures they have never been exposed to at events and programs on campus, and challenging themselves to consider other perspectives.

It takes all of us to help students succeed! I am so appreciative of the partnerships and collaborations Student Affairs has across the University.

The staff of the DSA has done so much for our students these past few years under extraordinary circumstances, and you have noted the need for employee wellness. In Courageous Strategic Transformation, we affirm our intention to provide comprehensive support to our people. In the short-term, what will DSA be doing to support its people in the coming months, informed by Courageous Strategic Transformation? How can these efforts be a model for other divisions at CSU?

Acknowledging the work, the heavy load, and the stress for our staff during the past two years, particularly our front-line staff who were here day in and day out during the pandemic, is just the beginning.

Starting in late fall semester through early spring semester this year, I met with almost all 700-plus members of the division in small groups to share updates about CST, student success, our DEIJ priorities, and to hear what is on their minds as we transition to this new phase. I deeply appreciated hearing what people are enjoying that we want to extend (like hybrid work schedules) and what people are struggling with and are ready to let go of to move forward.

It’s been a very challenging and exhausting period; it also brought out the deep commitment we have to our students. I have been amazed at the new ways folks have worked together, new technologies and skillsets that have been developed, and the above-and-beyond effort staff have given to support students. As we start to implement CST, I appreciate that there is a strong focus on our people, who make the work here at CSU possible every day.

One of the strategic imperatives of our Courageous Strategic Transformation is Impact, and DSA has a major impact on our students while they are here to support their growth and academic journey. What does Impact mean for you in terms of the work of DSA? What Impact do you aspire to have and how do you create it?

Impact is making a difference in a student’s life. When you make a difference in a student’s life, it makes a difference in your life and gives you purpose. One thing we can all believe in is student success.

I aspire for students to see their entire experience at CSU as part of their future success. If students recognize that the friendships, mentoring, jobs, internships, and experiences they had at CSU are all part of helping them become successful graduates, that is powerful.

To create this impact, we have to do it together, not just as individuals, but as an institution, at all the touch-points we have with students. If we can do that, we are not only creating an inclusive and positive experience for students, we are also supporting systemic change at CSU and in society at large.

CST Mark RGB Green