New Chief Student Affairs Officer Talks Service and Safety in President’s Podcast
Audio: Inside UVA Episode 2: Robyn Hadley(17:33)
Speaker 1 So tell me exactly how long you've been in your job,
Speaker 2 I think it is three months in two weeks.
Speaker 1 OK, so you're you're a veteran, but at this point. So. Hello, everyone. I'm Jim Ryun, president of the University of Virginia. And I'd like to welcome all of you to the second episode of Inside Yuva. This podcast is a chance for me to speak with some of the amazing people at the university and to learn more about what they do and who they are. And my hope is that listeners will ultimately have a better understanding of how UVA works and a deeper appreciation of the remarkably talented and dedicated people who make UVA the institution it is. So as we settle into our fall semester here on grounds, I am thrilled to welcome our new vice president and Chief Student Affairs Officer Robin Hadley. Robin, welcome. And thanks for being here.
Speaker 2 Thank you so much for having me.
Speaker 1 So, Robin, you have had an unusual path to the student affairs profession and to Charlottesville. And I wonder if you could talk a little bit about how you went from rural North Carolina to Charlottesville, Virginia, and the University of Virginia, where I will say we are absolutely thrilled to have you.
Speaker 2 Well, I am thrilled to be here. It's been a wonderful summer getting adjusted to grounds, and it's a wonderful team. And anyone who's in student affairs or has decided to make that profession, make it their profession knows that when the students are here really is like magic. So I think where I started was really my college experience. I was the first in my family to go to college and it was just magical. I had the opportunity to go to college out of state, but having grown up in a small town, it was just too far away. And so I elected to go to college just 30 minutes from home.
Speaker 1 And where was home for you?
Speaker 2 How was a small town called Gramme? It's about halfway between Chapel Hill and Greensboro. Also, college was twenty five miles away and the line was too long to do laundry. I just came home and usually got some good food to take with me.
Speaker 1 And you were a student athlete as well?
Speaker 2 I was. I had the extraordinary good fortune of being offered a full athletic scholarship to a little university in Durham that will go nameless and then also was recruited, believe it or not, by West Point, but didn't want to take the the academy route and also Harvard. And when I got the more he had had the real good fortune of being able to sit down and have a conversation, my parents and I with the head coach, Jennifer Alex at USC and so was was able to be a walk on sex, wasn't recruited ill. I was a lot like my college experience was, was I hardly even know what the words were. But the first year I was just terrified. Chapel was a big city. The work was hard. I played basketball, the practice was hard and I just had a great support system kind of once I learned my way around professors, good friends, the student affairs folks. And again, at that age, I just really didn't have a lot of understanding, I guess, of what the previous office did or academic affairs. But and it was having a great time. I knew at the end of the day, having a college degree was going to get me where I wanted to go. And that was to greater financial stability, the opportunity to help my community. I think finishing up at Chapel Hill, going on to graduate school at Oxford, my interest in business. But the entire time I always had an interest in working with young people and just helping them get where they wanted to go because I had so many folks in my life help me with that.
Speaker 1 So that's amazing. And so your time at Oxford was due to the fact that you admitted that you are a Rhodes Scholar. So can you talk a little bit about that? I mean, that must have been a remarkable experience from from beginning to end. I would think
Speaker 2 it absolutely was. So I think an important part of that story as well was that I never heard of a Rhodes scholarship until I was probably almost eighteen years old. I went to interview for the moorhen, and during that time they had a picture of a young black woman who was on the wall at the Water Foundation, and her name was Karen Stevenson. She was the first black woman to be awarded and she was also the first black woman to be a Rhodes. And so I just remember reading about her and saying, oh, that's interesting, I should learn a little bit more about that. And then I had the good fortune of having Pritchard, who was the executive director of the Morehead Foundation, having a conversation with me early on to say, you know, have you considered the roads in? My answer was absolutely not. I'm just trying to pass my math class. Right. So a lot of encouragement for him and others and was just shocked, as I think many roads are. And then that summer, I had to wrap my head around the fact that I really had to go and live in England, because I think you applied for this with a lot of support, which are also trying to figure out what you're going to do. And then you say now I really do have to go and live in England. So I think adjusting to that and then finally getting there, it was just phenomenal. Met great people, traveled quite a bit during my breaks as well all over the world.
Speaker 1 So that is a good segue to the next question, which is what you did next. So someone who graduates as a Morehead scholar and then receives a Rhodes scholarship and then you can basically do anything you would like. How did you choose what you did next? And talk a little bit about what that was
Speaker 2 my path before going even probably applying for the Rhodes was that I had intended to go to law school. I think in the 80s, you know, the JD MBA was very popular at that time. I had many classmates who took that route. I think that's the route I saw myself going when I got to Oxford. I think the wanderlust, just the chance to meet people from all over the world. My eyes were open to, I think, a lot of other careers, whether it was a consulting or the nonprofit world in that kind of thing, well beyond the wall. And I just had the good fortune of ultimately being able to go to work for the family. One of my classmates who happened to be from Virginia and they were in the export import management business that were involved in trade, international trade and consulting in that type of thing. And so I think during the three years at Oxford pursuing graduate work, I just began to ask myself a lot of questions about whether I wanted to make that commitment to go to law school. And quite frankly, the other thing was looking at the cost of law school, having had two full scholarships and now realizing how much debt I was going to have to incur, I said I'm going to take some time and work and if I really want to go to law school, I'll do that. So I really came in, I guess, on the ground floor of working for this family business and found that I really enjoyed it and grew and had a lot of opportunities to learn and continue to travel in the US and abroad.
Speaker 1 And then after a number of years doing that, you transitioned back to education. So I wonder if you could talk a little bit about why and how.
Speaker 2 Sure. I think I'm always intrigued when when we say transition back to education, because I think in my mind, I've always been involved in education and in some respects I even describe it as the family business. My mother was an education for so long, and even though my dad wasn't formal education, he was kind of always coaching and mentoring and helping people in our community. So I think in the big picture, I've always thought of myself in that helping business and I think taking the time away from the business to come home and care for my mom gave me an opportunity to think about what else I might be doing to help my immediate family, my extended family and my community. I'm a graduate of Graem High School and I love my school. And so I started doing some volunteering when I returned home to assist in my mom's care. So that's kind of how my passion really for working with young people in the public policy training and kind of looking at how school systems work led me to start a nonprofit with some friends that focused on college access and ultimately to transition into the school system and ultimately worked for the school system initially as a consultant and then as a full time employee for ten years. And so that's how I formally transitioned into the business of education and kind of one thing led to another there in terms of working in Harriet.
Speaker 1 So talk a little bit about that. So you were working primarily around access and preparation for college. What caused you to to go from there to working in higher education itself?
Speaker 2 So I think because I was in the college access space meeting, helping our high school students mostly figure out how to get to college and pay for it or how to get credentialed in some way through the community college I was in the college space or kind of helping students, Bridget. And so I spent a lot of time on college campuses. I was very fortunate to attend some events with the US Department of Education related to college access. And then I got a call one day really in the fall of twenty thirteen. And it was an invitation to explore an opportunity to work at Washington University in St. Louis to focus on these scholarship programs and work in student affairs. I had never even thought about living in the Midwest. I just bought a home in North Carolina out in the country with a pond that I shared with my neighbors and I really wasn't looking to move. But once I visited St. Louis to the university, it was just an extraordinary opportunity to do something I've never done before and a place I'd never been. And so I took that opportunity and spent almost eight years of Washo and just learned so much about a very unique portion, I think, of the Harvard Space, and that's working at an elite private university. Knowing that I always wanted to turn my attention at some point in my career to working in the broader public sector and how you use those lessons in private education to maybe scale and work more efficiently, impact larger numbers of public school students who may never have access to those resources in the future.
Speaker 1 Right. Well, we're fortunate that that call occurred in 2013 because it led ultimately to our being here. So let's talk a little bit about your job. So there may be people wondering exactly what does a chief student affairs officer do? So three plus months into the job, how would you answer that question?
Speaker 2 I would say you do a lot of listening. You don't do as much sleeping in the first three months on any new job, but especially this one. But you talk to a lot of people, and I think the most important thing in an institution like this was student experience is such a priority. It's it's a it's a university that the state seems to be immensely proud of. And its citizens is you talk to the people on the team and there have been some I mean, the folks in the division of student affairs have been just wonderful from the newest hires to those who've been here many years. The former vice president, Lapkin has been very, very helpful. She and Dean Rose. So the opportunity, I think, to talk to the team first to learn how the team works and operates. You're not going to see that operation until we start the semester. I think we had a very successful move in and and wasn't welcome. Clearly, we've been focused on safety and that's public health from covid to just making sure that our students are physically safe in and around ground. So you're talking to a lot of folks and you spent a lot of time talking to students, just listening to them. And clearly students here all the way from first year to graduate and professional schools have had a very interesting experience the last three semesters and two summers. So I do a lot of listening more than anything else.
Speaker 1 And in terms of reporting relationships, who do you oversee and what offices to oversee?
Speaker 2 Oh, that's a great question. I would like to say about student affairs is that it's everything outside the classroom, but most everything outside the classroom our teams work on. So that's the career center, the university career center. That is student health and wellness. And we have an extraordinary new building opening up very soon to serve our students. That's the Office of African-American Affairs and that's the office of the dean of students within the dean of students is everything from student engagement to the multicultural centers to fraternity and sorority life to supporting our first year and low income students. And that runs the gamut. So it's a pretty extraordinary team in their folks here within my main office who oversee judiciary on our council and things like that. So those are very important aspects of the student experience here, students, self governance and that type of thing that you get.
Speaker 1 Right. So how does your office support student self governance? I mean, that's an interesting relationship.
Speaker 2 Well, I think part of it is, is it's as much seeing in an operation. And I'll use as an example, I think housing in life where we have students in many, many positions, probably over two hundred positions that are normally staffed by professional staff at some other universities. And so I think this is part of the learning process of allowing students to be in these positions where they are managing events, they're managing financial resources, they're developing into their own leadership and management style. So I think that's an opportunity to see student self governance in operation. Again, I think the other complication that we had, the very first study for first years here, that is a long. Tradition, and I'm glad we got to have it. It's very hot, so I think the honor committee and the Judiciary Committee, the students who are on those committees kind of taking charge of those events are part of the tradition and part of the legacy I think, that students wish to pass on to others here. And I also think, like any policy or tradition, these are discussions that are ever evolving about what student governance means to students here and how we continue to prepare them and citizen leaders.
Speaker 1 Right. And now I understand that you're living on the lawn as well. And one of the pavilions and I'm curious, how is that thing going?
Speaker 2 Well, who knew that? That was one of the things that came along with this opportunity. It's been a lot of fun. Thursday nights get really interesting, and I'll just leave it at that.
Speaker 1 Well, I spent my first year living in one of the pavilion, so I know exactly what you're talking about.
Speaker 2 I will say that game days here, football game days remind me of my time in Chapel Hill. We had a seven kickoff on Saturday at eight a.m. in the morning. There was all this activity on the lawn, whether it was our oldest alums or whether it was our newest prospects and strollers, along with the dog walkers and everybody. There was just activity on the lawn all day on Saturdays. So that's been fun. And then on Friday night, we had the Rotunda seat. So that was great. We got to hear all of the a cappella groups and students and families had their blankets out and picnics. And it was just a really, really nice event. And I'm also looking forward again as the public health situation improves, hosting students and alums and families at the pavilion as well, whether it's lectures or dinners, fundraisers or that kind of thing. So I'm excited about that.
Speaker 1 And did I see a picture of you handing out popsicles to students on the first day outside of your pavilion?
Speaker 2 Absolutely. You know, I find the first day of class just really, really exciting. Now, mind you, the people in student fairs are usually exhausted by the first day taking the previous day. Get everybody.
Speaker 1 Yeah. It's not your first day.
Speaker 2 No, absolutely not. So, again, like any good neighbor wanting to get to know my neighbors, Morgan on our team here suggested Cool Pops, and that was safe. And so we got our coolers and put the cool pops out and students came by and we were safe and sanitized and we had a great time. So, you know, always look out for something for me on the first day of class. I just think it's exciting. And again, I think it's part of that desire to help students feel that something about that first day is exciting, even though we have all of these challenges we're dealing with.
Speaker 1 Right. So you have mentioned to your family several times. I assume you stay in close touch with them.
Speaker 2 I do. They're always checking on me. And I sent him a picture of my new shoes with the Virginia Cavalier on there. So they're very excited about my UVA flag and I can't wait for them to visit it. Just see this lovely browns.
Speaker 1 So I was going to ask you what your family thinks about a Tar Heel being at UVA. Where are their loyalties right now?
Speaker 2 Well, their loyalties are definitely with Chapel Hill. There's there's no doubt about it. But I have bought them all t shirts and caps and they're wearing them not out of the house too much, but they are wearing them and will gradually get them into some public spaces with their UVA swag on.
Speaker 1 Well, keep working at it. Well, Robyn, speaking on behalf of everyone at UVA, we're thrilled that this particular Tar Heel is at UVA. So I want to thank you for your time and thank you for everything you and your team are doing for our students. I appreciate it.
Speaker 2 I'm glad to be here and I'm looking forward to it.
Speaker 3 Inside UVA is a production of WTU ninety one point one FM and the office of the President at the University of Virginia. Inside UVA is produced by Mary Gardner McGee, Matt Weber and Nathan Moore. We also want to thank Vice President Robin Hadley and her assistant, Megan Drake, as well as Monica Chac, Heidi Johnson and Jenna Wainstein in the president's office. Our music is turning to you from Blue Dot sessions. Listen and subscribe to inside UVA and Apple podcast Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts. We'll be back soon with another conversation about the life of the university.
Robyn Hadley, the new vice president and chief student affairs officer at the University of Virginia, was the first person in her family to go to college. She comes from a tiny town in North Carolina called Graham and moved to nearby Chapel Hill when she attended the University of North Carolina on a full scholarship. From there, she journeyed to the University of Oxford, where she was a Rhodes Scholar.
In the second episode of “Inside UVA,” a new podcast hosted by UVA President Jim Ryan, Hadley described the “magical” and sometimes terrifying experience of going to college and her abiding passion for “helping young people.”
She told Ryan that that her love of service was born through her own experience. “I always had an interest in working with young people and just helping them get where they wanted to go because I had so many folks in my life help me with that,” she said.
With just over three months under her belt at UVA, Hadley is the newest member of Ryan’s leadership team and the president said he is “absolutely thrilled” that she agreed to come to the University.
In introducing Hadley and the podcast, Ryan said it was his hope that the new, weekly series would help listeners learn how UVA works. “Inside UVA” is available on most podcast apps, including Apple Podcasts, Spotify and Google Podcasts.
“This podcast is a chance for me to speak with some of the amazing people at the University and to learn more about what they do and who they are,” he said. “And my hope is that listeners will ultimately have a better understanding of how UVA works and a deeper appreciation of the remarkably talented and dedicated people who make UVA the institution it is.”
Ryan steered the conversation from Hadley’s education and early professional career, which included volunteering with young people at her beloved Graham High School and her work as associate vice chancellor and dean for scholar programs at Washington University in St. Louis, to what she is doing today at UVA.
“So, there may be people wondering, ‘Exactly what does a chief student affairs officer do?’” he said. “Three-plus months into the job, how would you answer that question?”
Her reply was straightforward: She does lots of listening and talks with lots of people, from staff to students.
“Clearly, we’ve been focused on safety, and that’s public health from COVID to just making sure that our students are physically safe in and around Grounds,” she said.
Tune in to the second episode of Inside UVA to get an insider view into the life of UVA’s new vice president and chief student affairs officer and listen to last week’s episode to learn more about UVA’s head football coach, Bronco Mendenhall.