A vision for moving forward: Dr. Reneé Watson delivers Division of Student Affairs address

Dr. Reneé Watson smiles as she watches the crowd cheer for faculty that have been at CMU for over 30 years on Jan. 19 in the Sarah and Daniel Opperman Auditorium.

On a cold, rainy January morning, a ray of sunshine shone in the Sarah and Daniel Opperman Auditorium.

Vice President of Student Affairs Dr. Reneé Watson gave the Division of Student Affairs State of Affairs Address to students and faculty on Jan. 19. The address covered the well-being of students and staff, and focused primarily on how Central Michigan University can utilize its resources to make life better for the community. 

There was an emphasis on helping the growing population of international students integrate more seamlessly into the CMU community. According to Watson, 320 international students arrived on campus just this spring. One idea that is up for consideration is a centralized shopping center that would contain supplies international students might need. 

“It’s just a conceptualization.” Watson said. “It requires ongoing coordination of what that would look like and how we can best serve them so that they have the optimal student experience at CMU.”

As of right now, the idea is still in the very early stages. There have not been any talks about a specific space, funding or what components would be needed.

Watson said there have already been some changes to help international students. She cited the I-Ride buses expanding their services. Adding more stops that are off campus allows for students without transportation to better experience the entire Mount Pleasant community.

“The vision is moving forward, and we are excited to look at ways to strengthen the student experience.”

Collaboration with the Office of Academic Affairs was mentioned as well. Policy review of how students cope with mental health, stress and grief, and what professor’s expectations are for students, were also mentioned. Watson talked about giving more grace when students are met with these challenges, but no official policy announcement was made. 

Watson also touched on recruitment, and students leaving CMU. She said students are leaving are because they feel disconnected, unable to find support systems and unable to connect with people. Watson said many factors that drive students to leave are within CMU’s control. 

One of the solutions presented was that CMU should better utilize its spaces to build community and develop connections. One space that will be receiving an update in the Fall of 2023 is the Food Hall at Merrill. Students will be able to use the campus dining app to mobile order their meals and the restaurant will be getting revitalized to better facilitate a place to spend time with friends, Watson said. 

CMU is also in the early stages of exploring a senior exit survey to get a better idea of what wellbeing practices make students successful. It would also reveal what is not working.

Watson also talked about a new way of leading for her. The idea of “getting out of the weeds” was brought up by Watson and indicates how she will continue in her position. Not being as involved with the day-to-day operations would allow her to empower other people around her and make it more efficient to get things done.

After being named CMU’s vice president of student affairs last April and beginning her time on campus in August, Watson has learned a lot about what makes CMU special. She credits President Bob Davies for the how the community cares about its students. 

“He shows that he cares,” Watson said. “He doesn’t just sit in Warriner, he actually engages students, which I think is a hallmark of good leadership.”

As Watson reflected on her short time at CMU and what may be ahead, she made one thing clear: The student body drives the university, and with the collaboration of different departments it can be a better place for students to further their academic careers.

“The vision is moving forward, and we are excited to look at ways to strengthen the student experience,” Watson said.