Meet the VP of Student Life and Dean of Students
October 28, 2019
In February, Robin Holmes-Sullivan, previously system-wide vice president for student affairs at the University of California, became Lewis & Clark’s new vice president of student life and dean of students.
Before that, she served at the University of Oregon for 25 years, the last 10 as vice president for student life.
Why Lewis & Clark?
In my previous job, I was on a plane a lot because California is a big state. There are 10 campuses in the UC system, and I would visit and work with their staff on student life issues. But I missed not belonging to a campus. I played basketball in college, and I’m used to being on a team. The Lewis & Clark opening kept nagging at me, so I made myself a promise that I would at least check it out. Within my first 15 minutes on campus, I thought to myself, “I’m going to work here.”
You’ve previously worked for large publics. What makes L&C distinctive?
At Lewis & Clark, there’s a hands-on, very responsive approach to students and their concerns. At large public universities, you just don’t have the bandwidth to offer that kind of personalized attention. The care we take with our students really does stand out.
Tell us about your current effort to reexamine the student experience.
Lewis & Clark is taking a much more deliberative and intentional look at not only how we recruit students but how we ensure they stay and graduate in four years.
This fall, we are looking to reimagine the Lewis & Clark student experience. The project is organized around four areas of exploration:
- What are the ideal spaces around campus that we want to improve in order to enhance the student experience and build community?
- How can we improve dining and campus activities?
- What are the transportation needs of the L&C community?
- And how can technology enhance how members of the L&C community communicate with each other and hear about activities?
We have very smart students, so if we put these questions in front of them, give them the data they need, and ask them to think through the best choices, they’ll have more buy-in, and we’ll have approaches that will fit students’ needs better.
What other initiatives are currently on your radar?
One is a healthy campus initiative. We’ll be taking a campus-wide approach to figuring out how we all can be healthier people at work and at play. Another initiative is the development of a cocurricular experience. By that I mean the out-of-classroom opportunities that we can design for students that will help them build certain competencies and skills, like civic awareness, leadership, health and wellness, career readiness, understanding of difference, and effective group interaction. We’ll help students identify programs and services in a much more intentional way.
How do you view the relationship between student life and academics?
I would say they interact better here than at any other place I’ve been in my entire 28-year career. I’ve been really pleased with the interactions I’ve had … faculty want to partner and collaborate on things–it’s quite exciting.
You are a licensed clinical psychologist. How does that background help you in your work?
Being a psychologist is probably the biggest part of my vocational identity. I use my psychological training every single day. Psychologists are trained as experts in human behavior and interpersonal interaction—and being on a college campus is all about those things.
What are you enjoying about being back in Oregon?
I had been in Oregon for 25 years before I left, so really, I’ve grown up here. I’m a big outdoors person and love nature. It’s not that they don’t have nature in California, but you can’t get to it!
What do you do for fun?
I have a wife of 26 years and two adult kids, both boys. One lives here in Oregon and the other in Colorado. The most important thing to me is family. We do a lot of outdoor things and travel quite a bit. And I love to cook, especially Mexican food.
We’ve heard something about a motorcycle.
I have a Harley. I like to do things fast. I find it surprises people … it’s an interesting conversation starter. I like to stretch people’s thinking about stereotypes and what people can and can’t do. I like to be about change and opening minds.