New dean works for students

Dean Danielle McDonald

Many may recognize USF’s new dean of students, as she has been at the university for four years. Danielle McDonald was associate dean before the appointment, and in her new position, she said she intends to continue the efforts of previous deans. 

“I see the … dean’s office as being a place that helps to remove barriers,” she said. “Whether that be a student who needs help because they’ve had a personal crisis … (or) a student who is stuck in bureaucracy and is not getting some of the help that they need.”

She said much of her office’s success in doing these things is due to partnerships with other offices. For instance, McDonald said her office works with Wellness USF to help develop methods for the university to help students. Wellness, she said, includes safety both on and off campus.

“I’m focusing on continuing some of the work that Dr. (Michael) Freeman did on helping students be safer off campus,” she said. “We’ve had a lot of incidences over the past few years, off campus, and we need to continue helping our students make good choices in where … and how they live.”

Freeman, the former dean, focused heavily on off-campus safety, and McDonald co-chairs a group that analyzes the safety of students, faculty and staff, on and off campus.

McDonald said wellness also includes having a roof over one’s head, having enough money for food and enough to cover basic needs. According to McDonald, the dean’s role in students’ lives varies from case to case. 

“We have quite a few students that are in significant financial challenges, and we have quite a few students that are experiencing significant mental health challenges,” she said. “(I’m) continuing to work with my partners in Wellness to make sure we have the services to provide for our students in terms of … being able to be well while in school.”

Additionally, McDonald emphasized that her plan to improve students’ experience and well-being at the university is not the result of any major problems she sees. Rather, she said she is concerned with student participation at the university.

One facet of the involvement effort is reaching out to men to get involved. More women than men get connected and involved at the university, she said.

“I don’t think we have a problem, but obviously not every student on campus is involved,” McDonald said. “But they should be.”

Part of her role as dean, she said is getting to be an advocate for the students. In fact, she said she wants the students to think of the dean as a friend.

“I have often referred to the dean of students as the friend of the students,” she said. “It’s that friend that gives you the hug and the pat on the back when you need it and celebrates with you.”

On the other hand, she pointed out, she is also in charge of conduct complaints and behavioral issues. She is responsible for handling appeals of the conduct process, which is overseen by the University Conduct Board.

“(The dean is) that friend that gives you the kick in the butt and the honest conversation when you need it, as well,” she said. “It’s that true friend that’s always looking out for your best interest, even when you don’t want to hear it.”

McDonald emphasized the dean is there when students celebrate and when they need help. She said students can expect to see the dean at celebrations but also if they get in trouble, whether they created it themselves or they simply fell into it.

“I think what students will find with me is that I am very committed to their success,” she said. 

The dean also works extensively with Student Government (SG). According to student body president Andy Rodriguez, McDonald has been a liaison between university administration and students.

He said he has worked with McDonald for over a year and she is very much “for the students.”

“A lot of the time, when you interact with administrators, … there are people that are very much for the students … and people that want to make sure that their boss is happy,” he said. “She’s definitely always been one of the people that cares about the students.”

Rodriguez said he was pleasantly surprised when he heard McDonald was chosen for the position. 

McDonald is a Ph.D. student at USF, but she said she needs students to share their experiences with her so she can better help them succeed.