Interim Vice President of Student Success talks new role, carrying on Kelly’s work


G-Jun Yam

Interim V.P. of Student Success talks new role, carrying on Kelly’s work

By Editor-in-Chief

Sharon Wilson-Taylor, the college’s associate vice president and dean of Students, will temporarily replace current Vice President of Student Success Mark Kelly starting Aug. 8.

Wilson-Taylor, who was hired by Kelly approximately 26 years ago and is the only other administrator to precede President and CEO Kwang-Wu Kim, has held several positions within Columbia’s student service offices over the years before becoming associate vice president in 2006, including dean of students and director of a former high-school-to-college program. Kelly is leaving the college after 32 years to become the commissioner of the city’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events, as reported July 7 by The Chronicle.

The Chronicle sat down with Wilson-Taylor to discuss her interim position, how she will take on Kelly’s role while still maintaining her “more reserved” personality and the importance of being visible to students.

What made you accept this position?

I have the world’s most wonderful staff. The staff working with our students are so dedicated and enjoy what we do. Mark and I talk about being educators outside of the classroom. It’s the same coin but a different side of it—the coin being the student. The staff is one of the reasons I took the job; the second reason [is] I love this place. I enjoy higher ed and Columbia College. I’ve stayed here this long because I truly enjoy the students.

I don’t see myself as an artist, but when I’m among [students], it’s like I’m among greatness. It’s wonderful what [they] do and great to be a part of something like that. You have an opportunity to help shape a students’ path. They come with a craft, and it’s raw, and the faculty help hone the craft, and Student Affairs help discover what are the other things you need to help push that craft forward.

For me to be interim, it’s natural to be continuing some of the things we’ve done, and [it’s] a chance to hear the students and staff voice to ask, ‘what else should we be doing?’

How long will you be filling this role for?

It’s probably until there’s going to be a national search for the new vice president, so I’m filling in until that search is completed.

Everything is still so new. [The national search] is the direction of President Kim as far as the path he’s going to take to fill the position.

How does this position differ from what your current position at the college?

It’s definitely a different chair. I’m in the number two chair and Mark is in the number one chair. Mark is dealing at a higher level with larger policies, and I’m here on the ground doing the day-to-day [work]—managing the staff, student issues and working with faculty. Student [Success] is a cabinet level, so it’s more collaboration with the other units—the vice president and the president’s cabinet.

What are you looking forward to when it comes to collaborating with more people and administrators?

I will probably interact more with student leaders. I have a large staff that interacts with the students. In my current role, I either see students who are really good or really bad, but I’m dealing with my staff all the time. It’s revolving student issues, creating programs to support our students and celebrate [them]. It’s similar, but not quite.

Mark and I are [both] always about supporting the institution’s mission—what is best for our students? Sometimes students want something that in the long run may not be the best move. Our job is to sit and talk about what is best [and] why is it best. And of course, we have to hear the student voice. There’s a faculty voice, staff voice and student voice. We have to bring that all together and ensure the right kind of support is there and what is the issue that needs to be addressed. Sometimes you start fixing things and don’t know what is the issue that needs to be addressed.

Is there anything Kelly did that you would like to either take on or change?

Mark has been there for 32 years, and I’ve been here for 26 years, and I’ve been his second for a while. Our views are pretty much the same. We support each other. He’s my supervisor and if there’s some sort of vision, that’s the direction we’re going. That really doesn’t change that much. Convocation is planned already, Columbia Weekend is all planned, so we’re going through with it.

When you [become the head] of Student Affairs, you’re looking at the students to different lengths. Before you decide, ‘I’m going to change this,’ what are the students saying? What are the staff saying? That’s my job—to ask the staff, ‘What are you doing and is there another way to enhance this?’ If you say yes, I’m going to ask you why. As a leader, you have to be strong enough to say, ‘This is not working. Let’s back up, revisit and try again.’

Sometimes I don’t have to go through student approval when there are certain regulations that we must adhere to like FERPA or Title IX. Those are regulation-mandated. Students don’t like those at times, and we struggle with how the regulation is written, but we always try to be true to ourselves while adhering to regulations.

How do you plan to stay visible in events that Kelly was often a part of, like Convocation’s ‘Hell Yeah’ Liturgy and other fall semester activities?

As interim, I would like to ensure we’re doing what we’re supposed to do, but at the same time, I’m not Mark. I could never be Mark. Mark is Mark—he’s bigger than life. I don’t want to try and imitate him, and that’s a natural thing for Mark to do. I’ll have to find my own thing, but we’ll need to look and see who the best person is to do that if not me.

I have to be visible. Sometimes you can go to the students, but the students also need to see you. I will be visible, just not on top of a bus [doing the ‘Hell Yeah’ Liturgy].

I have the word ‘student’ in my title, and students should be able to come and see me. I have to find my own voice and the way of me putting myself out there, but I will not be trying to imitate Mark because I don’t think it would be authentic. I have to be true to myself and at the same time do a good job for students.