NASPA MEMBER SPOTLIGHT: Dr. Ken Schneck, Professor, Author, and Tattooed Hat-Wearer
Tune in each month as we feature individual and institutional members. Our members will share their experiences in the field, and their personal and professional accomplishments. Is there a NASPA school or individual member who you think deserves some time in the spotlight? Email us at [email protected]!
This month’s member spotlight is Faculty Affiliate member, Dr. Ken Schneck. Ken is an associate professor and Director of the Leadership in Higher Education Program at Baldwin Wallace University. His courses range from topics on anti-racism, ethical leadership, and working with communities to create a more engaged and just world. His NASPA involvement has ranged from creating the Alcohol and Other Drug Knowledge Community (and completing two terms as National Chair) to serving as the Vermont State Director to his current role as the liaison between the Professional Standards Division and the Knowledge Communities. He is also the author of the recently published book, Seriously…What Am I Doing Here? The Adventures of a Wondering and Wandering Gay Jew. Read on to hear about burn-out, the almost-successful vegetarian mush eatery, and staying connected to your community.
Ken, tell us more about yourself! What is your background and what brought you to Baldwin Wallace University?
I’m a dyed-in-the-wool student affairs professional who stumbled into positions of leadership a bit (read: WAY) before I was ready to handle them. I was an Assistant Dean at Sarah Lawrence College when I was 25 years old and a Dean of Students at Marlboro College at 29. I thought I wanted to be a Dean of Students for the rest of my life, with the singular professional goal of there some day being a plaque on a bench near a tennis court on a campus with my name on it. Then, suddenly without warning, I found myself completely burnt out at 35 years old. I had no clue what to do, but had narrowed down my life choices to (a) somehow staying in a field about which I was feeling a little jaded, or (b) opening up a restaurant to feature my world-famous-if-only-in-my-head vegetarian mush. When I saw the ad for a professor position at Baldwin Wallace, I took the scary leap to the unfamiliar faculty side of the house and left the northeast for the first time in my life to live in this strange, mythical land called the Midwest. It was, without question, the best decision I ever could have made (even as I still think Mush Eatery would have been a goldmine…and maybe one day will be?).
How has your experience in Student Affairs, academia, as well as a writer and podcast host contributed to your personal growth in the profession?
That whole “life outside of work” thing is legit and I highly recommend it. Nothing gives me perspective like being around individuals who just don’t care about a change in meal plan prices or who look at me blankly when I talk about the impossible task of comparing faculty and staff workloads. On the flip side, my work outside of higher-ed has enhanced my work on campus greatly as I constantly seek to bring the connections to the wider world back to my students to increase their off-campus engagement tenfold. With a veritable and verifiable life outside of your work, everyone wins.
Being a professor must be exciting. What are some challenges that have shaped you professionally and or personally?
Let’s not pretend here: my first semester as a professor was a complete and utter train wreck of a mess. The transition from dean of students to member of the faculty was more stark and dramatic than I had anticipated. My teaching didn’t hit the mark...like, at all. My power to affect change on campus was markedly different (and, honestly, much diminished). Even my voice in NASPA felt a bit alien as the place of faculty within our professional organization is still relatively nascent. I really and truly had to stop, breathe, and refocus on what brought me to this field at the start: supporting student development. I then picked myself back up, radically changed my teaching methods, altered my way of expressing my want of change, and even got involved with NASPA in a far different capacity than I had ever before. Through it all, I wrote and I wrote, and now there’s a whole nutty book to show for it!
Why are you so good at your job?
I laughed out loud when I read this question. I’m getting marginally better at taking compliments, so thank you! That said, I just kinda do what I do: barrel forward often without filter, at times without savvy, sporadically without a sense of what came before, but always, always with the goal of creating a space where everyone’s voice can be heard.
The Student Affairs profession is constantly changing. What are some key issues in our profession that you would like to see change or evolve?
It’s all about striking a balance. I have always believed in likening college campuses to Dewey’s ultimate laboratory: a safe space for discovery, innovation, success, failure, stagnation, and action. The flip side is that sometimes being disconnected from the “real world” feels far too present. I think it is critical that we ask ourselves (daily!) how we are preparing students for life outside of college. Are our students up on current events (are we?)? Do they know how to do their taxes (do we?)? If they want to create the change they wish to see, can they (can we?)?
Fill in the blank: "Oh, here comes Ken. He's a real ___________."
Hat-wearing, tattoo-sporting, project-juggling, snark-machine. The best thing he ever does for me, is to help me take my life less seriously*. (*“Closer to Fine”, Indigo Girls)
What has been one of the most memorable or rewarding moments of your career in Student Affairs?
So, so many! The 3-hour class that flies by. The radical new Orientation program that, three years later, becomes the “way things have always been done.” The RA who says no to the commitment that will push them over the edge.
But my mind keeps coming back to the NASPA Conference in San Antonio. With my transition to the faculty side, I felt like I had been out of the NASPA game for so long and went to Texas prepared to not feel connected. Then I walked down that long hallway between sessions and we all know what happens: the 3 minute walk suddenly takes 45 because you run into so many colleagues from so many contexts. Hugs. Kind words. More hugs. Promises to buy my book. A farewell hug. And just like that, a smile creeps across my face with the reminders that (1) this is my community, (2) there’s more work for me to do, and (3) the next session started seven minutes ago.