AVP Spotlight: Meet Dr. Emelyn dela Peña of Washington University in St. Louis!


naspa avp steering committee

Published
October 11, 2017


Name, title, institution, years of service in your current role, and years of service as a student affairs professional.

Emelyn A. dela Peña, Ed.D. Associate Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs, Dean of the Center for Diversity and Inclusion, Washington University in St. Louis.  As of September 29, 2017 I have been in my current role for 11 months.  I started at WashU on Oct. 31, 2016.  I’ve had a career in Student Affairs since graduating from college in 1995 (1993 if you count my RA role as an undergraduate), so that makes it 22 years.

Describe the units within your portfolio and if you have any specific duties in addition to providing supervision to those units.

I currently oversee the Center for Diversity & Inclusion and the Office for International Students and Scholars.  Additionally, I am the convener for the Washington University LGBT Advisory Committee, McLeod Awards (an annual awards ceremony for Black students), and the Trailblazer Awards (an annual awards ceremony honoring the contributions of Black alumni, staff, and faculty).  I also sit on the Commission for Diversity & Inclusion, serve as an instructor for the “Identity Literacy” freshman seminar, and provide training and development opportunities regarding diversity and inclusion to staff and faculty.

What do you enjoy doing most in your current role?

I recently met with a student who was concerned about our divided nation/campus and the impact that recent student deaths had on the community.  She wanted to plan a unity type of event that would bring the community together.  Over the course of the next hour we, along with the VCSA’s Chief of Staff, helped her to conceptualize a plan for the event and offer our logistical (behind the scenes) support to pull it together.  The student was really excited about the plans we made and expressed how she thoroughly enjoyed speaking with us about it.  These are the moments I enjoy the most.  Having the opportunity to help a student realize a vision/dream they have.  Working with them to make sure they are out front and that the “solutions” to their concerns are student driven and staff supported.  Specifically, from the vantage point of my current role, I enjoy having the resources and “authority” (for lack of a better word) to make these things happen so that students don’t need to meet with several people or get passed around to the right decision maker in order to accomplish their goal.

How have you been involved in NASPA and do you currently serve NASPA?

Mostly, I’ve been involved in NASPA as a member.  I also served as a Reviewer for the Journal of Student Affairs Research & Practice for three years (I believe it was 2012-2015).  And most recently, I served as a judge for the graduate student Case Study Competition at the 2017 annual conference.  As I round out my first year in my current role, I would really like to find more ways to volunteer with NASPA in other capacities. I’m sure my supervisor, Lori White, can give me some great feedback on where to start!

What is the best advice you would give to yourself as a new professional knowing what you know now?

Embrace the unplanned opportunities!  You don’t have to have your career life mapped out from the time you graduate from college or grad school.  I meet so many young professionals who have their lives planned out very meticulously and have participated in several informational interviews about “how I got to where I am.”  Often, I think my interviewers feel frustrated or confused when I share, “I had no plan, but what I had was the courage to take on a new challenge or role when the opportunity came along.”  I can tell you that 6 years ago, I was the Director of the Women’s Center at UC San Diego and I had no plans of ever leaving.  I loved my job and I loved San Diego.  I had lived in Southern California all my life.  It was scary to move to the east coast when Harvard offered me a position as Assistant Dean, but I grew to love my new city and ways in which my role there evolved over time.  I was reluctant when WashU invited me to apply for the AVC position. I thought I’d finally gotten good at my job at Harvard and I didn’t know if wanted to start over somewhere else, let alone in the midwest.  But I’ve grown to love it here as well and I’m learning so much from the senior leadership team and from Lori.

What is something you are most proud of as an AVP?

I can honestly say that I am proud of my institution.  In the short time I’ve been at WashU, I’ve been impressed with all the people who make this place special, from the students, to staff, to faculty.  I find this place to be mission-driven with people who are really dedicated to living out our values.  At the same time, I find that the senior leadership here acknowledges that we have a lot of work to do, and that many of our aspirations still haven’t been met.


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