Gatepost Interview: Meg Nowak, Dean of Students

(Photo by Shanleigh Reardon.)

What is your educational and professional background?

I have an associate degree from the Fashion Institute of Technology in buying and merchandising. My bachelor’s degree is from the University of Buffalo in business and psychology. My master’s degree is from Indiana State University in college student personnel work – which is student affairs – and then my Ph.D. is in higher education administration from Boston College. While I was working on my Ph.D. at Boston College, I worked here at Framingham State University for three or four years. I’ve worked in higher education for about 25 years. I’ve worked in a variety of positions within higher education – residential life, career services, orientation, first-year programs, academic advising. I was a dean in the school of business and vice president of student affairs – that was my last position here. I’ve worked in both academic and student affairs as well as enrollment management, and I think it gives me kind of a rounded background to be able to support students as they work through the different areas of issues or celebration in their student life.

What are you hoping has changed or stayed the same since the last time you worked here?

Definitely since being here the facilities have improved and I think that’s positive. I think the institution or the state has invested in improving the facilities, including the [McCarthy Center], where we do a lot of our work. That is nice to see. The dining facilities are definitely better. Some of the ways that Framingham State organizes Student Support Services I think is more effective than when I left. There’s more residence halls and they’ve been updated and that’s nice to see, as well as some of the new academic facilities. The science building was beautiful when I walked through it. Those are the things that are good. What I hope hasn’t changed is the type of students. … What I’ve found with Framingham State students is that they’re hardworking, dedicated to doing well, they’re invested in the idea that their education isn’t being given to them but that they’re earning it, and I think that’s really, really important. I think there’s a nice diversity of students here, whether it’s racial diversity or people who have just graduated high school or who are parents or commuters or veterans. I think there’s a really nice diversity here and I think that’s important. My past institution was a very traditional, residential liberal arts college, so this is not that and I appreciate it.

What have you learned during your experiences working at other universities?

No student situation is exactly the same as the others. … Also in my career, I’ve learned that within an institution, there’s different cultures – like academic culture – and what academics expect of their students is different than what student affairs expects from their students and it’s even different than what business affairs – financial aid and student accounts expects. … Helping the students communicate with the different groups across campus is something I’ve learned through my career.

What brought you back to FSU?

I enjoyed working here the last time I was here. I enjoyed the students the last time I was here. My family was looking to move near Brighton. … As we were keeping an eye out for what might be available in the Boston area, Framingham felt comfortable and good. When I worked here before, I worked for an amazing dean of students and to think that I could have that impact on students – I was a younger staff member at that time in my career – it was pretty awesome to think how much she impacted me at this same exact place.

What is something that students would be surprised to know about you?

From looking at me, I think they would be surprised that I have a multiracial family, because I look the way I do. My husband is Mexican, and my daughter is Asian. Both of my children are adopted. I think people might look at me and think my family looks a certain way, and we don’t. I think people might think that because I have a Ph.D. that earning my education was easy, but I worked all the way through college. I was a first-generation college student. … So, I appreciate the student that has to work and knows that their education comes at a cost to someone.

Is there anything you want to get accomplished right away?

I think it’s going to be very important for all members of the community to feel safe here and to feel they have a voice and that I will advocate for them when they want me to and how they want me to. … I’m hoping, being new to this space, maybe I can look at it differently and help the community heal, in whatever way I can. For me, that’s a priority because when I hear people talk about what it used to be like or what it is like, there’s people that want it to feel safer, feel more welcoming and inviting and less divisive than maybe it has been recently. If I can come in and be that change or be that difference, maybe I can be.

What’s your advice for students?

Make time to go to college and work, not work and go to college. So that the end game isn’t getting a college degree; it’s getting a college experience. Take time to do things you didn’t know you could do, to succeed at things, but also fail so that you learn from it. … For most of my associate degree I worked. My goal was to get a degree and get done.  … Enjoy college – write for The Gatepost, be an RA, work at the information desk instead of that Olive Garden. … Connect with the college. It’s a brief time in your life so, take the effort to do this.

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