Jennifer Arnold and Pat Whitely were reunited at the 97th annual NASPA conference in New Orleans.
CORAL GABLES, Fla. (March 22, 2015)—Pat Whitely, UM’s vice president for student affairs, is wrapping up her successful term as chair of the board of directors of the Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education in New Orleans, where on Sunday she welcomed a record-breaking 7,600-delegates to the 97th annual meeting of the organization known as NASPA. She also was reunited with UM alumna Jennifer Arnold, the “little” doctor whose own success speaks volumes about the value of student affairs professionals on campus.
Arnold, who quips that she became a neonatologist so her patients would be smaller than she is—she stands just 3 feet 2 inches tall—and her husband, Bill Klein, a successful entrepreneur who also has a rare type of dwarfism, are the stars of the TLC docudrama The Little Couple. Now in its seventh season, the show has chronicled their busy lives, including the adoption of their two children and Arnold’s battle against a rare cancer. So it was fitting that, on Sunday, Arnold, who was a resident assistant at Mahoney Residential College for three years in the mid-1990s while Whitely was associate director of residence halls, was the opening speaker for the four-day conference centered on a theme she knows something about: Navigating with Courage.
In her remarks and a Q&A session moderated by Whitely, Arnold, who earned her undergraduate degrees in psychology and biology at UM and her medical degree at The Johns Hopkins University, spoke fondly of her campus experiences and the teachers and advisors who helped her become the person she is. Now an assistant professor of pediatrics at Baylor College of Medicine and the medical director of the Pediatric Simulation Center at Texas Children’s Hospital, she is a sought-after speaker on both overcoming obstacles and health care simulation education.
Navigating with courage is also an appropriate motto for Whitely, who took the helm of the world’s leading association for student affairs professionals last March, a time of intense scrutiny and rapid changes in higher education, propelled by new technologies, a shifting regulatory and compliance landscape, and the continued focus on evidence-based practices. But drawing on her 18 years as UM’s student affairs vice president, when she never stopped instituting innovative, new strategies to enhance student life and keep pace with the changing world, Whitely guided NASPA with an eye trained on keeping the organization relevant and results-oriented.
“Dr. Whitely is widely recognized as one of the nation’s leaders in student affairs and her leadership as chair of the NASPA Board of Directors has been extraordinary,” NASPA President Kevin Kruger said. “She has a keen eye for both understanding the complexity of issues facing higher education today and for developing effective campus-based strategies to deal with these challenges.”
Over the past year, she worked with Kruger on developing resources to combat gender-based violence and sexual assaults on campus, and travelled extensively, discussing “Challenges in Changing Times in Student Affairs” at more than a dozen meetings and conferences of student affairs professionals across the United States.
She also oversaw the revision of NASPA’s strategic plan, extending it through 2018; convened NASPA’s first-ever Community College summit, in New York City last October, to strengthen NASPA’s strategic support of student affairs professionals in the nation’s community colleges; appointed a task force to revise professional competencies recommended for student affairs professionals; and in conjunction with her former UM colleague Richard Walker, also a UM alumnus and the vice president for Students Affairs at the University of Houston, planned the record-breaking annual conference in New Orleans, a city that also knows a little about navigating with courage.
As Walker, Whitely, and Kruger said in their welcome message to conferees, the theme was inspired by New Orleans’ waterways and resilience in the aftermath of the nation’s costliest and one of the deadliest hurricanes 10 years ago this August. “Success in higher education has a major influence on today’s society and the communities in which our campuses are located,” they said. “While we are in New Orleans, we will take time to remember and recognize the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, a natural disaster that both devastated the community and highlighted the ways higher education could pull together to assist each other in times of need.”
The leading association for the advancement, health, and sustainability of the student affairs profession, NASPA has 14,000 members in all 50 states, eight U.S. territories, and 25 countries. Whitely, who has served NASPA in various capacities for more than 20 years, is the first UM administrator to be elected chair of its board of directors.
Prior to her appointment as UM’s vice president for student affairs in 1997, she served as director of student life from 1994 to 1997, and as residence coordinator, and assistant and associate director of residence halls from 1982 to 1994. Over the years, she has received numerous awards from UM students, as well as the NASPA Pillar of the Profession in 2009, and the NASPA Scott Goodnight Award for Outstanding Performance as a Vice President for Student Affairs in 2013. Whitely is only the third individual in NASPA history to receive both the Goodnight award and serve as chair of the association.
“It has been a privilege to work with her this past year,” Kruger said, as Whitely prepared to hand the reins to her successor, Frank Lamas, the vice president for student affairs at California State University, Fresno. “Under her leadership NASPA has achieved new records in membership and conferences, including the conference in New Orleans with a record-breaking 7,600 attendees. More importantly, Dr. Whitely has been instrumental in positioning NASPA to respond to a growing list of critical issues facing higher education.”