Student experience restructures as campus needs change

By Jessica Stamp

Youngstown State University restructured Student Affairs into separate departments after Eddie Howard’s departure last semester. The restructuring is meant to place focus on student needs and better assist students with any problems they may have. 

Joy Polkabla Byers, associate vice president of Student Experiences, now works with Housing and Residence life, Student Activities, Campus Recreation, Auxiliary Services (Kilcawley Center) and Veteran’s Affairs. She said the focus of the department is to keep YSU students safe.

“We are listening to students and helping them discover their passions and making sure that needs are met while they’re on campus,” she said. 

Student Affairs is now divided into three departments: the office of Student Experience, the office of Dean of Students and the office of Student Enrollment and Business Services. 

“All of those areas have really taken a team approach in trying to make sure that our students’ needs are met right now as we still continue to prepare for when we are post-COVID,” Polkabla Byers said. 

The restructuring allows more attention to be brought to certain areas relating to more individual focus on helping students accomplish their goals and to emphasize the support students may need. 

Nicole Kent-Strollo, dean of students, serves as the point of contact for students who need her guidance for career success or to discuss issues regarding their mental and physical health. In her proactive role, she looks for recurring problems students have on campus and tries to figure out a solution. After restructuring, Kent-Strollo works with Student Outreach and Support, Student Counseling Services, and Community Standards, Advocacy and Conduct. 

The restructuring more evenly distributes the workload and allows for collaborations between the departments. Kent-Strollo said through the partnership, they’ll be able to provide more education for the YSU community on issues of welfare, safety and advocacy instead of only providing help for individual issues.

“The new structure in general is really, to be honest, nice to have two other people really at the same level that I can bounce ideas off of and they can do the same with me,” Kent-Strollo said. “I already have seen it working really well and it’s only been a couple of weeks.” 

Because of COVID-19’s impact, adjustments to help students such as a more targeted concentration on students living on campus were required. Elaine Ruse, associate vice president of Student Enrollment and Business Services, is trying to find ways to give a more personalized approach to students. She now works with the Undergraduate Admissions and Financial Aid and Scholarships department. 

“Reaching out to students and actually speaking to them [virtually] or by telephone seems to be more appreciated during COVID-19 versus an email or texting,” Ruse said.

Polkabla Byers, Kent-Strollo and Ruse hope working together with the restructuring will bring a greater experience for students.

“Hopefully … the three of us would work together to bring the students the experience … that they deserve and what they expect,” Ruse said. “To collaborate as much as possible. To make sure that we provide the best experience as much as possible for the students that they can have at YSU.”