On June 13, Chancellor Marcelo Suárez-Orozco announced to the entire UMass Boston community that, effective July 25, Dr. Karen Ferrer-Muñiz would become the new Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs at the University. Vice Chancellor Ferrer-Muñiz would be succeeding Interim Vice Chancellor Shawn DeVeau, who held the position throughout the 2021-2022 school year. Mass Media had the pleasure and delight of sitting down and asking Vice Chancellor Ferrer-Muñiz a few questions about, not only her position, but also her plans for her upcoming years at UMass Boston.
Q: For those who may not be familiar with your position, what does being Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs entail?
A: So, a Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs—and in institutions it may be a Vice President of Student Affairs—but for UMass Boston particularly it’s the Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs, it’s really important to know that that person supervises, manages and oversees the basic services and programs to students. And many institutions—and in this case UMass Boston—has Health Services, the Health Center, student leadership, student clubs, student activities, cultural centers, Dean of Students with the care team assessing the needs of students individually as needed, UACCESS with student services instead of food insecurity, and what it [the Vice Chancellor] does is it puts together all of the things that supplement the faculty members outside the classroom but also supports the student to be able to provide services on their life experience on campus. [...] Sometimes it's a little crossover between your personal life experience on campus to be able to provide you with enough support so you can perform in the classroom.
Q: You’re brand new to campus—what’s been your favorite thing about UMass Boston so far?
A: As a Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs and in my career pathway, I have been in several positions, just going through, you know, Assistant Dean to Dean, Assistant Vice President to Vice President, so I have walked the traditional pathway of going through the jobs that would lead me to be a Vice Chancellor. It was also one of the biggest things we need to value at this campus that I’m in love with, that I connected with, and that I also needed in my life, because I also need a campus and a community like yours with diversity in terms of language, religion, race. It's not only so attractive, it’s what really makes the fabric of this campus and the community that it is. From the minute I interviewed I saw that, from the minute I was meeting people I saw that, even before I got an offer. So, it was not only attractive because you guys had this reach, and should be able to use that as a huge advantage and for opportunities for this community, but also as a new comer and as a potential candidate for this position I wanted that in my career life and in my life as an educational administrator in student life development. And that is what’s going to make me flourish, but I hope that is also what makes students flourish around campus and value; so that is one of the biggest things I love.
Q: In the statement from the Chancellor, he stated that you focus a lot on establishing cross-functional programs at your previous institutions. Would you mind explaining what that means, and also what that could mean for students here at UMass Boston?
A: Years ago, I was in charge of the Learning Centers, and I had the Writing Center, but then I was able to combine with the librarians in the library and research at the same time. So, can you imagine if you walked into one floor of the library, and you are literally overwhelmed, you are trying to figure out this paper that you need to start somehow and you’re trying to put your head around it—this is your life on a daily basis because you’re constantly thinking “I gotta write a paper,” “I gotta write this,” “I gotta read this,”—you have a librarian over here helping you with researching the topic, and then you can literally walk five steps and then you have a writing specialist telling you, “Okay, let’s work through your outline, are you ready for the outline? Are you done here? Let’s move over here, let’s start on the outline.” You’re working, they’re not doing it for you, but they’re guiding you. That is my principle on my fellowship for student development; it’s guiding you to the next step in the same spot. So I was able to create this research and writing that was happening right there, at the same time. [...] That’s what I call cross-functional programming. It’s not just as simple as putting 200 computers [in the university for student usage]. You have to work with IT to get them ready for all the programming and all that stuff, you have to get the librarians in sync to get this research concept, and then you have to get writing specialists who can teach individual students and a larger group, and get them all in sync together for the benefit of your experience [as students].
Q: What are some things that you’re looking to change or would like to change here at UMass Boston?
A: One of the things that I would like to look into as we come out of the last two years, knowing that most of us [...] are a commuter campus. There is still a population of students that are on campus—it’s a small population, it’s about a thousand students that live in the residence halls—but I think one of the things that I would really like to improve is that the entire community of students that are here throughout the day are actually almost camping here throughout the day. Some of the things I want to be able to influence is the space—the commuter space for the students while they’re here—and I want to be able to have some deeper conversations and influence more some of the major campus planning that is happening right now about providing more spaces for commuter students. Obviously that’s not entirely my department, but that’s once again, one of the things that I would like to continue to influence and have a voice is to have spaces to have students settle down here during the day.
Q: And finally, what’s one thing you’d like the student body to know about you?
A: I would really, really like them to know that I never forget and I will never forget when I was a student. I’m a first generation student, I grew up in a little town in Puerto Rico—a small little town in Puerto Rico—English is my second language, I have gone through a lot as a student, and I’m not going to be able to relate to every single experience, as we all have different experiences, but I’m genuinely involved in what it is to progress through better student services, better programming, and when I see every single one of you, I see myself. And I hope that in the future when you see me, you totally see yourself and your future as you could achieve many things.