RWU hires Associate Vice President for Student Life


Courtesy of Derek Zuckerman

New Associate Vice President for Student Life, Derek Zuckerman

Q: To start off, can you tell me about yourself: your background, what you did before coming to RWU?

A: I like to say that, for me, basically I went to college and I never left. And with that, when I went to school, my undergraduate major was Industrial and Labor Relations and I really wanted to be involved in collective bargaining, arbitration, mediation. When I was in college, I was an RA for a couple of years. I was an orientation leader as a sophomore and I loved it. When it came time to graduate, I spoke to my advisor at the time about opportunities and what I wanted to do. I’ll never forget him looking at me and saying, ‘Derek you look like you’re 16. General Motors is not going to hire you to negotiate their labor contracts. You need to get life experience,’ and he was like I know that you’re an RA- what about doing that Res Life thing? I was like, okay, and I became a hall director and moved to the Boston area. I was at Bentley University when it was Bentley College. I worked in residential life and had a great experience. In my last couple of years, I taught different management classes so I was in the classroom and worked in Res Life. I worked as an assistant director of residential life, associate director at Quinnipiac. I became a director of residential life at Iona College, where I started transitioning more into student affairs when I became the assistant Vice Provost with responsibility for the entire division. Then I moved to Holy Cross where I was an associate dean and my most recent position before coming here was as a class dean at Union College. My experience there was really working in academic affairs, and helping students as their Class Dean. I recently had the class of 2021 and I followed them from sophomore year to graduation. Basically, if anybody in the class needed anything they would come to me. I had the opportunity, as I’d like to say, to be cheerleader number one for the class and celebrate all the great things that they were doing, but I was also the person that when somebody was struggling that they would come meet with and talk about getting back on track. That’s what led me here. Outside of my work experience, I am a trustee at my alma mater, Le Moyne College in Syracuse, NY. I’ve had the pleasure to look at global issues and how the college runs. The joy of this position is really having that opportunity to be in student life where I get to work directly with students, and help them, but then also work with Dr. King and the leadership team in regards to helping with policies and the bigger things that are going on on a university level.

Q: What are the day-to-day responsibilities of the Associate Vice President of Student Life and Dean of Students?

A: I’m learning. On my fourth day on the job I think I’m learning everyday. Primarily, I will be overseeing the student life area; so residential life, student programming, and organizations and really a focus on helping those directors and working with the different offices, also spiritual life on campus. My role will really be in a sense in community standards so overseeing those directors and departments and providing leadership there. The thing that I’m happy about is there’s great people here. I think that the opportunity exists for me to come in and really help. One of the things that I’ve heard from Dr. King and from the entire staff is that over the last year and a half without having anyone in the role or just someone that was here unfortunately a short time that people are really yearning for another person to be available and be ready to to meet the day-to-day challenges. There’s a number of different projects and things that I’ll be involved in but that’s really going to involve helping Dr. King.

Q: What do you plan to do in this role and what are your goals for your time here?

A: I think number one is really to get to know students on a personal level and do whatever I can to help them. I think at the end of the day, students are the number one priority and for me, I hope to be seen as someone that’s present, engaged in the community and wants to be involved in student life and doing whatever I can to make this a better experience for everyone that I’ve met thus far. Also, the most important thing will be to listen- Listen more, talk less. Really to spend some time getting to know all the things that I don’t know. From my experience, no one likes it when somebody new comes in and tells you everything right off the bat that you should do. I think for me it’s very important to listen to everyone about all of the ways that things are done here, and learn the Roger way and then look to see what I can do to make an impact. I think that’s why it’s really hard the question that you asked is actually really hard because right now it’s really about becoming a part of the community learning what really matters and then working with my colleagues and peers to to come up with a plan and see what I can do to to make an impact on the student experience.

Q: Do you have any specific organizations or programs you would want to get more involved with and like to promote more to the students to enrich their engagement here?

A: I’ve only been here a few days, but I’ve already had the opportunity to go and see the men’s and women’s basketball teams play. I hope to be present at a lot of different activities. I went to the new student orientation the other day, and I was kidding with all those students that we’re all brand new, so I was going through orientation with students that are brand new. I think certainly there’s things that are comfortable for me that organizations that I might want to go to and learn more about and hang out with, but one of the the slogans of my previous college presidents was to be comfortable with the uncomfortable. For me, I’m brand new so there’s a little adventure here to kind of get to do things that I normally would not do or organizations that I might not know a lot about. I would ask students to invite me! Invite me to come learn about what’s going on because I’m open and excited about that. For instance, the other day the sailing coach said that she would let me sail with the team and I was like, ‘Oh my God.’ Part of me is a little nervous about that, like oh that’s outside my comfort zone, and if we’re going wicked fast on the water and a little tiny boat, but at the same time I was really excited. I was like that would be awesome. I think invitations are important and I hope that students will reach out to me to invite me to different things. My hope is to get to meet a bunch of groups at the organization fair, and just walk around and see what’s available and where I might get to go next.

Q: How do you plan to address DEI (Diversity, Equity and Inclusion) on campus?

A: That’s one of the things that really excited me about coming to work here, when you see the anti-racism posters on campus and you know that there’s a commitment from the president to everyone around and that the community really placed that as a top priority. For me, I usually speak to my own personal experience and each of us looking at identity and the identities that that we that we carry. I’ve talked about in my interview and in my cover letter of my own personal experience of growing up as a first generation student in upstate New York, and not really understanding college, and what it was, or what I needed to do other than being successful in high school. I talked with people about my personal identities when I’ve always felt in the majority but then also marginalized. What I mean by that is you know for me personally, when I look at OK well I’ve always been involved in athletics, but I’m a gay male and there was sometimes a struggle of where you fit. I shared that my ex-husband was from Brazil and he went through the immigration process first hand. When I watched him become a U.S. citizen, and going to the ICE office, and sitting there and seeing first hand the immigration process in the United States is just unbelievable. The privilege that I have in so many different ways is thrown out the window and not there and I’ve seen that first hand. I share that with you because for me personally, this is a really important area and I hope that students will feel comfortable coming to me to talk about their experience, but also know that I have a long track record of working with colleagues in multicultural education in different offices of of talking about the importance of identifying bias and being aware of one’s internal brain functions that create systematic bias and being able to recognize that and move forward is really important. The general answer is please know that I’m really committed to doing whatever I can to create a warm and welcoming space for everyone and I hope that I can show that in my daily interactions.

Q: What should Roger Williams students know about you as a person?

A: I hope that they know that I’m fun. My outside interests are an important piece to me. For years and years, I’ve been a Division One hockey referee. A lot of times on the weekends I travel and I referee college hockey. I’ve refereed the National Championship Division One women’s four times, so I’d like to think that I’m a pretty successful hockey referee. I played soccer so I’m a college soccer referee. I do that to get involved in and try to stay in shape. One of my fun facts is that over the years I’ve owned a small percentage of different thoroughbred race horses. I love that piece of being involved in taking friends and going to the races. That’s been a huge thrill for me. Also, the past couple of years, I’ve had the chance to be in a couple of shows on TV that filmed as a background actor. The Gilded Age season 2 is coming out and they filmed it in Troy, NY and so I got to be in that and I was in Modern Love season 2 as a background actor. I’m a big let’s go Bruins, Red Sox, Patriots, so I’m all in this year with the Bruins and so excited about you know the hockey season. Also, I love all live music so I’m a big music person, so I usually go to like three or four shows each summer and I’m a big Dave Matthews fan too.

Q: Out of curiosity, what was your favorite hockey game that you refereed?

A: There’s been so many. I would probably say the national championship game between Minnesota Duluth and Cornell that was held in Minnesota. The reason is because it went three overtimes, and it was the national championship game, and that game just would not end. I was so hungry and I was so worried that I was going to miss my flight back to New York, and it was just kind of crazy that the game went on so long. Minnesota Duluth won in the third overtime, so that’s one that I always look back at. I’ve been lucky through USA Hockey to travel internationally. One time, I went to Mexico City for the Mexican national championship so I remember like the championship game at ref there and like basically the Bad News Bears team won and everybody was on like seat cushions and they won they scored with like 10 seconds left, and you see cushions and out on the ice, and everybody just went crazy and it was unbelievable. I look at like for me some of the games that I really remember are with my best friends that I reffed with.

Q: Do you have any final thoughts you would like to share with the RWU community?

A: I’m really excited about this opportunity. I’m happy to join the Roger community, and I’m looking forward to meeting as many people as possible. For students, if there’s something I can do please seek me out, stop me around campus, say hi introduce yourself and I’m looking forward to getting engaged as much as possible.