What drew you to working with college students?
I was a physical therapy major in college, and I worked really hard at it, and I loved it. And then I became a resident assistant, and I realized that you could have a career working with college students. I’ve always liked following the rules and meeting expectations and getting As. So, when I learned that I could have a lifetime of helping college students be successful and graduate and change their lives, that felt much more natural to me than memorizing the origins and insertions of muscles.
How has student well-being changed since you earned your bachelor’s degree from Bradley University in 2001?
I remember learning about the wellness wheel when I was an undergraduate – and planning student programs that met all the wellness wheel categories – so it was being discussed. But now we are really embracing it and viewing it as mandatory for student success. If there is a silver lining to the pandemic, it’s that people have embraced talking about mental well-being. And students are much more open to receiving help.
The Office of Student Wellness and Well-being was just created in 2021. What is your vision for student well-being?
That office is one of several offices intentionally grouped together within my team. The others include the Office of the Dean of Students, the Counseling Center, the Office of Victim Services, the Collegiate Recovery Program, the Office of Disability Services and the Office of Neighborhood Relations. We’re calling ourselves “Team Well-being.” The Office of Student Wellness and Well-being focuses on providing resources to help faculty assist students who may be having a hard time, as well as developing peer buy-in and name recognition of groups like Students 4 Support.
How does your experience as assistant vice president for student life, dean of students and Title IX coordinator at Aurora University inform your approach as CofC’s dean of students?
I want this office to be recognized as a place you go to for help, not the place you go when you’re in trouble. Because really, what the Office of the Dean of Students does, first and foremost, is help students. It’s connecting them to resources and setting them up for success. We also handle honor code or code of conduct cases. But my philosophy is that a student’s behavior was just a moment in time. If they’re willing to own up to it and think about what led up to that action, then we can move forward in a better way.
What’s the biggest difference between Charleston and Aurora, Illinois?
It’s just a totally different culture. I had to get used to the word ma’am and having students refer to me as Dean Almasi-Bush instead of Ann. I’m understanding that this is a cultural thing to show respect. Also, there’s humidity in Illinois, but it’s just for, like, one or two days. But when I came here in July it was hot and humid every day! However, I’m loving the winter weather in Charleston.
Flower power: Almasi-Bush does floral design as a hobby. (Image by Mike Ledford)