On Aug. 22, BaShaun Smith sat in a virtually empty office in Warfield Hall at Miami University, with his new home in Oxford just as empty. He guessed he had only unpacked three boxes so far.
The reason for the barren bookshelf and the sudden move?
He received an offer as Miami’s new Dean of Students with just four weeks to relocate from North Carolina to Oxford in time for move-in.
“I came early for the students, so I can get to know them,” Smith said. “I came early for my staff, so I can get to know them, and I’m going to do whatever I can to be as intentional as possible.”
For Smith, visibility and perception are at the forefront as he settles into his new role, even if it means the boxes won’t get unpacked for a while because his calendar is booked with campus-wide events.
Later that day, Smith planned to visit the International Student Welcome Picnic and Resource Fair on Central Quad before attending a reception at Miami President Greg Crawford’s house for new faculty. On Wednesday, he planned to participate in the Made at Miami breakfast and attend a Late Night Miami event. The rest of the week was just as busy.
Previous experience prepares Smith for new role
Smith is used to a tight schedule filled with campus events and making time for students. The Cleveland native has worked in higher education for 20 years, starting with his first resident assistant (RA) job at Bowling Green State University (BGSU).
“I became an RA because I was this displaced student in my first year,” Smith, a first-generation college student, said.
At BGSU, Smith was studying history and political science, on track to become a lawyer, but during his time as an RA, he had a late-night run-in with the hall director, which inspired him to pursue a path in higher education.
“I saw it as an opportunity to give back to students that didn’t have the quality experience that I had [my freshman year],” Smith said.
Jack Isphording, an outreach intern in the Dean of Students Office, believes Smith’s identity and background will provide a refreshing approach to the administrative role.
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“I greatly appreciate that he’s an Ohio native, he's a first-generation college student and he’s a Black man,” Isphording said. “Knowing that makes me feel assured that he’ll do everything in his power to make sure those groups do not fall through the cracks.”
After graduating from BGSU, Smith took two years off from school before returning to the University of Dayton (UD) as an Interfraternity Council Advisor. In 2010, he got into UD’s master's program and served as a resident director for multiple dorms.
He continued to serve as a hall director at other schools, and in 2016, he went to Western Carolina University to serve as Assistant Director of Residence Life before moving up to Director of Residence Life just two years later. From there, he served as the interim Dean of Students and was promoted in 2020 to Dean of Students.
“A lot of times, Dean of Students come from the conduct route, but with being a resident director and a hall director, you do a little bit of everything,” Smith said.
While working in Residence Life, Smith served as an advisor and support coach, cleaned the residence halls and fixed facility-related issues, but moving into the Dean of Students role allowed him to connect more one-on-one with students outside of the dorms.
“For me, continuing to advance my career in the Dean of Students role is making sure that we never forget that the lifeline of every institution … is the students, and what better way to serve the students than in the Dean of Students role?” he said.
A visit, an interview and a new job
Smith visited Miami the first week of July as part of the interview process, which solidified his desire for the role.
“You know how you pick up a good book, and then they make a movie out of it, but the movie is not always as good as the book?” Smith asked. “For me, the movie and the book were perfect.”
During his three-day visit, he received a campus tour, interviewed with the search committee tasked with finding the new dean, met with campus partners such as the Miami University Police Department and the Miller Center for Student Disability Services, ate with students, and gave a presentation to an open forum, which faculty and members of the President’s Cabinet attended.
After Smith left Oxford, Jayne Brownell, senior vice president of Student Life, said the conversations the search committee had were overwhelmingly positive.
“From every corner of the university, no matter their role, Dr. Smith was able to connect with them,” Brownell, who chaired the committee, said.
The committee included Associate Provost and Dean of Undergraduate Education Amy Bergerson, Director of Student Financial Assistance Beth Johnson, Associate Athletic Director Jennifer Gilbert, Student Trustee Jack Fazio, Director for the Center of Student Engagement, Activities and Leadership Kim Vance, Student Body President Nyah Smith, Deputy General Counsel for MUPD Sarah Kelley and Director of Student Counseling Services John Ward.
They reviewed 39 applications and held nine Zoom interviews. From there, the committee narrowed the selections to three individuals who were invited for a campus visit.
“What became very clear in talking with campus partners in advance from what they wanted from the new Dean of Students, and it especially came through loud and clear from students, was they wanted someone that was going to be visible, approachable and who was going to be proactive about getting to know students and getting out on campus,” Brownell said.
Visibility is a primary concern for Isphording, a sophomore organizational leadership and entrepreneurship double major. Isphording did not work in the office under Kimberly Moore, the previous Dean of Students, but said he already has ideas for ways Smith can foster closer relationships with students.
“I believe the background of working in different colleges will allow Miami to potentially see something that we’re missing or something that we can approach differently to serve the student body effectively,” he said.
And effectively serving the student body is what Smith plans to do as his calendar begins to fill up.
“Students do not always have to come to the Dean of Students Office when there is a problem,” Smith said. “They can come by and just say hi.”