A Message from Our VP: Honoring Our Influencers, February 2023

February 3, 2023
University apartments staff
Gregory Gym check-in
Kins Dining staff

From left to right: University Apartments staff distribute blankets to residents; student checks into RecSports' Gregory Gym; Kins Dining staff prepare dinner.

Dear Members of the Division of Student Affairs,

Almost like clockwork, we just braved another winter storm that shut down our city. And once again, you showed up — you showed your “can do” and “will do” spirit and jumped into action to prepare and support our on- and off-campus students. Some of you stayed on campus, some even overnight to take care of our students’ essential needs — while many others worked remotely, all the while, juggling personal commitments to keep the ball rolling. Thank you, thank you for your impactful work — you repeatedly influence our students’ well-being in so many ways.

And if you joined us for our Team Appreciation and Celebration on Jan. 25, thank you for taking time to reconnect with each other. I had a blast seeing you walking table to table to say hello. It was also a special day to showcase the three winners of our annual Staff Merit Awards!

Staff Merit Award recipients with Soncia Reagins-Lilly

Paige Muehlenkamp-McHorse (New Student Services), Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students Soncia Reagins-Lilly, Bob Vargas and Sara Kennedy (Office of the Dean of Students)

Sara Kennedy
Director of Strategic and Executive Communications, Office of the Dean of Students

Everything we do is for our students. But in the daily rush of emails, phone calls and meetings we encounter, it can be easy to forget this foundational truth. That’s why we constantly remind ourselves (and each other) of our shared mission as a Division: to influence the Longhorn life.

Sara keeps her — and her team’s — focus squarely on the students we’re here to serve. And her nominators say that she has created a unit that is dynamic, collaborative, supportive and welcoming.

In every message that Sara creates, students come first. During the pandemic, Sara’s balance of organization, communication and leadership was on full display. As one of her team members said when nominating Sara for this award: “Sara organized our messaging during an extremely difficult period. She relayed ever-changing information … making sure we delivered it clearly in a time-sensitive manner.”

We’re lucky to have Sara on our team, and we’re thrilled she has been recognized this year for her tireless work.

Paige Muehlenkamp-McHorse
Assistant Director of Off Campus and Outreach, New Student Services

Of the many things I admire about the people who work for our Division is their innovative spirit. Look in any department, and you’ll find someone who — in ways both big and small — is driven by their own passion for influencing the Longhorn life. Self-starters like Paige notice problems and invent solutions.

When the Division identified a need to support students living off campus in 2018, Paige stepped in to lead the off-campus initiative. Between finding a place to live, commuting to class and getting to know Austin, off-campus students needed more resources.

Paige began by doing research: talking to students, collaborating with colleagues across the Division, identifying potential solutions and resources. The off-campus initiative brings together a buffet of knowledge, services and resources all aimed at helping students who attend UT but live away from campus.

Paige has led this work with panache and passion, and as a result, countless students will thrive for many years ahead.

Bob Vargas
Senior Administrative Associate, Office of the Dean of Students

You may have noticed that our university is … large. If we were a city, we’d be larger than DeSoto, Texas. And with size comes complexity with countless policies, procedures, stakeholders and vendors. The flow of information and tasks is nonstop, ever-changing and critical to our ongoing success.

Bob seemingly knows it all. He’s something of a walking UT Austin encyclopedia.

Having worked at the university for more than 35 years — including 16 in the Office of the Dean of Students — Bob has accumulated a deep and reliable body of knowledge. He’s responsible for processing all payments and purchasing documents and oversees a constant stream of paperwork, emails and requests. All are critical to our budget and income. And by extension, he influences the student experience.

But like every winner of the Staff Merit Award, Bob’s value goes far deeper than his daily work. It’s his generosity that truly makes Bob shine. He’s always willing to answer questions, share knowledge and help improve processes.

Thank You All

These three award winners inspire me. You inspire me, too. The fact that you’ve chosen to be at UT Austin, to become part of our mission to improve student life is an honor. Thank you for your passion, creativity and focus on working collaboratively to make our Division have the greatest impact on the student experience.

For Students, We Will!

Soncia Reagins-Lilly
Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students