Jen Day Shaw, center, is pictured with students at the University of Florida,
where she works in student life.
Jen Day Shaw '88: A lifetime of student life
Jen Day Shaw ’88 enjoyed her involvement in student life activities while at Transylvania so much that she decided to make a career of it. She is now assistant vice president/dean of students for student affairs at the University of Florida in Gainesville.
“Most people seem to go into my field because we have such a fabulous time during our undergraduate experience and never want to leave college,” Shaw said. “We usually are very involved in student life and with the professionals doing that kind of work.”
At Transylvania, Shaw was a resident assistant and a member of the Student Government Association. She was vice president of her Delta Delta Delta sorority pledge class and was listed in Outstanding College Students of America. She even found time for two seasons of varsity tennis.
The student life professional at Transy who had by far the greatest influence on Shaw in terms of career choice was sociology professor emeritus Richard Thompson, who retired in 2008 following a 31-year tenure in the classroom and in administration. In 1987 Thompson became dean of students, a position he would hold until returning to the classroom in 1997.
Shaw was considering law school, but the more she got involved in student life and came into contact with Thompson, the more she felt drawn to that type of work.
“Dean Thompson was such a huge influence on my career decision,” Shaw said. “He took part in so many events with us and was so wonderful. We had some really good conversations about collegiate life and involvement and that sort of career. The role model he set made me determine that I wanted to be a dean of students.”
Shaw’s testimony as to the value of her Transy days in establishing a foundation for career success is often heard from other graduates. However, her encounter with what amounted to a scaled-down version of her Transy experiences two years after graduation is not as common.
In a remarkable coincidence during her first full-time position in the early 1990s at the Savannah College of Art and Design in Georgia, where she became dean of students, Shaw found herself surrounded with Transylvania graduates in key leadership positions.
The staff of SCAD at that time included Nancy Holt Weber ’80, vice president of student services; Gwen Williamson Mathews ’88, director of career services; Erin Patterson Roberson ’88, assistant director of admissions; and her husband, Roy Roberson ’89, director of residence life.
“It was extraordinary that so many of us were in those leadership positions at SCAD at the same time,” Shaw said. “As Transy folks, we did very well. We were a great office family. We went through a lot of crisis issues, which laid the groundwork for me being able to deal with the kind of issues I see at Florida.”
Before landing at SCAD, Shaw had earned a master’s degree in college student personnel services at Miami University. She completed her Ph.D. in higher education (minor in research methods and statistics) at Florida State University in 1998. Prior to her University of Florida position, she held administrative and teaching positions at Florida State, St. Petersburg Junior College, the University of South Florida in Tampa, Davidson County (North Carolina) Community College, and the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.
At Florida, the state’s flagship university, Shaw works on a campus with more than 50,000 students and 950 student organizations. Her responsibilities range from new student programs to academic integrity, disability resources, student conduct, and a 24-hour crisis/emergency system.
In addition to dealing with troublesome issues such as alcohol abuse, sexual assault, and illegal drugs, Shaw takes part in conflict resolution sessions that use a variety of means to solve thorny disputes.
“Mediation is probably our most popular method,” she said. “It may be informal with a staff member, or more formal with a certified mediator. We also use restorative justice techniques, where we bring in both the victim and the accused, and the accused must make up to the victim in some compensating way.”
It is in the process of solving problems and seeing students make better choices that Shaw finds her greatest professional fulfillment.
“You get to help support people when they’re in trouble and have a positive influence on their lives,” she said. “I show them their options and how to use our resources, and then help them get back on the path to success. That’s what originally drew me to this field.”
Lending a helping hand is also a theme of an important part of Shaw’s and her family’s personal life. She and her husband, Andy, and now their children, Carolyn, 12, and Jack, 10, are all involved in greyhound rescue and adoption. The program serves greyhounds who are retired from racing, many of whom were formerly
“It’s a labor of love for the family,” she said. “People always think greyhounds are going to be hyper, but they’re as calm as couch potatoes. Andy and I have done some fostering, but that’s too hard—I cry every time we have to give one up.”
As she looks back on her Transy days, Shaw still values those experiences as being key to her personal and professional development.
“I met lifelong friends, learned a lot about myself and others, started honing leadership skills, and got a world-class education in a friendly, supportive environment full of opportunities,” she said. “I loved my Transy experience.”
—William A. Bowden