Before arriving at SUNY New Paltz, Chanel Ward ’10g (director of the Scholar’s Mentorship Program [SMP] and member of the SUNY New Paltz Alumni Advisory Council) attended Five Towns College and earned a degree in business management with a concentration in music business. After graduating, she stayed on Long Island and worked as a corporate head hunter.
“It was not for me,” says Ward of her corporate job. “It was not person-centered. I didn’t feel like I was doing anything to help myself or individuals in my community. My heart wasn’t in it.”
Seeking a change, Ward returned to her hometown of Poughkeepsie, N.Y., and decided to enroll in graduate school. She discovered the humanistic/multicultural education program at SUNY New Paltz, and one semester into her studies, a residence director position opened up on campus. She landed the job, and worked as director of residence life for four years while simultaneously completing her graduate degree.
“I loved being hands-on with young professionals who were at such a transitional time in their life,” says Ward. “I really loved working with various departments here on campus, because it really gave me an open perspective as to what it’s like to work within higher education. … I loved working with my resident assistants, helping them develop leadership skills, and watching them blossom.”
After completing the humanistic/multicultural education program and earning her master’s degree, Ward seized an opportunity to be an adjunct professor of Key Issues in the Education of Underrepresented College Students at SUNY New Paltz, a required course for all new students entering the SMP. As a result, she says, “I fell in love with teaching. Being able to take the skills I developed as residence director and put them in a classroom was wonderful. It allowed me to work with a specific population of students I felt really passionate about.”
Feeling ready to apply the skills she’d garnered through teaching as well as her position with residence life, Ward decided to apply for the director position with the SMP, and has been heading the program since January 2013.
“I felt like I was at a place where I was ready to pick up the tools I’d developed and transition into more responsibilities,” says Ward. “There was a need for the (SMP) to grow and be nourished. Luckily, I went for it, and here I am.”
The SMP is a networking initiative for students who self-identify as people of color, though scholars of any ethnic group may join. The program matches students with mentors (both faculty/staff and peer) with the goal of teaching them effective study methods, time management skills, technology skills, career development, and other strategies to help them make the most of college and go on to become active student leaders on campus. The program has grown from 33 students and 15 mentors in 1988, the year of its founding, to now hosting more than 200 students and nearly 60 mentors.
Through her work with SMP and residence life, as well as her own experience as a SUNY New Paltz graduate student, Ward says she’s come to recognize the importance of alumni connection and “creating a community that alumni can come back and enjoy.” As a new member of the Alumni Advisory Council, she hopes to establish new connections, as well as repair broken ones, in order to continue bolstering the “culture of gratitude” that Ward strongly senses in the SUNY New Paltz alumni community.
“I’m hoping to work with my other colleagues to create a space where alumni see themselves again,” says Ward, “to create a cultural hub for all of us again.”