Dean of Students celebrates 20 years at St. Edward’s as campus wonder woman

Dean of Students Lisa Kirkpatrick is a big fan of Wonder Woman.

On a shelf in her Main Building office, her lifetime love of the superhero is on display via a memorabilia glass, plate, clock and doll — all gifts from students and faculty.

“I love Wonder Woman because she’s strong and she speaks the truth,” Kirkpatrick said, called Dean K by many on campus.

Her love of Wonder Woman dates back to when she was a little girl watching the television series; she dressed up as the hero for Halloween when she was 8.

She is also a fan because she considers herself and Wonder Woman to be in the same business — “the business of helping other people,” Kirkpatrick said.

Kirkpatrick has held the title of Dean of Students at St. Edward’s University since 1998. As Dean of Students, she serves on and oversees a number of committees within St. Edward’s, such as the President’s Administrative Staff Council, the Title IX Committee, the Academic Planning Committee for Student Services, the Holy Cross Initiative and Student Affairs Leadership Team, among others.

With the added title of Associate Vice President for Student Affairs in 2008, and with even more roles and responsibilities on campus, not everyone understands what goes in and out of the Dean of Students’ Office.

“There are times when students will call here asking for their school’s academic dean,” Kirkpatrick said. “We just redirect.”

On top of overseeing orientation, Residence Life and Student Life, the Dean of Students’ Office manages student conduct and welfare.

“We help those students who can’t advocate for themselves or don’t know what to do,” Kirkpatrick said, who works in coordination with the Health and Counseling Center, University Police Department and Student Disability Services among other entities on campus to get students the help they need.

“Life is complicated, and when you’re taking a full load of classes and working a job on the side and trying to develop your portfolio, it’s a lot to manage when you have some crisis going on,” Kirkpatrick said. “We don’t want people to feel like they’re alone here.”

Kirkpatrick is also the school’s Title IX coordinator, working across the entire university to ensure equal opportunities.

“There is just too long of a list to provide all that she has contributed for our students and to this campus,” Vice President of Student Affairs Sandra Pacheco said. “She is one of the strongest administrators on campus.”

Path to St. Edward’s

Kirkpatrick’s path to the Dean of Students Office started with her following in her father’s footsteps. At Ohio University, her father served a number of roles including admissions and career counselor.

“I felt great pride in my dad’s work and it was always fun to help him,” Kirkpatrick said, who used to run the coffee and donut stand at her father’s admission events when she was little.

When it became obvious that her undergraduate field of study, journalism, was not what she wanted to pursue professionally, Kirkpatrick fell back on what she already knew she loved: “being involved.”

An active member in a number of clubs, a resident assistant and a tour guide, Kirkpatrick loved being a student leader and getting involved on campus.

After she received her bachelor’s degree at Ohio University, she took a job as Resident Director at her alma mater and went for her master’s in education specializing in college student personnel.

“But then I wanted to get married and the person I wanted to marry lived down here in Austin, Texas,” Kirkpatrick said.

With her master’s and first husband in hand, Kirkpatrick moved to Texas in 1994 looking for a job.

After months of interviews but no offers, Kirkpatrick was offered the position of area director at St. Edward’s, roughly the equivalent of a resident director today.

She lived and worked out of present-day Doyle and Premont.

Pete Erickson, the wellness and outreach services coordinator at the Health and Counseling Center, remembers Kirkpatrick when she first came to St. Edward’s.

“She was a vibrant, energetic fireball who worked tirelessly to serve students,” Erickson said, commenting that she hadn’t changed.

“Finding St. Edward’s was special,” Kirkpatrick said.

Although she converted to Catholicism at the age of 18, Kirkpatrick believes she was offered the job at the small Catholic college because of her master’s thesis, which was about the need for universities to address college students’ need for spiritual development.

“Part of the whole person is their spiritual dimension … and it ought to be just as much everyone’s responsibility as academic success, occupational success, social dimension, etc.,” she said.

At St. Edward’s, Kirkpatrick worked her way up the food chain with stints in a number of places on campus including Residence Life and Student Activities (now called Student Life).

In 1998, she became the Dean of Students.

“I remember because I gave birth, accepted the job and then came back to work six weeks later,” Kirkpatrick said with a laugh, admitting she was more than ready to come back.

“The baby can’t tell you what’s wrong. The college student can normally tell you very directly what’s wrong,” Kirkpatrick said.

Last year, Kirkpatrick celebrated 20 years at St. Edward’s. The school has changed a lot in that time period: Student Activities has become Student Life and now includes leadership and multicultural awareness initiatives; the number of residence halls has doubled; the Health Center merged with the Counseling Center to become the Health and Counseling Center; family weekend and Homecoming evolved from two separate small events to a week-long student-driven experience; and the Blue and Gold Series as well as club sports launched along with student organizations to increase school spirit and pride.

“Moving and grooving with you guys takes a lot of work,” Kirkpatrick said, referring to the changing needs of the student body over the last 20 years.

Kirkpatrick said she is still happy here after two decades.

“I don’t really want to go anywhere else until there are ways where I can’t contribute,” said Kirkpatrick.

Building Community

Though described by multiple people on campus to be happy and upbeat, Kirkpatrick said one of her greatest strengths is being able to be “present with somebody’s sorrow.”

“There are times when I get frustrated because someone is hurting — and I know that is part of the overall life experience — but when I don’t have any control and that person isn’t open to the support we have available to them — that frustrates me,” Kirkpatrick said.

“When a student meets Dean K, it is sometimes because he or she is living through the hardest day or week of college,” senior Mary Frances LaHood said. “To many of these students, she becomes a trusted mentor and friend.”

LaHood remembers first sitting in Kirkpatrick’s office following the news of a family tragedy her freshman year.

“I was ready to apply to transfer to schools closer to home,” LaHood, a Maryland native, said. “She promised that no matter my decision, St. Ed’s would always be behind me. We both cried.”

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