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New Student Resources V.P. takes Stanford life in stride
STANFORD -- As dean of the College of Health and Community Services at Bowling Green State University in Ohio, one of Mary McKinney Edmonds' responsibilities was to meet with students in serious academic trouble.
"In talking with these students, it became clear to me that their problems had no basis in their ability to succeed academically, but in their inability to manage their lives in other areas," said Edmonds, who became Stanford's new vice president for student resources in March.
"That's why I moved into student affairs. I felt I could do a lot more on the other side of the fence."
At Bowling Green - a rural college where "people lived for the university" - Edmonds was responsible for a budget of $17.5 million (not including financial aid funds), and managed a staff of 200.
Now, at Stanford, she has been handed responsibility for a budget of $75 million and 600 employees in a unit that affects every aspect of students' lives, from admissions and advising to, now, Housing and Food Services, formerly under the vice president for administrative resources.
"I'm difficult to overwhelm," Edmonds said. Still, "I would have liked a little longer honeymoon period. Since I arrived, everything's happened boom, boom, boom!
"First, there were contract negotiation problems at Cowell Student Health Center. Then, there was the Keith Archuleta situation [in which the former assistant dean resigned after being arrested for secretly videotaping women students]. And there were many other issues that were just waiting for decisions to be made.
"With this position, you never know what is going to happen next. But that is what keeps it challenging and exciting for me."
Edmonds, the highest-ranking African American administrator in Stanford's history, gained an early appreciation for higher education from her parents.
Her mother graduated from Spelman College in Atlanta and worked toward a master's degree at Columbia before her marriage. Her father, son of a Georgia sharecropper, "literally threw down his hoe one day" and went on to Morehouse College and Colgate Rochester Divinity School.
Wade H. McKinney, a noted social justice minister and theologian, saw the membership of his church in Cleveland grow from approximately 400 to more than 3,000 members over a period of 34 years.
The church drew such famous visiting speakers as Martin Luther King Jr., Adam Clayton Powell and Mary McLeod Bethune. Many of them stayed at the McKinney home, "a great experience" for Mary, her identical twin sister and two brothers (three of whom went on to earn doctorates).
"It was a wonderful childhood," Edmonds said. "All of the children in the family were required to play musical instruments. I took lessons for many years on the violin, my sister played cello, my brothers played clarinet and bass violin. . . . On Sunday evenings we would have little family concerts."
Edmonds' father also taught the Canterbury Tales in Old English to his children when they were still quite small. She can still recite some of it today.
At 28, Edmonds' life changed forever when her husband drowned trying to save two friends whose boat had capsized. Although she was four months' pregnant with her first and only child, Jacque, Edmonds was determined to continue her education.
Armed with a bachelor's degree in biology from Spelman College and a post-graduate certification in physical therapy from the University of Wisconsin, Edmonds went on to complete master's degrees in health studies and sociology, and a doctorate in sociology with specialization in medical sociology and social gerontology at Case Western Reserve University.
She also managed to send her own daughter to Princeton and the Harvard Business School.
Her experiences as a graduate student, as a single parent and as a member of the graduate faculty at Bowling Green give her a special insight into the concerns of today's graduate students.
"I know their anxiety and stress," Edmonds said. "Graduate students become so insulated within their departments or their labs, often without the social connections that might reduce some of the anxieties.
"If, at the same time, they are anxious because applications take a long to to be processed, or they have financial concerns that are not being addressed in a timely fashion, or if housing becomes a problem, that makes the situation intolerable. This, then, becomes reflected in their ability to concentrate on academic or research issues."
Of particular concern to her now are the consequences of the recent decentralization of Stanford's Graduate Division office - which used to handle all graduate student admissions and financial aid in one place.
"I would like to be proactive and discover where the problems are and fix them before fall quarter starts," she said. "I have excellent staff who are committed to doing this and are working very hard this summer with the schools to ensure that this occurs."
The reorganization of graduate student services is just one task that will be occupying Edmonds during the rest of the summer.
High on her list is determining how the entire unit, including Housing and Food Services, should be organized.
"I am contemplating how best to provide the communication links between the various units and the schools," she said, "as well as which units should report directly to me and which might best be served in other reporting lines."
In the Dean of Students office, Michael Jackson will be directing searches for two key personnel - a new campus multicultural educator to succeed Greg Ricks, and a new assistant dean and director of the Black Community Services Center.
The Office of Financial Aids will have the added responsibility of graduate financial aid disbursement this year, and other offices, including the Undergraduate Advising Center and the Career Planning and Placement Center, will be wrestling with how to meet increased demands with fewer people.
"In student affairs, there is always a commitment to do everything for students," she said. "We all fall into the patterns of helping 'just one more student.' We cannot do that indefinitely, so we must determine our limits and live within them.
"Although the cutbacks will be felt by students, I firmly believe that the academic integrity of the university will not be compromised."
Despite the press of her duties, Edmonds is becoming a familiar face on campus, as she drops in to chat with staff members in the trenches or with students lunching at Tresidder Union. She's also becoming a familiar face at faculty senate meetings, where she is an ex officio member - the only vice president so honored.
With all of her responsibilities, Edmonds still makes time to continue her scholarly pursuits. Last fall, she taught an intensive course in geriatric physical therapy last fall for practicing physical therapists in Brazil.
Her recent appointment as clinical professor of health research and policy in the School of Medicine, effective Sept. 1, will enable her to continue that work.
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