In his office, Associate Vice Chancellor and Dean of Students Brett Carter has a wall of thank you notes from students. They’re thanking him for the support they needed to finish a successful semester, or for help in reaching graduation and in completing their college degrees. He’ll likely get another flood of them in May, as his work continues and the Dean of Students Office considers the past year and looks toward the next.
“Our philosophy here in the Dean of Students Office, as well as throughout the rest of the campus, is creating the culture of care,” he said. “So, we look at our successes—what has helped students fulfill their academic and individual goals and graduate and advance. Then we think about the incoming class and about what we can do to enhance that culture of care.”
Carter grew up in a family of nine, and when he became one of only two siblings in his family to go to college, he was struck by the care he experienced on a college campus. After majoring in human relations at High Point University, he thought he’d work for a nonprofit agency, but then he said to a friend, “Man, I don’t ever want to leave college. I want to stay in college.”
The friend told him about how he could get a graduate degree in higher education, so he came to UNCG to earn his Ph.D in higher education administration. As a UNCG staff member, he started in the Department of Housing and Residence Life, as an area director, and then the assistant director. In 2010 he became the dean of students and was named associate vice chancellor in 2016. Sometimes people ask him how he can work at the same place for 21 years.
“I love what I do,” he answers. “I love the UNCG environment, and there are just so many things UNCG has to offer. This is where I want to be.”
Carter envisions the Dean of Students Office as a hub of support, for students who are new to campus or for any students who are seeking support resources. The staff works collaboratively with a number of departments on the first-year experience, university policy, judicial affairs, student safety concerns, student advocacy, academic integrity and crisis management. More than anything, they want to help students locate and navigate support resources on campus.
“We want you to know that here at UNCG, we care. We care about your success. And success can have different definitions.” Carter cites successful moving-in experiences for freshmen, successful first semesters acclimating to the college environment or students successfully managing wellness—all essential for academic success.
The Dean of Students Office manages several unique programs for helping students feel connected to support and resources. One of those is UNCG Cares. It’s a program for faculty and staff that trains them to recognize students in distress and to connect them to support resources for further help. When a faculty or staff member completes the training, they are given a UNCG Cares sticker to place on their office door, to let students know they can come to that office for support. The program has received national recognition and Carter has shared it with other campuses, such as UNC Chapel Hill.
Another program is Dining with the Deans, which the office hosts four or five times each semester. At those events, students are invited to have lunch with the Dean of Students Office, to learn about the office and listen to presentations by speakers from a variety of campus departments. Carter says students leave the lunches knowing more about support resources on campus, and recognizing that the Dean of Students Office is somewhere they can go for help.
Recently, Carter spoke to the Class of 1967 at their 50th reunion celebration (see visual). He spoke about something that is very important to him: students who face temporary homelessness or food insecurity.
“It has always been a dream of mine to provide support for students in an emergency,” he said. “Their ability to access resources may determine whether they can stay in school, and it might be the thing that keeps them in school.”
The Class of 1967 raised approximately $12,000 for the Student Assistance Fund for Emergencies. With that gift, students who experience an emergency that causes them to lose their housing or ability to buy food will have the resources they need to remain enrolled at UNCG. Helping bolster the health and success of the UNCG student population is a collaborative effort, as Carter points out. Many departments and individuals take part.
“One of the things that I really like about UNCG and the culture here is that people genuinely want to help students,” he said. “I love being able to work in an environment where everybody has the same goal in mind—we all want to see our students succeed.”
By Susan Kirby-Smith
Photography by Martin W. Kane