For the first time in several years, Kansas State University has a new vice president of student life and dean of students: Thomas Lane. Lane joined the ranks of administration on July 14, bringing with him more than 25 years of experience in student life.
Rachel Hogan, copy chief and summer editor-in-chief: “First question, kind of an easy one: How did you become involved in student affairs and student life?”
Lane: “I was a first generation college student. I went to Illinois State University for my undergraduate years and also my master’s degree. I really struggled my first year at Illinois State. I ended up, actually, on academic probation. I had a 1.8 grade point average at the conclusion of my freshman year. I had no idea what I was doing at college. I really just didn’t have a plan, didn’t take advantage of a lot of the resources that were available, didn’t even know what the resources were.
“So, I was sitting in the student union at the beginning of my sophomore year and there was a card on the wall that said, ‘Are you interested in bringing bands to campus?’ And I’m a big music nut, still go to a lot of concerts to this day. I said, ‘That sounds pretty cool. I’ll put my name on that card.’ Well, the card was to apply for a group called the Student Center Board, and it programs every week at the Bone Student Center at Illinois State.
“I got involved in campus programming. My first program was a beach party in January, and it was a flop. There was actually more beach balls as decorations than there were attendees at the event. It was really horrible, but I fell in love with the process of creating a program for students to get engaged on campus with. … In order to be a leader in that organization, you had to have a certain GPA, and so I thought, ‘OK, well, I better start knuckling down because this is something I’d really like to do,’ and ended up becoming the president of that organization.
“So it was really student organization that first got me interested in student affairs, and learning about student affairs.
Effects of this year's budget cuts lie in the hands of division leaders
“I met a graduate student who said, ‘You know, Thomas, there’s a profession that you can do this all the time.’ I went and applied for graduate school at Illinois State, and ended up getting the GRE score that I needed — I think it was just the minimum that I needed to get into the master’s program — and ended up working in their Office of Student Life. That was really my start as a graduate assistant, and my first position in student affairs was at Illinois State University. … I just really fell in love with all of the different aspects of that position. And that’s how I got started. That was my first job in student affairs.”
Hogan: “And before coming to K-State you were at Missouri State, right? What work did you do there?”
Lane: “So I was at Missouri State, I thought I would be there maybe for about five years tops. I ended up being there for 14 years, but in a number of different positions. The first position that I was hired for was assistant dean of students and director of the student union. I really came up through student affairs through the student union field. Primarily, my responsibilities centered around building community within the student union.
“Over time, my job changed and I was promoted to assistant to the vice president for student affairs and also director of the union, still hung on to that position, and was responsible for our convocation program, commencement responsibilities. Then I became the assistant vice president for student life where I had the student union, which I retained as director, but then also supervised residence life, housing and dining services and campus recreation. My job within student affairs really started to expand at that time.
“About another four years later, I became the associate vice president and dean of students. In that position I supervised the student union, was no longer the director but supervised the director of the union, served as dean of students for the university, supervised the Office of Student Conduct, the Counseling center, our Disability Resource Center and various other functional areas within student affairs. So I really got a broad exposure to a number of different student affairs areas, lots of different offices and programs that help students succeed while they’re at the university.”
Hogan: “Your first day at K-State was about a month ago. How has this first month been?”
Lane: “It’s been wonderful. Truly wonderful. I have been so thrilled with the welcome that I received from the campus community members I’ve had the chance to interact with. The student life staff have been just great to work with. I had a chance to visit with most of the deans of the academic colleges, the provost, the president. All have been just very welcoming and helpful as I try to get started for this past month. The community members that I’ve had a chance to meet have been great. The students that I’ve had the chance to meet have been very welcoming and great to visit with. … It’s been a great first month, but I’m looking forward to the arrival of our students that are new and returning students that will be arriving for the start of the academic year. I’m excited about the start of the academic year.”
Hogan: “It’s coming up. With the start of classes, what projects do you have planned or what are your short term goals for the coming months?”
Lane: “One of the big ones that we’re working on in the Division of Student Life is we are working on developing a strategic plan for our division. That plan is going to focus on what is our division’s mission, what [are] our division’s values and what vision we have for our division. In addition, identifying three to five strategic directions with broad goals that each of the departments that are within student life can then develop their goals from so that as a division we’re all moving in the same direction and really help conveying the story of what value we bring to K-State and how we put students forward first.”
Hogan: “Speaking more long term, what are your goals for K-State and the Office of Student Life?”
Lane: “Well, that strategic plan is a long term goal, so that’s about a three to five year strategic plan. Our hope is one, that we create awareness within the campus of all of the programs and services that our division offers. I think it’s really important for us to articulate how we contribute to students’ success. In other words, how do we, within the division, contribute not only to attracting students to K-State, based upon the programs and services that we offer and activities that we might offer, but how do we help keep students at K-State in terms of, how are we contributing to retention? And how are we contributing to students’ achievement of goals or graduation and taking on whatever that next opportunity is in their journey? Whether that be a professional career or whether that be additional graduate study. That’s really the charge I think for our division: How do we tell that story in the best way that we can?”
Hogan: “In doing that, what role will the Office of Student Life and your division play in this time when there’s a lot of decreasing enrollment and budget cuts?”
Lane: “I think one of the important roles that my position plays is, along with the provost, I serve as co-chair of the Strategic Enrollment Management Committee. And so, obviously, enrollment is of utmost priority to the institution. I think an important role that the Division of Student Life plays is making sure that the services and programs that we offer are attractive to students, not only to students from Kansas but also, for example, our students that might be coming from out-of-state or our students that might be coming from a variety of backgrounds and identities. How do we make sure that as a university, we’re making sure that all students, regardless of background, regardless of identity, feel welcomed, feel included, feel part of the K-State community and are set up for their best chance for success?”
Hogan: “A little bit easier of a question — what are you looking forward to the most in the upcoming academic year?”
Think about this: Alcohol and sexual assault prevention training required only of new students
Lane: “I’m really looking forward to the Week of Welcome. My calendar is chock full of events for me to attend, and I’m hoping that I get a really great sense, just like the new students who are coming on to campus, of what student life at K-State is all about. So, really I’d say, immediately, that’s what I’m most excited about right now, is the Week of Welcome: From helping students to move in, to anticipating convocation, to enjoying Tang and pancakes at the pancake feed and all of the other events and activities that are set up to get students excited about the choice they made in coming to K-State and letting students know of all the wonderful opportunities for connection.”
Hogan: “And in doing all of that, what’s it like to follow behind Pat Bosco, who has kind of become a K-State icon?”
Lane: “You know, I feel really blessed in that Dr. Bosco has created such a wonderful foundation and culture in terms of putting students first. That culture aligns with my own beliefs and my own reasons for doing the work that I do. Having the opportunity to build upon that, to build upon that great legacy, is really exciting, and I feel very fortunate in having that as I begin my role of vice president of student life, of having such a fantastic foundation on which to go from.”
Hogan: “And now that you’ve been in Manhattan for a few weeks, what’s your favorite location in the town?”
Lane: “I really like the rooftop area of the Tallgrass Taphouse. I also like Coco Bolos, the patio area. I actually have went over to Pillsbury Crossing, and it’s a really pretty place. What I’d like to do next, but it’s just been so hot, is to do some hiking on the Konza Prairie trails.”
Hogan: “My last question for you is: what do you want the people of K-State to know about you?”
Lane: “I would want the people of K-State to know that my style is very open and accessible, and so that if a student has a concern or a campus community member has a concern about student life that they would feel comfortable in reaching out to me, whether that might be through email, phone, stopping by my office, following me on Twitter and sending me a tweet, to know that I’m really eager to hear what they think about K-State student life and how we might be able to make the K-State student experience even better than what could be.”