Q&A: Anna Edwards
New associate vice president for student life shares her plans for the university
By Jalesa Cooley, firstname.lastname@example.org
After spending more than a decade at Carolina, Anna Edwards has been named associate vice president for student life in the Division of Student Affairs and Academic Support. She had been interim associate vice president since July 2017 after serving as assistant to the associate vice president for student life for 13 years. Edwards will lead fraternity and sorority life, off-campus student services and a variety of other student life organizations.
We spent some time getting to know Edwards and got a chance to discuss her plans for student life and how she plans to make this big place feel a little smaller.
There has not been a new person in your position in nearly 30 years. What are you most excited about?
I’m most excited about the opportunity to reevaluate student life in the sense of the life of our students and how we as a department deliver on the promises that we make during admission events and orientation, as well as giving a fresh look at what we do, why we do it and how we do it.
What are your top three priorities right now?
My first focus is meeting with all of our staff and understanding their departments through a different lens. I’m making sure that I spend time with each staff member so that I may understand their work and get a sense of why and how they do the work that they do and what are some of the areas that they think we need to improve in.
My second focus is spending time with students because they are the reason I got into this work. We work with our Student Government President Ross Lordo and students that participated in the LEAD Retreat last year so that they can help inform me about what is happening in the lives of our students. It’s important to understand how we deliver from our staff perspective, but also to understand what the student perception is.
Third is looking at a strategic plan for student life, some of which will involve new facilities like the student union and a few new recreation fields. We have about half the national standard in terms of acreage for our student population and we know that when students participate in sports clubs and intramural teams and are offered outdoor recreation activities it makes them happy, more well-rounded and successful in the classroom.
What do you enjoy most about working with students?
Unpredictability. I think that’s one of the great things about this job and what I love about USC. Something might happen the night before in the lives of our students and that changes the conversations we need to have with them. I have to make sure that my department is always flexible and that we are able to meet the changing needs of our students. We have a plan, but we also have to make sure that our plan is able to adapt to the trends from year to year. That means we have to be able to connect with our students, have an understanding of what their needs are, and we have to have a solution when they present those needs to us.
How have you seen campus life evolve since you’ve been here?
We’ve grown tremendously. I’ve seen the addition of Greek Village, the Strom and some of the field spaces. It's cool to watch because as more students arrive, we have to keep expanding. What students bring to the table has also changed. They are becoming more engaged and want to have more of a say in what their experience is, which is an awesome opportunity for us. We’ve also added many new programs and initiatives and are continuously making sure that we are in line with needs of today’s student. People want to be a part of USC and it is clear that we have something special going on that students and parents want to invest in, but we have to look at whether or not we can continue to deliver on the promise of a great Gamecock experience. So far we have been able to do that.
What are a few things students can look forward to in the coming years?
There will be renovations this summer in the Russell House with addition of the full-size Chick-Fil-A, as well as a place for barbecue and Asian cuisine. The new Student Union is in the works and so far, we’ve hired an architectural company to come in and meet with the current tenants of the Russell House to make a strategic plan that can meet their needs for the next 10 years. New field spaces will be added. There’s a lot of great things going on and I just hope students are ready to come back in the fall and have fun.
What can students expect from the new student union?
The president has a vision to reimagine the significant mass of concrete and architecture that is the coliseum, and the idea is that it can become a hub of student life with a mix of food and meeting spaces. It is going to be a place where you can connect with other students and build relationships on campus. Traditionally a student union is in the center of campus and though our coliseum is not where we consider the center of campus to be, it is an area that is growing and will be busy in a few years. We’re looking to make sure that student organizations have enough meeting space in the area, that there can be a ballroom that will hold 2,000 people and a theater with raised seating where there can be performances. We're also looking to incorporate smaller conference rooms that hold 8-10 people where students can hold Skype or executive board meetings and other things that we do not have the space for in the Russell House. The goal is that the space will be open, inviting and will draw people in.
You are the first woman ever to hold this position. Do you feel you’ll have a different perspective on how to handle various aspects of the job?
Of course. Women are different than men so there will be gender differences, but also age differences. I see things through a different lens. I’ve never thought that being a woman required a different skillset or that I saw things differently, but as I transition into this new role it is clear that I have a few innate differences than my predecessor. I've worked with him my whole career and could probably finish most of his sentences, but I am my own person and will bring who I am to this position and I hope that serves our students well.
What do you enjoy most about being a Gamecock?
I love the energy on campus. Every day is a new day and there’s so much passion and excitement about what’s going on at USC. For me, it goes back to our students and seeing them excited about what we do and what they have the impact to change or to influence during their time here. And it’s just a beautiful place to be. I park in Pendleton and walk across the Horseshoe each morning because it gives me time to reflect on how much this campus has grown and evolved over its 200-year history. You know there’s always stress and a lot of things going on, but it’s important to take a step back and just remember why we do what we do. And the things we do are for the students.
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