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In the style of a Peanuts cartoon, a dean sits with his feet up on a light blue booth with the words "Campus Engagement" above his head and "The Dean Is In" under his feet.

The dean of students at King’s University College offers drop-in visits for students to ask questions and learn more about campus services.

Photo illustration by Justin Morrison | Inside Higher Ed

The dean is in.

Joe Henry, dean of students at King’s University College at Western University Canada, provides monthly opportunities for students to meet with him on-campus for a drop-in conversation. Appropriately titled “Ask Joe,” the regular events provide Henry the chance to connect authentically with learners and give students insight into the institution and its administrators’ work.

Dean of Students Joe Henry smiles for a photo near his Ask Joe sign with a student

Every month, Joe Henry sets up a station for students to ask questions and chat with him about their lives as students. 

Joe Henry

What’s the need: Henry arrived at King’s in 2015 and was “committed to being a visible presence on campus,” he says. As dean of students, Henry felt a responsibility to introduce himself and make himself visible.

“Many students are reticent in coming to an office or location to meet with an administrator, similar to students attending faculty office hours,” he explains. “Students on campus should know that this person is approachable and not someone they see when they are ‘in trouble.’”

How it works: The third Thursday of every month, Henry sets up a small booth somewhere on campus to meet with students for an hour. If the weather permits, Henry will set up outside, but he can be found in the student center or other campus spaces, as well.

The event is advertised on social media channels, in the college’s weekly student newsletters and on the college website.

During that time, students can stop by to say hello, ask a question, give feedback on student services or programming, or receive help connecting to resources. First-year students are often looking to get plugged in, and at exam times students want to know about related services.

“I get asked lots of questions, but more importantly I hear amazing stories about what students are doing,” Henry says.

More recently, Henry began live-streaming Ask Joe on Instagram for students to engage with him virtually. During his live streams, Henry talks about campus activities or invites a campus staff member to join him and answer questions from himself and students.

Ask Joe averages around 30 to 50 student visitors during a pop-up meeting and up to 100 online viewers on Instagram live, he says.

In person, Henry occasionally hands out treats like cookies, coffee, tea or hot chocolate, and sometimes students can enter to win prizes or discounts at the campus store.

The impact: As a result of the events, Henry has seen students who are more willing to engage with him on campus because “it breaks down barriers of space and goes to where the students are on campus,” he says.

Some student feedback or questions have pushed Henry and his department to re-evaluate or change some of their processes to better improve the student experiences, as well.

“I think this is unique way to open up a dialogue with students and get authentic feedback from the students about their campus experience,” Henry says. “My goal is to continue this program because it is such an easy way to engage students about their experience and very much connected to our institutional vision of personalized support for each student.”

DIY: For administrators looking to make their own version of Ask Joe, Henry offers some insights:

  • Make it consistent. A regular time and place creates ease of access in the administrator’s schedule and recognition for students.
  • Partner up. Working alongside campus partners—like the counseling center, the president’s office or academic advising—can further assist students with their questions. The communications team can also extend reach on events and offer social media support.
  • Make it relevant. Henry suggests varying topics and guests based on the time of year and what students might need during that season. For mental health awareness month (May in the U.S. and September in Canada), a mental health worker can be a great resource, or around add-drop, an academic adviser could be best suited to talk course schedules.
  • Create a brand. Henry’s social media usernames on Twitter and Instagram are both @askdeanjoe, further cementing the name and the event in students’ minds.

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