Mamta Accapadi has learned that some of the best things in life happen when you stop trying to take control. Her nine-month-old daughter Saaya, for instance, arrived after she’d stopped worrying about whether she’d have children. And not too many weeks after Saaya was born, another surprise landed on her doorstep, the opportunity to work at Oregon State University.
Accapadi is the new dean of student life at OSU, and began working here in March. The Texas native’s most recent job was as assistant director of the Multicultural Information Center at the University of Texas, Austin, where she was in charge of student programming and funding and worked collaboratively with other departments to support students.
In 2007, after years juggling administration with teaching appointments in two different academic departments at UT Austin, Accapadi had the opportunity to do a year of post-doc work at the University of Houston in women’s studies.
“Many of us in the student affairs profession compromise our work-life balance as we work to support our students,” she said. During her work at University of Houston, she learned what it was like to focus solely on teaching. Not only did it give her a better appreciation for the challenges faculty face, but it also allowed her to start learning how to balance her work and home life.
Accapadi also learned balance when she trained to become a certified yoga instructor. She signed up for certification classes without having a background as regular yoga practitioner, but she felt like learning yoga from a teaching standpoint would give her a more complete picture. However, it meant long hours of learning, piled on top of her busy work schedule, so she had to learn how to prioritize her life.
“It was a first step on my path to wellness,” she said.
When she started looking for a new position, she was determined to find a campus that was truly committed to student success, not just on paper, but demonstrated by active initiatives.
“I wanted a campus that valued student affairs as a profession,” she said, and she also wanted a supervisor who would serve as a mentor. She knew Vice Provost for Student Affairs Larry Roper by reputation, but when she began investigating OSU as a potential workplace, she learned just how respected Roper was in the student affairs community.
“It was consistent across upper level colleagues. They all said ‘You’d get to work with Larry Roper?’” Accapadi said.
The family-oriented appeal of Corvallis also appealed to Accapadi and her husband, Jos, and with the arrival of their first child, that became a priority.
Two months after moving here, Accapadi is now adjusting to the pace, and the climate, of Corvallis. She loves the fact that she can walk to work, that she can meet her husband on campus for lunch, and that she is working with other enthusiastic administrators focused on student wellbeing.
A big question Accapadi thinks universities need to answer is “Are we preparing students for a global society?” She said other countries are producing university students who are multi-lingual and focused on their place in a bigger picture, and that American students need to start identifying themselves as citizens of a global community.
She also recognizes the economic challenges facing higher education in general, and the Oregon University System in particular. She said the face of the university will be changing, and she will be learning and growing along with those changes.
“It will be tough and it will be exciting,” she said, but in the long run, she believes the university will emerge as an even better place.
Several of her administrative partners are also relatively new arrivals to the scene, bringing enthusiasm as well as a respect for the work already done in the area of student affairs.
“We bring a new perspective,” she said. “What’s nice is that we can remind folks of the greatness that is here.”
~ Theresa Hogue