Dr. Mari Acob-Nash started this past summer in the new Dean of Student Life position. I sat down with her to talk about Student Life, campus engagement, hula, and dogs in outfits.
How would you explain your position as Dean of Student Life?
In the area of Student Life, we have Student Leadership and Multicultural Programs, we have the Roy Flores Wellness Center, we have the Student Childcare Center, and then our Sustainability Office. All of these areas allow students to be connected to the campus, find their identity, and find a sense of community. What has been shown in history and research is that if a student is engaged on campus, and feeling a sense of belonging, they are more likely to complete and be successful. Those are the areas that I would call Student Life: being the student voice and being engaged on our campus.
Dean of Student Life is a new position, so we’re still figuring out how we can help students feel connected here. I’m very involved in Guided Pathways, which is what the state is working on, closing the gaps for our marginalized students and making sure they have a chance to succeed. I’m also connected with the work at the Office of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion, because of our work with racial identity and special populations. That’s what I love about the job. I love that our work in Student Life is promoting and supporting students in their educational careers. My plan is that Student Life will provide a chance for all North students’ lives to be engaged and to give them a sense of community and belonging.
You used to work at North in International Programs, right? How has your experience in this position differed from that one?
I was here from 2006 to 2013. We really had the opportunity to travel and find students from overseas, and we put North on the global map in terms of a place to go to study and transfer to top universities. We had students transferring to Purdue, down to Berkley, to UCLA, even MIT—really big schools.
When you’re in International Programs, you help students navigate enrollment, registration, and advising. This includes marketing, communications, a lot of intercultural and international relationship work. I was traveling two to three weeks every single quarter, overseas. Now I get to stay on land! I really get to know the students deeply, and work with and through racial and social identities and figure out how they fit on our campus. What is really great is that I work with all students including International Programs.
So, do you have a project, plan, or goal on your agenda right now that you’re excited about?
I really see North being able to catapult forward and be one of the best Student Life and Leadership programs in the state. It is a goal of mine that all students should have positive, inclusive experiences on campus. It is a goal of mine that for every single North student to have either attended or been involved with one of our events, programs, or organizations. And I think we can do that, whether that be “I’m going to go work out in the Wellness Center,” or “I’m really involved in a club,” or “I attended orientation and spent some time learning about the campus.” That, to me, is being involved and being engaged, and I think those things will create positive experiences.
I’ve been told that you do hula, can you talk about that?
I was adopted by my Hawaiian/Filipino family in the Seattle area when I moved out here as an international student. This family I knew took me under their wings. They’re from Oahu, and they were hula dancers. I’d take my kids—they’re called keiki—to the keiki class, and the teacher, the kumu hula, would ask me, “Why aren’t you dancing?”
The part of hula you get connected to is the culture. You learn about Hawaiian culture before you can really understand what you’re dancing about. It’s storytelling and it’s about perpetuating Hawaiian history and culture. The type of regalia that you see us wear is based on the history of the Hawaiian Islands. Usually the song, mele, is based on the history of the island that it’s talking about.
That’s really cool!
It is pretty cool. I will be sharing more with the Indigenous Student Alliance, one of our student organizations, for students from Native cultures. As a haumana, which is a student, I have to, not only learn the specifics of the songs, but how to do the Hawaiian cultural crafts. A lot of the stuff in my office has a story behind it in terms of my Hawaiian culture and what it brings into education!
I also chant that have certain meanings. There’s ole aloha, which is to bring people into a situation, like a meeting, to a cultural event, or there’s a chant asking the gods to help me with my dancing or my storytelling, and then there’s a chant to share love. I hope to share some chants with my work in Student Life. I’ll chant, every once in a while, when we need it.
My last question is, um, I’ve been told that you have a dog?
Milo! So, Milo is now 12 years old. He’s 7 pounds, and I dress him up, because after your kids leave, you have nothing else to do but talk to your dog. At 11, he lost all his teeth. These little tiny Yorkies are prone to teeth loss, and now his tongue hangs out! I do dress him in costumes. You name it, I have it for him. He doesn’t always enjoy what I put him in. But he brings me joy and a chance to laugh. Sometimes when I feel a little frustrated, or stuck, I just have to look at a picture of my dog and life is better.
Thank you for your time!
Thank you! That was fun!
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.