April Wood Stewart wants to change the way people think about student engagement.
And now that she’s been announced as the University of West Georgia’s new executive director for the Center of Student Involvement and Inclusion (CSII), she’ll have her opportunity.
“A lot of people think engagement is just attending a program or activity,” Stewart began. “But engagement can mean almost anything that happens at UWG, even employment and study sessions. Engagement is whatever makes people feel a sense of belonging to this institution, just like our strategic plan prioritizes.”
Associate Vice President of Student Life and Dean of Students Dr. Lakiesa Rawlinson said she’s excited to see what Stewart will bring to her new position.
“April is an experienced leader with a record of success,” Rawlinson said. “CSII is eager to lean into April’s expertise to continue curating a student engagement experience that fosters student learning, belonging and placemaking.”
Stewart has spent the past decade ensuring students find connections at UWG, first in the Office of Undergraduate Admissions, then in First-Year Experience – now called New Student Programs – which she’ll oversee in her new role in an interim capacity.
But no matter what her title is or which office she reports to, Stewart’s goal remains the same.
“No matter what level you’re at, we’ve got to keep ourselves grounded to know that the students are the most important thing,” she explained. “How do we make this the best place for them? We have goals, and it’s easy to get wrapped up in them, but students are behind every goal. Engagement is behind every goal. Engagement truly means student success, retention and graduation.”
In the same spirit, UWG is sitting on a goldmine of resources Stewart is intent on tapping into more as one of her first duties in this new role.
“We’ve got some amazing individuals on this campus: our students,” she said. “We have to be able to let our students do some things and trust them, and it’ll give them experience for their professional lives.”
It’s not a task Stewart takes lightly, and certainly not one she – or any faculty/staff member or even department – can do alone.
“CSII really doesn’t do anything without collaborating with another office,” she said. “What’s most important is that I am able to empower students to become better humans and better citizens for our communities – possibly even breaking a cycle for some. Now they can get an education and make a difference so when they have their own families they can provide better for them.”