Student leaders, faculty, and staff members encourage COVID-19 vaccination to stay #MustangStrong in new campaign

Led by the SMU Community Action Network (SMU CAN), members of the Mustang community shared short videos about why they received the COVID-19 vaccination. Reasons included living with immunocompromised family members, keeping young children safe as they are too young for vaccination, protecting their community, and more.

According to the original charge of SMU CAN, Provost Loboa and VPSA Mmeje shared “SMU CAN was established to support a greater understanding and adoption of the personal responsibilities needed to keep our campus safe and healthy.” President Turner, Vice President of Student Affairs (VPSA) Mmeje, and Student Trustee Nia Kamau are among SMU community members who recorded and posted a video. Residence Life and Student Housing also had a number of Faculty-in-Residence and staff submit their reasons too. Check out and share a few videos for yourself.

All students, faculty, and staff are encouraged to record and post their own video using the hashtag #MustangStrong.

RLSH welcomes new assistant director of marketing and communications

Residence Life and Student Housing is pleased to announce the newest member of the Office of Academic Initiatives team!

Beryl Hellinghausen will join RLSH as our new Assistant Director of Marketing and Communications beginning today, Monday, November 8!

Beryl Hellinghausen has been part of the SMU community since she started her undergraduate career here and later graduated with her Bachelors from SMU in 2014. While she left for a few years to explore the American Southwest, she returned in 2018 to begin working at the Hart Center for Engineering Leadership at the SMU Lyle School of Engineering.

There, Beryl has enjoyed working in student development, fostering leadership and undergraduate research initiatives, along with leading the Hart Center’s marketing team. She has recently graduated with her Master’s in Higher Education from SMU Simmons School of Education and Human Development in May of 2021. Beryl is a member of the Mortar Board National Honors Society and has been serving as a member of their Branding Committee for the past year. Beryl enjoys knitting, camping, and watching bad movies with her partner.

Beryl will provide leadership for marketing and communication efforts for the three-office unit including but not limited to: developing, writing, and disseminated marketing materials to current and prospective residents; recruit, hire, and lead the RLSH Street Team – a student-driven marketing team; coordinate with university partners in producing housing-specific marketing; and managing content for the RLSH website.

Dedeepya Chinnam selected as a NASPA Undergraduate Fellow

Dedeepya Chinnam has been announced as a NASPA Undergraduate Fellow!

SMU Junior Dedeepya Chinnam, member of the RLSH Research Team, has been selected as a NASPA Undergraduate Fellows Program (NUFP) fellow!

“I found out about the NASPA Program through Dr. Dustin Grabsch while we were applying to present in NASPA Annual Conference,” Dedeepya said. “Dustin spoke about his experiences with the program and the influence it had on his current career trajectory. Along with the large circle of like-minded people I would be able to meet, the number of opportunities to learn within academia was appealing to me.”

The NUFP is a program that allows students to “increase the number of historically disenfranchised and underrepresented professionals in student affairs and higher education” and “have opportunities for scholarships, on-campus mentorship, and professional development events.” 

As a fellow, Dedeepya will have access to NUFP national and regional conferences and the ability to participate in semi-structured learning experiences within the Division of Student Affairs at SMU.

I hope to be able to attend workshops and training programs within the community to learn more about various areas of student affairs and understand the interrelationships and transferability within the student affairs sphere,” Dedeepya said. “I would like to hopefully attend the leadership program offered for NASPA Fellows and interact with people from various backgrounds with a shared focus of equitability and student success.”

Dedeepya also hopes to join the summer internship program offered within NASPA.

Fellows and mentors apply to the program as a pair. Residence Life & Student Housing (RLSH) Director of Academic Initiatives, Dr. Dustin Grabsch, will be Dedeepya’s mentor for the program. Congratulations to Dedeepya Chinnam!


RLSH publishes first annual research review

The Residence Life & Student Housing interdisciplinary research team published their first annual RLSH Research Review.

The review is a collection of research projects conducted within SMU’s residential communities from the 2020 – 2021 academic year. Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of RLSH, Melinda Carlson shared, “In [RLSH] we strongly believe that using data to better understand our students and our own operations paves the way to developing new, innovative approaches for better serve students.” The review is one way to demonstrate the unit’s progress to this end. 

The research team has been investigating timely topics, like the impact of COVID-19 on the college student experience and longstanding questions related to the impact of the Residential Commons model on the residential student experience. Director of Academic Initiatives and a leader of the research team, Dr. Dustin Grabsch shared, “We’ve also been hard at work exploring ways we can better serve underrepresented students and improve our professional onboarding practices to enhance our effectiveness. Explore for yourself the research projects and their associated deliverables completed this academic year.”

Click the gif below to read more about our research with impact.

Instagram Live sessions planned for residential communities on July 19

Residence Life and Student Housing has scheduled Instagram Live sessions for students and families to see their assigned residential community on Monday, July 19! Join us for your community’s session below.

Download the PDF of the Instagram Live schedule.

What is Instagram Live?

Instagram Live is a feature that works within Instagram Stories and allows users to broadcast live videos to other users on the platform. Instagram Stories are shown at the top of the feed. Any accounts that are currently live will include the “Live” icon.

To view an Instagram Live video, simply tap on the Story thumbnail. The image below of John Mayer performing on Instagram Live shows the viewer’s interface.

Missed your Instagram Live session? 

Follow your residential community on Instagram and visit their saved stories to view the session content.

#BlackAtSMU Film Set to Premiere April 21

The #BlackAtSMU film centers around five tweets posted by Black students about their experiences at SMU in 2020. Each tweet will have its own dedicated chapter in the film and address the topics of police brutality, racism in the classroom, in athletics, and Greek life at SMU through documentary and narrative film segments. The film is directed by SMU students Aysia Lane and Crislyn Fayson. 


Image promoting the film
Image by #BlackAtSMU

After wrapping up filming in February and March, the #BlackAtSMU film is set to premiere Wednesday, April 21 at 8p.m. on Dallas Hall Lawn.


The film is the result of nearly nine months’ worth of planning and study, and the dedicated work ethic of the film’s entire production crew and cast.  


“Crislyn really put in a lot of legwork December in January to prepare for February shooting,” Aysia said. “And that’s also with our producer Jillian Taylor. That’s also with Shara our assistant director, as with Amber and then Everton Melo…The amount of work that went in on that front side was insane. We had eight hour 10 hour calls. I’m planning, planning, planning, like making sure we have like a very firm outline, making sure like the vision is very clear.” 


Crislyn and Aysia initially heard about the film through word of mouth, from fellow Meadows students. Professor Amber Bemak was inspired to make a film about the tweets, and so the two joined her class, which centered on research and discussions about race. 


At the end of the semester, the two found out they were the only ones able to continue with the course and documentary, and became co-directors for the film.  


 “And then all of winter break, we just hit the ground running with bringing this to life,” Aysia said. 


Part of that process was obtaining funding, which the HUB and RLSH Academic Initiatives contributed to after Crislyn had a chance conversation with Dr. Dustin Grabsch at the Owens Arts Center.


“He ends up asking me about my major and stuff and I end up telling him that we’re planning to make a film about #BlackAtSMU,” Crislyn said. “He gave me his card and I gave it to Amber, and little did I know. Little did we know that he would bless us with an opportunity we never would have thought.” 


In addition to the HUB and RLSH Academic Initiatives, Film & Media Arts Studies Division, Ignite/Arts Dallas, SMU Meadows School of the Arts, and Engaged Learning are contributors.


Another part of the production process included building the production crew and cast. Crislyn and Aysia said the auditions left them amazed. 


“The level of talent at this school is unreal,” Aysia said. “The work ethic of these actors, of the talent that we’re working with – unreal, they’re amazing. And the way that they were able to tell these stories that have been just like living in our heads for so long, and then translate it so beautifully on screen – I could have never asked for anything better in 1000 years, they were so amazing.” 


During production, Aysia and Crislyn focused in on how they were going to tell the story, and thought a lot about who this story was for.


“Because I think originally, our hearts were naturally thinking of the people who would possibly be negatively impacted, who might be like, ‘Whoa, I feel like this is about me or white people,’” Crislyn said. “We were worried about white people, and what they would think. And we realized what a hindrance that was to the tweets, to the storytellers, to the courage that it took for them to do that, in spite of what they may face. So we did a 180.” 


Aysia agreed, saying that getting the students’ stories right was important to the both of them. 


“There were moments where I was like, Okay, are we really doing their story?” Aysia said. “What would they actually do? Are we telling it accurately –  asking them like, do you feel like this is accurate, is accurate? You’re feeling what you were thinking. Because at the end of the day, like, like we said, we won’t be here. We wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for those stories. And they’re trying to tell that story. So I think it was really important for us to make sure that we’re staying true to that, that we’re showcasing it properly, and that most importantly, people can relate to it.”


That idea was part of the driving force for creating this film.


“I will say for me, being black at SMU, and knowing due to its history that this campus, this school was not created for you from its foundation,” Crislyn said. “In having to deal with and face the repercussions of that history as a black student directly is enough, more than enough, to take action.” 


Aysia and Crislyn believe this film will help facilitate a long-awaited discussion about race and SMU. 


“All those weird feelings that we have when talking about race – this film is going to be a way of foundation, a platform for people to have these discussions,” Aysia said. “And to make it like okay, well, we watched this together, we experienced this together. Let’s talk about it finally.”


The film is set to premiere on April 21, 2021. Follow the @blackatsmufilm handle on Instagram for updates and relevant links to the film. There will be a facilitation of a semi-structured discussion following the premiere.


Meet the Directors


Aysia Lane


Aysia Lane is majoring in Journalism and Film, with an Arts Entrepreneurship minor. In addition to co-directing the #BlackAtSMU film, she is an editor and podcast producer at the Daily Campus, PR for the Association of Black Students, and works with Undergraduate Admissions in Meadows. 


Crislyn Fayson


Crislyn Fayson is majoring in Theater and Film. In addition to co-directing the #BlackAtSMU film, she is involved with BLM at SMU, and is a leader for Cru student ministry on campus. 


Researcher Insights: Mixing it Up

SMU Undergraduate Researcher Dedeepya Chinnam is currently a member of the Academic Initiatives Research Team. Dedeepya is a sophomore studying Business Analytics and Supply Chain Management and Statistics, and plans to add Economics to her degree. On campus, she participates as a Caswell Leadership Coach with the Office of Student Experience, Secretary for both the Indian Student Association and Liberty in North Korea (LiNK), and Treasurer for  Feminist Equality Movement and Hegi Career Development Ambassadors. She also founded the KPOP Club among many other accomplishments. Dedeepya joined the research team in November 2020. 

The project, A Sequential Exploratory Mixed-Methods Study: Motivations of Undergraduate Students to Pursue Multiple Majors, aims to analyze why students choose to study multiple majors to aid the development of and understanding for curriculum committees, academic departments, and collegiate administrators.

The team comprised of six people: advisor Dr. Dustin Grabsch, Dr. Sheri Kunovich, Laura Bell, Hannah Webb, Ryan Leibowitz, and Dedeepya Chinnam. Dr. Grabsch led and designed the project, and Dr. Kunovich helped with data collection, organization, and secondary coding and qualitative analysis. 

“Ryan, Hannah, and I were the undergraduate research assistants and have been responsible for initial secondary research and literature review,” Dedeepya said. “We have recently completely 37 interviews with Laura and Dustin. We are conducting qualitative coding using the thought unit coding for all the interviews which we will then assess to form categories and derive themes from established categories.”

The study consisted of qualitative and quantitative factors, which is why it’s called a mixed methods study. By collecting and analyzing both qualitative and quantitative factors, the study provides a deeper dive into the motivations of students. The main qualitative component, student interviews, concluded March 14. The interviewees were selected through the random sampling of a roster of multiple-majoring students. Out of 200 emails sent out to those selected, 37 interviewed and completed a demographic survey. Quantitative data collection will be through a survey.

“We are still in the process of [analyzing the data] and have not determined the underlying common themes but there are some commonalities in terms of motivations, disadvantages, and advantages of multiple majoring that are already arising which we are excited to be looking into,” Dedeepya said. 

After the initial round of interviews, the team held a second peer debrief session focused on discussing specific factors that led students to pursue multiple majors. These factors included the influence of family or friends, having an innate love of learning, or gaining new perspectives and ways of thinking through exposure to more of their peers. 

“[The participants] think it is an important factor to consider especially at SMU since multiple majoring is a part of the culture at SMU,” Dedeepya said. “An interesting conversation that I had with a couple of students was about how their perception on this matter is influenced by the groups they are exposed to and think through the research they would be able to get a more informed idea on motivations and thought process of other students who decide to follow a similar path as them.” 

The study found the concept of multiple majoring a huge part of perceived SMU culture. The results of the study should help to inform faculty and advisors about students’ academic decisions and aid the students in their educational goals.

“For example, when asked how many people in the student population might be multiple majoring at SMU most students thought realistically it would be 60-70% though they feel like it is 80% most times,” Dedeepya said. “This is different from the actual percentage of students pursuing multiple majors at SMU, but it shows the impact multiple majoring has on our community.” 

Dedeepya says the team hopes to send the study for review and publication by the end of the Spring 2021 semester. She credits the team’s fast-paced work method and consistent, weekly check-ins for the efficiency of the project. 

“One of our team members was talking about compared to how tiring this semester has been – be it the snow week, the lack of cohesiveness in class structuring due to that or the lack of spring break – the research has been a steady and consistent effort every week and it is super helpful since we know what to expect and put time aside for,” Dedeepya said. 

According to Dedeepya, participating in this research – and student research in general – provides great opportunities to learn how to improve the student experience, provide learning experiences, and helps develop critical thinking and team collaboration.

“I think it makes me self-aware of points of growth and help me work from there through the reflection I get to do as I go through the research process,” Dedeepya said. “I also gain firsthand access and support to faculty and professors on campus from whom I can learn from greatly.” 

Dedeepya wanted to join the team for a myriad of reasons, including making a visible, positive impact for her university community, participating in collaborative, purposeful projects, and to further develop learning skills that would aid in pursuing her future career.

“It was an avenue to explore research since I am considering going on to graduate school and becoming a professor,” Dedeepya said. “The experience I am gaining here has nothing but reinforced my interest in the field.”

Dedeepya participated in SMU Research Days this year. You can watch her presentation on the SMU Research Days 2021 website! Dedeepya says the group also plans to have the manuscript completed by the end of the semester, and will eventually present their information to the SMU Division of Student Affairs for professional development. 

Want to learn more? Head to the RLSH research webpage to read more about our individual research projects.


A Sequential Exploratory Mixed-Methods Study: Motivations of Undergraduate Students to Pursue Multiple Majors (SMU IRB: H21-004-GRAD) 

This project seeks to understand the motivations of undergraduate students to pursue multiple majors. Utilizing a sequential, exploratory mixed-methods design, in phase one we will interview students who are currently pursuing multiple majors to determine themes in their expressed motivations. Following the development of themes, we will issue a brief survey instrument to undergraduate students with multiple majors to determine the prevalence of each motivation theme within the student body. Findings will aid undergraduate general education curriculum committees, academic departments, and higher education institution administrators. 


Dedeepya can be contacted at If you’d like to learn more about the Academic Initiatives Research Team, please email


by Laura Bell, Sarah Venables

Peer leader applications now available for 2021 – 2022 academic year

flyer to apply for positionsResidence Life & Student Housing (RLSH) provides a complete residential college experience that serves as a converging point for one-of-a-kind living and learning opportunities in dynamic Dallas.

We bring together partners from all over campus and Dallas to help us offer unique opportunities for students, faculty, staff, and SMU departments to get involved in life on campus. Undergraduate and graduate students can now explore opportunities to serve as a peer leader and to get involved with life on the Hilltop.

Applications are now available for the 2021 – 2022 academic year and are due March 5th at 11:45p.m. via Available peer leader positions include:

Engage Dallas Student Director: The Engage Dallas Student Director leads the commons in service around their community need, and provides the community with a point of contact for all things Engage Dallas.  Student Directors plan and execute service events and educate the community about culturally conscious serving in South and West Dallas. Learn more about Engage Dallas.

Honors Mentor: From the beginning of the school year, Honors Mentors take an active role in welcoming the honors residents in their Residential Commons. They continue to meet informally with the honors students, serve as a resource, and encourage their participation in their Residential Commons and other University Honors Program events. Learn more and connect with your Honors Mentor.

Peer Academic Leader (PAL): Peer Academic Leaders (PALs) are a diverse group of undergraduate students with a common goal to help students better understand the University curriculum, utilize academic resources, and navigate academic challenges. Under the direction of the University Advising Center, PALs work directly with students in their residential community, empowering them to take ownership of their collegiate careers through mentorship and educational programming.

Peer Chaplain: Student leaders provide a listening presence to fellow students struggling with academic pressure, relationships, homesickness or other stressors through programming, 1-1 meetings, and small group settings. The aim of the peer chaplain is to help connect a peer’s personal experience to their purpose in life so that they find meaning not only in what they do but in who they are.

Student Wellness Champion (SWC): Student Wellness Champions are a diverse group of students trained to educate their Residential Commons and campus community about college lifestyle and wellness issues in a positive, interactive, fun, and nonjudgmental manner. In this program, students serve as liaisons for the Office for Community Health Promotion and the Dr. Bob Smith Health Center and act as health leaders on campus. Student Wellness Champions are given the opportunity to specialize in a health area of their choice: nutrition, mental health, physical activity, stress management, time management, sleep, resiliency, alcohol and drug prevention, sexual health, violence prevention, and healthy relationships. Learn more about the Student Wellness Champion program.

Questions about any of the above available leadership positions can be directed to Dr. Dustin Grabsch at or by calling 214.768.4887.

Researcher Insights: A Thriving Researcher

SMU Undergraduate Researcher Hannah Webb is currently a member of the Academic Initiatives Research Team presenting the results of the study Developing a Thriving Student Experience at the Texas Undergraduate Research Day in February.

Hannah has been a part of the team since October 2019, and is currently working on A Sequential Exploratory Mixed-Methods Study: Motivations of Undergraduate Students to Pursue Multiple Majors. Previously, she participated in the research project A Thematic Analysis of Conference Programs for Residential College Professional Associations. In addition to participating in research, Hannah is a Resident Assistant (RA) in Armstrong Commons, a Senior Editor of SMU’s Journal of Undergraduate Research, and a Risk & Operations intern for NTT Global Sourcing. 

Now that Developing a Thriving Student Experience is in its final stages of development, the research team – comprised of fellow peer Nikita Kulkarni, and Dr. Dustin Grabsch, their faculty mentor – is working on publishing and presenting their work. During the project, Hannah worked on interviews and the people side of the research. 

“During the course of the project, I was responsible for conducting a literature review, interviewing participants, and writing portions of our manuscript,” Hannah said. “When we submitted our manuscript for publication to the Journal of Student Affairs Research & Practice, I served as the corresponding author.” 

As a result of the project, Hannah received a Summer Research Fellowship from the Office of Engaged Learning. This allowed her to present the research at SMU’s Fall Research Symposium. 

“Outside of the Symposium, I have also presented results from this study at two professional development sessions: one session was with the Division of Student Affairs professional staff, and the other was with the Armstrong Commons RA staff,” Hannah said. 

In addition to the symposium, Hannah, Nikita, and Dr. Grabsch would like to release their long-term research into the broader world of student affairs. 

“The Thriving research has been occurring since the fall 2019 semester began,” said Hannah. “We have submitted our manuscript for publication to the Journal of Student Affairs Research and Practice, and we are continuing to publicize the results of our research to the campus community.”

Hannah says that this research has helped her to connect more as an RA with her residents in Armstrong Commons, and has bettered her overall as a student at SMU. 

“I have become more sensitive to the conflicts that underrepresented students face,” Hannah said. “As someone who is not a member of the underrepresented student groups we researched, I did not have any insight into these conflicts before starting the research. However, I am grateful to have learned about the experiences of underrepresented students so that I can use what I have learned in my other campus positions and help improve our campus for all students.”

The team intends to use their research to improve the collegiate experience of underrepresented students at SMU, according to Hannah. 

“We have drawn three key implications from our research that we hope SMU’s administration will consider: (1) SMU should provide support to underrepresented students through unexpected, external events; (2) SMU should employ identity-conscious programming; and (3) there is a clear need for interventions related to social connectedness of underrepresented students,” Hannah said.

Hannah and her peers plan to present the results of Developing a Thriving Student Experience at the Texas Undergraduate Research Day, a showcase for collegiate student research in Texas. 

Want to learn more? Head to the RLSH research webpage to read more about our individual research projects.


Developing a Thriving Student Experience (SMU IRB: H19-112-GRAD) 

The overall purpose of the study is to understand the thriving of underrepresented college students. For the purposes of this study, underrepresented students include transfer students, international students, and first-generation college students. This study uses a sequential exploratory design consisting of two distinct phases. In this design, quantitative, numeric data will be collected using the Thriving Quotient instrument. These data will aid in purposely sampling participants for the second phase. The second phase of the project will help explain or elaborate on the quantitative results obtained in phase one. Individual interviews will be used to elaborate on the quantitative findings for each of the underrepresented student groups. 


A Sequential Exploratory Mixed-Methods Study: Motivations of Undergraduate Students to Pursue Multiple Majors (SMU IRB: H21-004-GRAD) 

This project seeks to understand the motivations of undergraduate students to pursue multiple majors. Utilizing a sequential, exploratory mixed-methods design, in phase one we will interview students who are currently pursuing multiple majors to determine themes in their expressed motivations. Following the development of themes, we will issue a brief survey instrument to undergraduate students with multiple majors to determine the prevalence of each motivation theme within the student body. Findings will aid undergraduate general education curriculum committees, academic departments, and higher education institution administrators. 


A Thematic Analysis of Conference Programs for Residential College Professional Associations 

With this study, team members will review past conference program materials for two leading residential college conferences, the Collegiate Way and the Residential College Society (RCS). This content analysis will reveal topics covered each year, and analyze repetition and importance of the material covered at each conference. This analysis will hopefully provide insight into common struggles of residential colleges nationwide.


Hannah can be contacted at If you’d like to learn more about the Academic Initiatives Research Team, please email


By Laura Bell, Sarah Venables

SMU homepage features Residential Commons

SMU website common connection campaignThe SMU homepage was updated last week to feature the common connections created via the Residential Commons.

The feature article proclaims “living on campus opens up a world of opportunity.” We agree.

The uncommon residential opportunity offered through SMU’s Residential Commons is a one-of-a-kind experience. We invite you to learn more from the linked resources related to roommate pairings, creating community, and strategies for becoming a great roommate.

We offer a special invitation to prospective residents and their families to review the multi-media elements including: videos featuring current students and our Faculty-in-Residence, interactive slideshow stories, and more.

After all, Residence Life & Student Housing fosters the foundational SMU experience where every student belongs, learns, and connects through their residential community. We hope you explore the ways our student-centered team works to make campus home.