Lydia Dale currently serves as the Assistant to the Chief of Staff and Assistant Vice President & Coordinator for Student Engagement within Student Affairs. Upon her retirement at the end of July 2022, she will have served the Hilltop for 40 years. She has spent the majority of that time, 39 years, within Student Affairs but initially came to us from the Dedman School of Law. She has also taken on additional duties administratively supporting the Human Rights Program during this time.
Lydia has had the unique experience of having served under multiple permanent and interim Vice Presidents for Student Affairs in various capacities. She currently has the longest tenure of any employee within the division. While she is currently situated on the leadership team within the Student Engagement and Success unit of Student Affairs, her work and dedication impact all areas of the division – well beyond the scope of what her formal title may imply. Often, position titles and levels determine the influence people have on colleagues, processes, and practices – with Lydia, her influence goes beyond what is typically attributed to a coordinator level. She has proven to the campus community that she is a fantastic resource, an outstanding colleague, and an essential asset to the institution.
In Student Affairs, our employees aim to embody our six commitment statements. No one exemplifies all of the commitment statements to Lydia’s extent during her time at SMU. Her accomplishments and qualities are outlined below through the lens of these commitments.
Breaking Down Barriers
Often, it is easy for staff to consider processes from the lens of how it makes their job easier, but Lydia frames decision-making and recommendations on how to make processes better for students. She is committed to helping students break down the social, physical, and emotional barriers that may inhibit their success. She has worked tirelessly across campus to improve institution-wide processes like Outdoor Event Requests, funding requests from special funds like the President’s Commission on Substance Abuse Prevention, and awards processes. She has made financial processes more seamless between SMU accounts and the Student Senate Comptroller’s office ensuring students and organizations have easier access to funds they receive and improving their experience when understanding the financial and contracting landscape on campus. She regularly advocates for making these processes easier for students, even if it makes her role a bit more challenging.
Modeling the Way
The “M” Award is the highest recognition bestowed upon students, faculty, staff, and administrators on the SMU Campus. The recipients’ efforts have been continuous during their years at the University and are not limited to a narrow, vested interest. The “M” Award honorees are an inspiration to others, giving unselfishly of their time and talents to make the University, and indeed the world, a better place. Lydia was the recipient of the ‘M’ Award in 2000; we frequently have to remind people that an individual cannot win the award more than once as members of the campus community want to nominate her every year. Not only was she a recipient, but for the last several years, she has served as the shepherd of the ‘M’ Award program. She serves as the ‘M’ committee chair and the chair for the Hilltop Excellence Program, SMU’s most prestigious awards ceremony, annually recognizing the outstanding accomplishments of students, staff, and faculty at SMU. She has provided much-needed structure and guidance to the award process and ensured it would be successful long beyond her tenure on the Hilltop. She has been committed to transforming this experience to match the stature of the awards being presented – one that is memorable to recipients and is implemented in a way that can adapt to our students and stakeholders in the future.
One of Lydia’s duties is to manage the entire contracting process for the Division of Student Affairs. Each year, she single-handedly processes over 1,000 contracts and invoices on behalf of our departments and student organizations. Not only does she manage this process for the division, but she is also an exemplar across campus for the contracting process. This work is incredibly detail-oriented and carries a high level of risk and exposure for the UniversityUniversity – all of which she handles with thoroughness and diplomacy that is unmatched. As we think about replacing Lydia after retirement, we recognize the skills to navigate the processes and prioritization will be challenging. Through Lydia’s demonstration of competence and her commitment to keeping the interests of the UniversityUniversity at the forefront of her work, she has a high degree of autonomy to support the complicated processes in which she works.
Innovating Our Work
Many individuals would describe Lydia as the standard for efficiency. During her tenure, the division and University have undergone significant changes – bother personnel and operationally. Post-Operational Excellence initiatives, she has been focused on ensuring we are modifying policies and practices to be more efficient while preserving their original integrity. In addition, she has been instrumental in implementing new technologies to help staff support students more efficiently and serves as the point person for a lot of technology across the division – from our project management software to our relationship with OIT for physical hardware. Staff at all levels often look up to her ability to manage competing priorities with speed and grace. She regularly trains new employees on how to incorporate technologies to manage their time better and understand processes.
Being a Positive Agent of Change
Throughout the amount of change Lydia has seen during her time on the Hilltop, she always approaches her work with a level of positivity and insight that is admirable. She has never been deterred by ambiguity or change; instead, she emerges as a leader in helping provide clarity and highlighting the potential for the future. She empowers others to help shape that future. She has watched as the needs of our students and staff have changed over the years and provided sage advice on how to best meet those needs. She recognizes and embraces the idea that as staff and faculty, we are forever getting older while our students stay the same age but want different things out of their college experience – often swinging back and forth like a pendulum. She approaches this challenge to address change with enthusiasm – nobody can ever describe Lydia as stuck in her ways. This positivity and flexibility have enabled her to develop strong relationships across campus, including partnerships with the Office of Information Technology, Facilities Planning and Management, and Academic Affairs.
Developing World Changers
Lydia is the mother of a Mustang, so she understands the experience of our students from multiple lenses. At the heart of Lydia’s work is the student. She has committed to purposefully engaging students as individuals and leaders, recognizing their unique skills, talents, and identities to help each develop as a world changer in their own right. Colleagues can regularly hear her emphasizing the reason why she is still doing this work is because of her commitment to the student experience. On the same day, Lydia may be working with senior administrators to finalize a six-figure contract and then meeting with student leaders on how to navigate university processes best to accomplish their goals. Lydia has supported students and organizations throughout her entire tenure and treats these encounters as growth opportunities for students, and isn’t afraid to help a student understand why the answer to a question may be “no.” This dedication to our students has not gone unnoticed. On April 19, 2022, Lydia was recognized through a proclamation from Student Senate celebrating her 40 years of service to SMU. It was the first time in Student Senate’s history that the legislation passed a proclamation on behalf of previous Senate Chambers – passing this on behalf of the 68th through 108th Student Senate Chambers.
Lydia’s impact is far-reaching across campus, and she will have forever changed the Hilltop and the people she has worked with, advised, and mentored – even in ways she may never know.
Thank you, Lydia, for your lifetime of service to SMU!