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A Lifetime of Service to SMU

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.

Acting Responsibly

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 University 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 – both 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!


2022 Courageous Change Leader Awards Nominations Open

The Division of Student Affairs established six commitment statements identifying how we expect staff to approach their work holistically supporting students in the development of meaningful lives. These commitment statements are the overarching expectations for our work in this student-centered environment.

Award Criteria

  • Is actively employed by the Division of Student Affairs at the time of recognition.
  • Was marked as meets or exceeds overall on their last performance evaluation cycle.
  • Must not have been placed on any step of performance correction within the last year.
  • Must not have been a previous recipient of the award in which they’re nominated.


Courageous Change Leader
The Courageous Change Leader award is the highest honor bestowed on a staff member within the Division of Student Affairs. It was created to honor the individuals who have embodied the commitment statements outlined in our strategic plan. This recognition is awarded annually to one or two staff members within the division who have exemplified at least two of these commitments.Starting in the summer of 2022, we are adding two additional awards. Award recipients receive $1,000 honorarium and one additional day off and they are selected by VPLT.

Rising Star
This award recognizes a professional newer to the field (3 years or less) who shows strong potential for excelling in the field of student affairs. This employee is courageously engaged in their new role and provides strong demonstration of the student affairs commitments.Award recipients receive $500 honorarium and one additional day off and are selected by an ad-hoc committee.

Field Changer
This award recognizes a professional (3 years or more) who is a game-changer on campus and within the field. Whether they are a field-changer in their role on the Hilltop or within the professional associations they call home, this individual embodies the SMU spirit of world changers. They also provide strong demonstration of the student affairs commitments. Award recipients receive $500 honorarium and one additional day off ad-hoc committee.

Nomination Process

Through a 1-2 page letter of recommendation, please provide tangible examples of how this nominee demonstrated at least two of these commitments. You may submit individually or submit a collection of letters nominating the same individual. Nominations for different individuals should be submitted separately from each other.

  1. Breaking Down Barriers– We commit to helping students break down the social, physical, and emotional barriers that may inhibit their success.
  2. Modeling the Way– We commit to modeling the way for our students by engaging them with respect and integrity, and by demonstrating congruence in expectation and action.
  3. Innovating Our Work– We commit to a culture of intellectual curiosity and innovation to develop, with student input, new strategies and implement new programs to more effectively serve our campus community.
  4. Acting Responsibly– We commit to being responsible stewards of our resources and influence, and promise to hold ourselves and each other accountable in our daily work.
  5. Being a Positive Agent of Change– We commit to being agents of positive change on our campus and in our communities, excited by what the future holds for SMU and empowered to help shape the future.
  6. Developing World Changers– We commit to purposefully engaging our students as individuals and leaders, to recognize their unique skills, talents, and identities and to help develop each one as a world changer in their own right.

Please submit your nominations for all awards to the Chief of Staff at by May 25th. Make sure to clearly identify the award in which you are nominating someone within your letter.


Meghan Perez: 2020 Courageous Change Leader

Photo of Meghan Perez. She is standing outside in front of trees, is smiling, and is wearing a dark blue shirt.

The Courageous Change Leader award is the highest honor bestowed on a staff member within the Division of Student Affairs. It was created to honor the individuals who have embodied the commitment statements outlined in our strategic plan and any member of the campus community is welcome to nominate a staff member. It is with great pleasure that we announce Meghan Perez, Assistant Director in the Office of the Student Experience as the recipient of this year’s award. 

Meghan received multiple nominations outlining why she is deserving of this award and it was incredible to see the common threads amongst all of the narratives. Meghan’s influence extends beyond her specific areas of responsibility to the entire division. She has repeatedly been sought after to serve on committees, task forces, search committees, and special projects. Meghan is known among her colleagues as a serious Student Affairs professional, committed to excellence and dedicated to maximizing the effectiveness of each project. She is also a ton of fun and the type of person you want to work with no matter the task. She certainly models the type of division member we need, remaining committed to personal congruence while achieving goals collaboratively and efficiently. 

Many of Meghan’s characteristics are admirable, but her commitment to developing students stands out above the rest. 

Colleagues are consistently impressed by the way she interacts with a student that stops by her office, engages a student that comes to eat lunch in the suite, or talks about students in her program. Each interaction is personal and caring—she knows specific details about what is going on in everyone’s world and uses those details to intentionally check in on students or push them to submit an internship application. Meghan easily develops meaningful relationships and students trust her personally and professionally. While students are attracted to her fun-loving nature, they also know that she is committed to their growth and does not shy away from difficult conversations intended to push them forward in their development. It is no stretch to say that Meghan actively shapes world changers in her daily work through the leadership programs she creates and oversees as well as the individual relationships she cultivates with students. 

Meghan Perez pushes division members to be better Student Affairs professionals, better friends, and better colleagues. She is committed to saying our commitment statements as loudly as possible at every division meeting (she can be heard above the crowd), and more importantly, she is committed to acting out every single one of those commitment statements. Meghan is working every day to develop world changers and innovate our work, and she is more than deserving of the 2020 Courageous Change Leader Award. 

Check out Meghan’s award presentation here!



2020 Courageous Change Leader Award Presentation

Congratulations to Meghan Perez, 2020 Courageous Change Leader

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Recognizing professional and academic achievements among Student Affairs staff

Over the past year, our dedicated staff within the Division of Student Affairs have been hard at work in their professional and academic achievements. Read more about these incredible accomplishments below:

  • Dr. Wendelin Donahue, Associate Director of Employer Relations, was selected to serve as a director for the Board of Directors for Voice of Hope and Step Up Women’s Network Dallas Chapter.
  • Sandra Scheidegger, Assistant Director of Employer Relations, was selected as a panel facilitator at the 2020 Southern Association for Colleges and Employers (SoACE). She hosted Expanding our Options, a Virtual Internship Employer Panel.
  • Kristin Smart, Associate Director for Career Development, completed all requirements to earn her LPC (Licensed Professional Counselor) certification in September 2019.
  • Dr. Crystal Clayton, Executive Director for the Hegi Family Career Development Center, was appointed in January 2020 to a three-year term as a director on the Plano Chamber Board of Directors.
  • Dr. Essence Smith, Assistant Director for Employer Relations, graduated with her Ed.D. from SMU in May 2020 from the Simmons School of Education and Human Development
  • Dr. Veronica Davis, Associate Chaplain to the University, successfully defended her dissertation in August 2019. 
  • Tyler Kim, Program Coordinator for the Office of the Chaplain and Religious Life, was admitted to SMU’s Ed.D. program and began courses in the fall of 2020.
  • Madison Mucci-Ferris, Residential Community Director, obtained her MBA from SMU’s Cox School of Business. Mucci-Ferris was also selected to receive SMU’s Courageous Change Leader Award in 2019, and served as a Committee Member, SWACUHO, Exhibits and Displays Committee from 2019-2020.
  • Dr. Allison Kanny, Director for Student Affairs Administration, was elected Chair of the ACPA Commission for Assessment and Evaluation’s Membership/Organizational Development Committee.
  • Erica Zamora, Director of the Office of Social Change and Intercultural Engagement, was elected as Co-Chair for the MultiRacial Knowledge Community
  • Meghan Perez, Assistant Director of the Office of the Student Experience, was selected as Communication Team Lead for the NASPA Student Leadership Programs Knowledge Community
  • Dr. Lindsey Koch, Director of the Office of Student Experience and Dr. Liljana Elverskog, Faculty in Residence for Mary Hay Peyton Shuttles Commons, were recipients of the M award, SMU’s highest honor.
  • Blake Pollard, Student Center and Activities Coordinator, was selected by the SMU Student Senate as the 2020 Staff Member of the Year.
  • Lauren Chapman, Associate Director for Student Center and Activities was selected as one of the ACUI regional conference top three presentations. The presentation, entitled, Let No Detail Go Undone: Using Spreadsheets for Efficient Event Planning was later turned into a webinar.
  • Jennifer “JJ” Jones, Executive Director for Student Development was a contributing author for the textbook, Fraternities and Sororities in the Contemporary Era. Jones was also admitted to SMU’s Ed.D. program and began coursework in the Fall 2020 semester.
  • Dr. Sidney Gardner, Director of the Women and LGBT Center was asked to give a talks sponsored by EY affinity groups; Dallas Unity and Professional Women’s Network Pride Month called “Ally Begins with All”  Gardner was also asked to serve as a panelist for a UT Southwestern Medical Center discussion entitled “Visibility, Identity, and Advocacy: A discussion about navigating relationships within the LGBTQ+ community” as part of Pride Month. She was also asked to serve as a facilitator for the North Texas LGBT Chamber of Commerce LGBT Leadership Institute, and served in another capacity within the North Texas Chamber of Commerce at the Foundation Business & Community Excellence Awards.
  • Melinda Carlson, Assistant Vice President and Dean of Residence Life and Student Housing, was elected to serve as the Chair of the Women in Housing network for ACUHO-I
  • Dustin Grabsch, Director for Academic Partnerships in Residence Life, received the Dissertation of the Year award from the Texas Association of College and University Student Personnel Administrators in 2019. Grabsch was also selected to 
  • Amanda Bobo, Assistant Director of Residence Life, was selected as the Chair of the SWACUHO Exhibit and Displays Committee. Her term will run from 2018-2022. 
  • Eleanor Luna, Associate Director of Training for RLSH, was selected as SWACUHO’s Texas State Director from 2018-2020. 
  • Michelle Madsen, Associate Director of Residence Life, was selected to serve on SWACUHO’s Exhibits and Displays Committee in 2018. 
  • Jennifer Post, Director of Residence Life, finished her term as an Executive Board Member for the Residential College Society in 2019. 
  • Susan Strobel Hogan, Senior Associate Director for Assignments, RLSH, served as Historian, SWACUHO, 2017-2020. She was elected as the Chair-elect for the ACUHO-I Talking Stick Advisory Board  in 2019 and subsequently served as the Chair of the Talking Stick Advisory Board, ACUHO-I, 2019


  • Melinda Carlson, Assistant Vice President and Dean of Residence Life and Student Housing, served as a panelist for ACUHO-I Virtual Round Table for Senior Housing Officers, held on May 7, 2020. Carlson was also selected to serve as a panelist for the discussion, “Women in Housing: The Roads We’ve Traveled,” and as the host and presenter for the “Women in Housing Network Community of Practice” event, both of which were part of the 2020 ACUHO-I Virtual Summit. On May 29th, Melinda Carlson hosted the event, “Lean on Me- How Womxn Support Womxn in the Housing Profession” as part of the ACUHO-I Women in Housing Network Webinar.
  • Nick Blair, Residential Community Director for Morrison-McGinnis Commons, presented the paper, Working for or against you, operating within the complex culture of residential colleges at the Residential College Symposium in Waco, TX in November, 2019
  • Amanda Bobo, Assistant Director of Residence Life, Northern area, presented at the SWACUHO Annual Conference in Sugar Land, TX. The presentation was titled,  National Housing Training Institute: Exploring the possibilities. 
  • Dustin Grabsch, Director for Academic Partnerships in Residence Life, presented the paper, Social justice learning communities: Results and implications from a national benchmark analysis at NASPA’s Multicultural Institute in New Orleans, LA in December 2019. Additionally, Grabsch presented at the SWACUHO Annual Conference in Sugar Land, TX, where he presented, Students with autism: Understanding expectations of a growing population on-campus. Grabsch also co-presented at SMU’s Research Days in Dallas with the presentations, Student attendance at residential college system activities; Developing a thriving student experience; Impact of a residential college model on students, faculty and staff; and Academic and student success within a Residential College model. 
  • Emily Kilburg, Residential Community Director for Crum Commons, presented the paper, Working for or against you, operating within the complex culture of residential colleges at the Residential College Symposium in Waco, TX in November 2019.
  • Eleanor Luna, Associate Director of Training and Development for RLSH, presented the paper, Intentional RA recruitment  at the Southwest Association for College and University Housing Officers Conference, held in Sugar Land, TX in February 2020. 
  • Michelle Madsen, Assistant Director of Residence Life, and Jennifer Post, Director of Residence Life, co-presented the paper, Lesson learned five years in at the Residential College Symposium in Waco, TX in November 2019. 
  • Matt Nadler, Residential Community Director, Upper Division Housing, and Sarah Ballman, Residential Community Director for Cockrell-McIntosh Commons, presented the at the 2019 Residential College Symposium in Waco, TX in July, 2019 with the paper, Don’t go it alone: Empowering your hall staff to use StarRez.


  • Lauren Anne Cove, Residential Community Director for Armstrong Commons, was a grant recipient from the Hopper-Dean Foundation for the project, “Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in STEM.”
  • Dustin Grabsch, Director for Academic Partnerships in Residence Life and Student Housing, and Jennifer Post, Director of Residence Life, both received the Academic and Student Success in Residential Colleges,Research Grant from  SWACUHO.


  • Dr. Dustin Grabsch, Director for Academic Partnerships in Residence Life and Student Housing, contributed to the article, CUE-ing Student Success: Evaluating Academic Support Space in Residential Communities, which was published in the Journal of College and University Student Housing. Grabsch also contributed to the article, Self-reported professional development needs by professional level, which was published in the College Student Affairs Journal. Additionally, Dr. Grabsch first authored the paper, Does testing type matter? Comparing the impact of instant and traditional feedback methods on student learningIn February 2020, Grabsch co-authored the paper, Predispositions for participation in high-impact practices.
  • Madison Mucci-Ferris, Residential Community Director, co-authored the article, Social Support and Mental Health During COVID, which was published in October 2020.