Five Takes from Sharon Wilson-Taylor
Sharon Wilson-Taylor, Ph.D., is full of exciting ideas. At the beginning of the academic year, Wilson-Taylor was appointed the new Vice President of Student Affairs after more than 26 years of service with Columbia. Here she shares her wisdom and how she envisions the opportunities for Columbia College Chicago students.
“I’m not an artist, but I am creative.”
Columbia is full of artists and people who make work through a creative lens. Wilson-Taylor explains how not being an artist can be beneficial for her position and an asset to those she serves because of her appreciation of the creative process.
“I’m a social scientist. My background is in psychology, counseling and higher education. I’m in awe of our students and the work they create. I’m just not wired as an artist but I understand and embrace the creative process. I don’t need the spotlight. Being out there and taking the bow does nothing for me. I’m the type that wants to pull back the curtain and see that the show goes well. I’m an introvert.”
“My strength is knowing what I don't know.”
A major goal of Student Affairs under Wilson-Taylor is to strengthen its ties with Academic Affairs.
“There’s an African proverb that goes: ‘If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.’ By coordinating our resources, we can work smarter, not harder. Working together also creates new or different pathways to reaching students. We all need to be open to different models to respond to our diverse populations.”
Collaboration is at the heart of how she manages her staff as well: “My strength is knowing what I don’t know. So I surround myself with a staff that have strengths I don’t possess.” Wilson-Taylor endearingly refers to her Executive Assistant Carole Cahill as “my left hand, my right hand, and my two feet.”
“We need a wider net.”
Wilson-Taylor wants to focus on at-risk student populations across the campus through more “purposeful engagement." This means collaborating with the library, the Learning Studio, EASE and the new Career Center in order to better serve the students' needs.
“For me, ‘at-risk’ can mean different things: it could be academic, mental health-related or it could be challenges faced by veteran students. I focus on at-risk students because they tend to get lost in the system. I ask of all of us who work with students: do we really see them? I’m thinking of homeless or undocumented students who might struggle with asking for assistance for various reasons. Students tend to matriculate when they feel connected. Students need community. The means of connection may change, say through social media, but the need to connect and belong does not change. I want to be able to identify the various kinds of at-risk students. In that sense, we need a wider net. Then, we can do our best to give them the tools and resources to survive and succeed.”
Efforts across campus like The Barbershop series, a forum for young black male students, are examples of something she wants to learn from and continue.
“I’m good with parents because I understand their concerns.”
Wilson-Taylor has learned that she is uniquely equipped to deal with difficult and often emotional conversations with the parents of students. Confrontation is not something she shies away from. Respect and clear communication are crucial for how she navigates institutional and personal communication. She laughs when she says that she sleeps well at night. This contentedness comes from knowing that her communication with colleagues, students and parents is always clear and direct.
“This job is hard, but I can do this. But my 10-year-old son… Now that’s a challenge.”
“I can see down the road and around the corner.”
Despite beginning her position at Columbia during a time of rapid change, Wilson-Taylor remains unfazed. She attributes this to her intuition and her strategic thinking: “I can see down the road and around the corner.”
With the many demands of her position, she prides herself on not making hasty decisions. She creates time to pull back in order to arrive at meaningful and thoughtful decision-making.
“I’m looking around, paying attention. I know that this is a very good time to be a student at Columbia. I tell myself that and I know that I need to seize the moment.”
Students featured speaking with Dr. Sharon Wilson-Taylor: Kaitlyn Daniluk, Allyah Evans,Clay Hurlbut, Isabella Norton, Sofia Olivarez and Aurin Woods