Karen Eley Sanders, Virignia Tech's associate vice provost for undergraduate academic affairs and director of student success, was recognized for her efforts to integrate academic support services into residence halls’ Academic Resource Centers.

The Living and Learning Champion Award was established in 2015 to recognize the exemplary efforts of academic partners who work in collaboration with Virginia Tech’s Housing and Residence Life. These academic partners, whose contributions enrich student-learning experiences in the residence halls, are essential to the university’s goal of integrated learning.

Sanders joined Virginia Tech in 2001 and has since helped facilitate academic achievement, retention, and graduation for thousands of students. She is devoted to helping students find success during their time with the university and works in conjunction with the Student Success Center, the Multicultural Academic Opportunities Program, Student Athlete Academic Support Services, and the University Academic Advising Center.

Sanders recently talked about her life, her career, and her perspective on the importance of bridging the gap between Virginia Tech’s academic and learning communities.

Q. How did you feel when you received the Living and Learning Champion Award?

A. Surprised! And honored and humbled and flattered. I am so very proud of this award, and I want to share it with all of my collaborative partners in the student success, residence life, and living-learning areas.

Q. Your position at Virginia Tech is focused on facilitating success in both undergraduate and graduate students. How would you say the university’s Living-Learning Communities help you in achieving these objectives?

A. Our living and learning communities play a prominent role in facilitating our students’ success. They must — because most of a student’s day is spent outside of the traditional academic classroom. I want to work with colleagues to ensure that students are learning and growing cognitively, socially, and professionally almost every waking hour. And many of those waking hours are spent in our residential communities. 

Q. In what ways have you seen the relationships between Virginia Tech’s Housing and Residence Life and academic departments change in the 15 years you have been a part of the university? How do you see these relationships evolving in the future?

A. There is more collaboration, and the measurable impact of our collaborations is apparent. The student affairs–academic affairs chasm has been diminished. We’ve proven that student affairs and academic affairs collaborations are effective on our campus. I anticipate that there will be more partnerships and the existing ones will grow stronger.

Q. You work in collaboration with so many student-oriented programs on campus — what do you consider Virginia Tech’s most underutilized resource?

A. I wish all students would access the incredible support services that are available to them. Our research confirms that students who use support resources — in academic and student affairs united — are more successful than their peers who do not. With that said, I believe the most underutilized resource is our faculty.

Q. You recently completed a term on the Commonwealth of Virginia Brown v. Board of Education Scholarship Committee. How would you say your involvement in this field has enhanced your work?

A. The Brown v. Board of Education Scholarship Committee was established to provide high school and college access to members of the commonwealth community who were denied opportunities to a free education because of cultural and institutional bias and discrimination during the Civil Rights era. Some of the work that I do at Virginia Tech is designed to facilitate college access for prospective students who are underrepresented in higher education, particularly first-generation, ethnic or racial minorities, and students from middle- and low-income families. 

Q. What are your strengths and how do they play a role in your life and work?

A. My top five strengths are Relator, Discipline, Connectedness, Belief, and Arranger. Here are some descriptive quotes from the strengths assessment that are spot-on in my work every day:

  • “Find deep satisfaction in working hard with friends [and colleagues!] to achieve a goal.”

  • “Enjoy routine and structure.”

  • “Every event has a reason.”

  • “Certain core values that are unchanging.”

  • “Like to figure out how all of the pieces and resources can be arranged for maximum productivity.”

Quite frankly, these statements also describe important tenets of Living-Learning Communities and academic success efforts.

Q. What have you learned that you would like to pass on to others?

A, Use higher education best practices in the published literature to help you design your support initiatives. Assess everything. Put time and resources into what works. Stop doing what does not work. 頑張って [translates as] do your best. This is a motto that Undergraduate Academic Affairs adopted when Rachel Holloway [vice provost for undergraduate academic affairs] began to lead our team a few years ago.

Written by Madeline Sault of Arlington, Virginia, a junior triple majoring in business information technology in the Pamplin College of Business and professional and technical writing and English creative writing in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences.

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