Students might not know they interact with Christopher O’Connor on a weekly basis. But through emails informing students of activities, and his work advising student government and student organizations, O’Connor, associate director of student life for Portland, has a hand in nearly all aspects of student life.

“My job is to provide leadership for what will be a focus on student life for the Portland campus and start to define what that looks like,” O’Connor said.

O’Connor said he has a long list of responsibilities, including  advising student organizations, overseeing the Portland student life staff, and overseeing the Veteran’s Resource Center, among other things. O’Connor said he feels it’s his duty to make sure students feel a part of their community.

In addition to his job at USM, you can find O’Connor every Saturday night at the Portland nightclub Styxx.  O’Connor started there twelve years ago when the club was named the Underground.  He started as a bartender, which led him to playing around with the music, and for the last decade he has been a DJ.  O’Connor said he likes to try to understand the people in the room through the music he is playing. “I spend more time watching people who aren’t dancing than the people who are,” he said.  “My challenge always is to get those people to commit to getting on the dance floor.”

According to O’Connor, when he was younger he wanted to be a high school band director. Though he is not a band director, O’Connor has been working with local high school marching bands and color guards.

O’Connor currently works with the Westbrook High School marching band.  According to O’Connor, he is the visual designer and is responsible for creating the formations, running rehearsals and producing the props and backdrops, while the band director teaches the music.

O’Connor grew up in New Jersey and attended the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. After graduating, he headed to Western Illinois University to study higher education administration. After a year, O’Connor returned to the East Coast.  He spent a few months in Boston before relocating to Long Island, N.Y. where he worked at Long Island University as a hall director.  O’Connor spent a year there, before coming to Maine to take a position at USM.

When O’Connor was first hired by USM in 1998, it was to manage Portland Hall, which has since closed. O’Connor said he obtained much of his professional experience while at Portland Hall. There he dealt with the normal student issues in addition to managing the facilities, focusing on campus safety, working on community standards and hiring and training staff. “I got this wide breadth of experience,” said O’Connor.

After three years in this position, O’Connor said he needed a change, which led him to the position he currently holds at USM, although O’Connor said the position has morphed over time.  When he first began, O’Connor said he was hired to work with the student government. He described the relationship between the student government and the administration, at the time of his coming onto staff, as antagonistic and volatile.

O’Connor learned about the importance of relationship building during this time.  O’Connor said he was seen as part of the administration, and even called “the devil” during one student meeting. “I learned a very quick, and probably the most beneficial lesson in my professional career around building relationships,” he said.

Through the development of his position, he has seen his role as that of a liaison who helps students and administrators alike to understand the best ways to accomplish goals.


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