Saturday, January 19th, 2019

New dean of students to focus on a stronger community at USM

Posted on November 12, 2016 in News
By USM Free Press

Krysteana Scribner | The Free Press

By Jonathan Pessant

There are many new faces on campus this year, but one is an old friend returning to Maine and USM. David McKenzie, interim dean of students, grew up in Portland. His deep roots in the city shaped how he values community, leading to a lifetime devoted to serving Portland.

“It always felt very natural,” McKenzie said, referring to the 15 years he spent working as a community coordinator for Riverton Elementary School and Community Center.

He started at the bottom, as a van driver shuttling kids to various events like Red Sox games, the animal farms in New Hampshire and to the movies. As he gained experience, McKenzie eventually had an office at city hall where he would coordinate fitness programs within the city of Portland.

During the mid-70s to the mid-80s, he also led instruction at USM for an adult fitness program for the public called Lifeline.  McKenzie worked at local chapters of United Way and the Child Abuse Council, strengthening his ties to the community.

Much of McKenzie’s feelings on how to serve the community were reinforced by his mother, June. He said she was and still is “very active” in the Portland community, serving as an integral part of the NAACP and her local church. In the 1970s and 80s she devoted her energy to voter registration and to AIDS awareness. McKenzie said she “worked behind the scenes,” but also worked closely with the Talbot family on issues important to the African American community.

The model she provided developed McKenzie’s attitudes concerning the importance of the role of advocacy, something that he has striven to employ in his personal and professional career.

McKenzie left Maine in 1986 to develop his sense of community further. After moving to the West Coast, he continued working to facilitate community, this time with students at the University of Arizona and California State University, Fullerton. As assistant dean for student affairs for the College of Humanities and Social Sciences at CSU Fullerton, McKenzie advocated for over 7,000 students When he arrived here at USM on August 2, he brought back home the same character traits that drove him to help students at every stop he made on his career path.

“I would love to be that person that I needed back then,” McKenzie stated, referring to his initial experience in college at age 17, realizing that all students need a little direction and ultimately want to be part of the college community. “I want to serve that role.”

Bringing all aspects of the USM community together is an important goal for McKenzie’s tenure as interim dean of students. Nancy Griffin, vice president for enrollment management, agrees, saying:  McKenzie is “very connected, very involved, and has a strong working knowledge of Portland.” While at CSU Fullerton, McKenzie worked with an increasing number of minorities, especially Hispanic and Asian Pacific Islander.  

“He’s got a lot of experience working with minority students,” Griffin adds, believing him a good fit for dean of students.

With this direction at the Office of Student Affairs, McKenzie is reminded that each and all students are special. “We take them one at a time. We need to help all of them become productive citizens of the world.” McKenzie reiterates, “It’s a blessing to be exposed to all the different cultures here at USM.”

The commitment to bringing different people together in dialogue is an important issue for the new interim dean of students. He wants to put a face to seemingly opposing sides,  to respect their differences and to come together on the many similarities that all students share.

“We have more things in common that we do in difference,” McKenzie said. “We’re not all one thing anymore,” he remarked, speaking about the world as a diverse community.

Community and inclusion at USM are a priority for the Office of Student Affairs. McKenzie said that he’s inherited an amazing staff and wants to find out their own strengths to help them advance those skills to benefit the students and the university. With the recent hiring of an assistant dean of students for diversity and inclusion, Mariana Cruz, McKenzie believes that the university is going in a positive direction to include all students in USM’s community.

He said his office wants to “connect with students, to hear from them and for them to be part of what we do. It is a shared responsibility. We are here to support them. It’s a university for everyone. And we want folks to know that.”

Joshua Casebolt, a freshman veteran majoring in history, said that he met Dean McKenzie recently at a Sea Dogs game. When asked if he knew the new dean of students, he admitted that he did not know fully what the dean of students office did.

McKenzie, when asked about this, said that since he arrived on campus back in August, he has tried to make himself available. “I’ve gone to everything I can, including the Sea Dogs game, the President’s breakfast and freshman orientation.”

He even provided an intro to a movie night on the Gorham campus. He assures that he will be attending many more student activities to highlight the role of the dean of students office. He plans to talk with students in every group to let them know that he supports them and wants them to succeed.

McKenzie’s background is evident when describing what he wants to accomplish during his tenure: “We want to do some good things, some cutting edge things to bring our community together.”

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