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When Dr. Jason Pina was contemplating his future, one which recently led him to Bridgewater State University as vice president of student affairs, he had some very specific things in mind.
“For me it came down to the fact that I didn’t want that experience of being the only person of color, nor the only person raising issues (concerning diversity),” he said. “If the institution as a whole doesn’t care about social justice they’re leaving people out. So when I made my list of places I’d like to work, I filled it with schools that not only cared about students of color but also about their achievement levels.”
After meeting President Dana Mohler-Faria and reviewing BSU’s statistics on how well students of color fared at the institution, Dr. Pina said he knew he was in the right place.
The Rhode Island native brings a wide array of experience to his new position. He spent a year of his high school career in South Central L.A. -- at the same school Celtic Paul Pierce attended, the die-hard sports fan points out -- and came to Massachusetts after earning two graduate degrees.
His resume includes positions at Babson College, Roger Williams University and the University of Rhode Island. In 2009, he earned his doctorate from Johnson & Wales University.
As he sees it, the most important part of his job involves helping BSU students know what is available on campus and how to make the choices that are right for them.
“The core of our job is making the most of students’ time here on campus and focusing on the graduation rate,” Dr. Pina said. “Students enroll here because they want to major in something particular, or the affordability, or the campus. We’re here to enhance their experience.”
Another part of the job is to help students become leaders, and providing them with the experiences and opportunities necessary to do this, he said.
Dr. Pina’s division includes more than a dozen departments, ranging from Athletics and Recreation to Student Involvement and Leadership, to the GLBTA Pride Center. His role is to empower the professionals on his staff to be creative and unafraid to try new things.
“I need to set up an organization where people in the department are making decisions,” he said. “I hope to un-tether them from their desk and any responsibilities that are not value added so they can add value to the students’ lives.”
The good news is that there is already a lot in place that is working well, he said. Expanding these -- “scaling them to 11,000 students,” as Dr. Pina puts it -- is the key.
Initially, there are five areas he is focusing on: completing a divisional assessment, deployment and use of new technologies and social media platforms across campus, expansion of GLBTA programming, professional development, and forging ongoing connections with residential assistants and other student leaders that last beyond their tenure at BSU.
Ultimately, Dr. Pina said, his job and that of his colleagues in Student Affairs is to serve a very special population of students and ensure their time at BSU is as fulfilling as possible.
“These students are grateful that this institution even exists,” he said. “So many of them would not be in college if not for Bridgewater. We’re filling a need in the community. And what’s the point of higher education if we’re not filling that need?”