PWA recently sat down with Dean of Students Wendy Skinner, and Assistant to the Deans Office Melissa Polak, to discuss the joys and challenges of overseeing student life at WRA.
Wendy comes to WRA from the Shady Side Academy in Pittsburgh. Melissa presently serves as Vice President of PWA and chairs the Concessions Committee. She has also worked at the Campus Store and as Assistant to the Summer Programs Director at WRA.
You're both new to the Deans Office. How are things going a month into the school year?
Wendy: Things are going incredibly well. When I first visited WRA, I was struck by how friendly and welcoming the entire community was, and that still holds true. The support I've received from the faculty, staff and parents has definitely made my job much easier. The students here are very polite and respectful as well, and it is a true delight to work with them.
Melissa: Working with Wendy has been a fantastic experience and I'm learning so much. While I've served in couple of different capacities at Reserve, nothing could have prepared me for what I'm doing now [Laughs]. There are a lot of balls to juggle, but we are making it happen. I have a fairly lengthy history with the school since WRA, and the fantastic education it provides, is what brought our family to Hudson initially. I've had two children graduate from Reserve (Conner '13 and McKenna '14) and have a daughter (Teagan '20) who is currently a freshman. I so believe in the school and its mission and it's great to be a part of that here in the Deans Office.
What is a typical day like for each of you—if there is such a thing?
Wendy: [Laughs] Well, I don't know if any day is really typical, but the most important part of my job, I believe, is to have face time every day with the students. That includes more formal interactions, such as meetings with prefects and student leaders, but it also involves catching the students as they walk past Metcalf (where the Deans Office is located) for a brief conversation, or chatting with them on campus or in the dining hall. I try to get to Seymour Hall at least once a day so that I can talk with the kids there as well. Establishing a good relationship with the students is critical to my role here, and in order to accomplish that, they have to get to know me and I, them.
Melissa: Attendance is a huge part of my day. I need to make sure everyone is where he or she is supposed to be and if they're not where they should be, I need to follow up on that — immediately! Helping Wendy address the needs of the students and monitoring their comings and goings on and off campus are my primary daily responsibilities.
Are there any changes you'd like to implement this year?
Wendy: Right now I'm not aspiring to make any major changes. If there is one thing I'd like to work on, however, it is to encourage students to stop by the office to say hello or to check in with us. Our new office in Metcalf is not as centrally located as the old office in the Chapel was, so we have to work a little bit harder to draw the kids in. On the plus side, our new office is more spacious than the old, so it's a great meeting place.
Melissa: I agree with Wendy — we need to draw kids into the space.
How can PWA help support the Deans Office?
Wendy: Just keep doing what you're doing! I have been so impressed with PWA's commitment, passion and support, and the school year is just beginning. It's been wonderful to discover how helpful PWA is to our mission, and I truly appreciate your creativity, dedication and kindness. Our job at the Deans Office is to oversee residential life at WRA, and PWA plays an integral part in helping us enhance all of our students' lives during their time here.
Melissa: PWA plays a huge role in making our students' lives better. I'm amazed and impressed by how many traditions PWA has established for the kids throughout the years, from team and dorm feeds to school parties and dances. The kids look forward to these events year after year, and the activities really enrich their lives here. We couldn't do what we do in the Deans Office without PWA.
If you could tell WRA parents one thing, what would it be?
Wendy: Trust us. Melissa and I are both parents, and we want the same things for your children that we want for our own. We have your kids' best interests at heart and there are so many wise and wonderful staff and faculty on campus who want only the best for your children as well. We love what we do and we are dedicated to giving your children the best experience possible at WRA.
Melissa: I completely agree with Wendy. We feel like we personally have 400 children now and we will do our best for each and every one of them.
By Mary Lohman (Jack '20)