Andrew Mauk Interview

Interview by Leah Ewing Ross

Andrew J. Mauk is the Director of Student Affairs, Research, and Planning at the University of North Carolina Wilmington (UNCW). He discovered his passion for the fields of student affairs and institutional research in his previous positions at the University of Arkansas and The Florida State University.
 eAIR: Please share a little bit about your background and the previous experiences that led you to your current position.
I have a background in both student affairs and assessment. My undergraduate work was in biology, so statistics and analytic thinking have always been a “gift” of mine. After working in the finance world following college, I learned about a graduate degree in higher education from one of my undergraduate mentors. During my master’s program at the University of Arkansas, I was fortunate to intern with the provost. Much of that internship was conducted with the Office of Institutional Research and Planning; it was my first exposure to the world of institutional research, and I thoroughly enjoyed it, but I also liked working with students. My graduate assistantship was in the Office of Admissions, and I coordinated undergraduate student telephone recruitment, which combined statistical analyses to identify prospects with more traditional student programming.
My first professional position in higher education was in multicultural affairs, where I coordinated a scholarship program for underrepresented students, but I was also primarily responsible for all of the department’s assessment and budget activities. I’ve always enjoyed assessment, as it just kind of “makes sense” to me. After several years in multicultural affairs, I left the University of Arkansas to pursue the Ph.D. in Higher Education at The Florida State University, where I also received the Certificate in Institutional Research. My assistantship was in the Office of the Vice President for Student Affairs, where my primary responsibility was coordinating the Jon C. Dalton Institute on College Student Values, an annual conference focused on research and best practice in the field of college student character development. I was also tasked with a wide variety of other responsibilities, and truly received a broad-based experience that allowed me to grow my understanding of student affairs. My doctoral research focused on traditional institutional research topics, such as retention, finance, and accountability, but I have always been able to combine both “worlds,” so to speak. My dissertation was on the role of friendship in student engagement, achievement, and persistence. The implications of that study inform student affairs and institutional research about how higher education (broadly) affects students.
"I love the 'feel' of higher education, knowing that, in many ways, we are at the forefront of knowledge development."
eAIR: What lessons did you learn in your first institutional research position that impact your work today?
In my internship at the University of Arkansas, I learned that institutional research is a truly useful entity on a college campus. In addition to federal reporting, the institutional research office on that campus was heavily involved in providing data to the chancellor, who then utilized that information in much of his work with external constituents. I quickly understood the ramifications of enrollment trends, tuition revenue, state appropriations, and faculty productivity on an institution—and further, on public governing bodies.
eAIR: What would you like individuals in the institutional research field to know about student affairs?
Student affairs professionals are more than “party planners” on campus, and we certainly do more than just manage residence halls and coordinate intramural sports. I’m not always convinced that people in other areas of campus know that student affairs professionals are educators, most with master’s degrees, and many with doctorates. Our educational backgrounds represent a wide variety of undergraduate areas, but our graduate degrees always include extensive amounts of theoretical training in learning pedagogy and student development. In many ways, what we do is a combination of psychology, sociology, business, and education, and we certainly have the “pulse” of the campus. We are here to assist students acquire the life skills they need to be successful beyond their college experiences, and often we are the educators who provide students with opportunities and experiences that allow them to further explore the educational activities they undertake in the classroom. I believe we are partners in the academic mission of the institution, and that assessment and evaluation are significant aspects of what we do. Much of our work is rooted in theory, and we (as a field) have made great strides to ensure accountability in our programs and departments.
eAIR: What would you like individuals in student affairs to know about institutional research?
Institutional research is more than just “numbers” and graduation rates; it is an extremely important department on a college campus and helps senior administrators make wise decisions with use of accurate data. There are many topics institutional researchers examine, and our work makes an institution function more effectively by providing good insight about future programs and processes. Also, institutional research offices help position colleges and universities in positive manners in both the policy and public arenas. I don’t think my student affairs colleagues realize this, or maybe even appreciate all of its roles.
 eAIR: Who or what inspires you?
I’m a pretty simple person and am fairly motivated by my own personal sense of worth, but I get inspired by my family each and every day. I am married to a wonderful teacher who works to inspire her kids every day, and I see the impact of education on others. We have two young kids, and they keep me grounded and focused on doing the things I should be doing to make our world a better place.
eAIR: How do you manage stress?
Most of us who work in higher education consider ourselves to be high-achieving individuals, and thus push ourselves very hard. I get so focused on what I’m doing that I often forget to take time out for myself. Having a strong family helps, and one of the skills I learned as a doctoral student is that I have to compartmentalize things. I’ve become pretty good at being able to do work at work, and to enjoy family time at night and on weekends. It doesn’t always work out perfectly, but by committing to a routine, I’ve been able to balance my life. I enjoy reading, watching sports (particularly college football), and spending sunny days with my family on the beach here in Wilmington.
"In my office and the student affairs division overall, we're strategically positioning ourselves to handle these bleak economic times by re-examining everything we do to ensure efficiency and effectiveness."
eAIR: What are the biggest challenges your campus or office faces, and how are you prepared to face them?
The economy is one of the biggest challenges for my campus, as it is for most institutions. We’ve got to accept that this is a new reality, and UNCW has done a tremendous job in preparing for this challenge. Going forward, we’ve positioned ourselves well by offering a great educational experience at a tremendous value, and students continue to view us positively. In my office and the student affairs division overall, we’re strategically positioning ourselves to handle these bleak economic times by re-examining everything we do to ensure efficiency and effectiveness. I’m very confident in our senior leadership and that we’ll turn the challenge into a great opportunity.
eAIR: What is the greatest opportunity your campus or office has experienced?
The state of North Carolina has wisely invested in higher education over the past several decades, and we offer one of the best products available in public education. UNCW has the opportunity to continue this trend, in particular by taking advantage of our location near the coast and developing new partnerships in southeast North Carolina. Our student affairs assessment office continues to play a significant role in planning for future growth as we strive to provide programs and services that help students succeed.
eAIR: What do you enjoy most about working in higher education?
I love the “feel” of higher education, knowing that, in many ways, we are at the forefront of knowledge development. Great ideas abound on a college campus, and being able to inspire future leaders is a great feeling. Helping an individual student develop critical thinking and reasoning skills and a sense of worth is a tremendously motivating factor for me.
eAIR: What can AIR do to better serve institutional research professionals working in student affairs settings?
I think that AIR can continue to recognize that the work of student affairs professionals contributes a great deal to student learning and success. By fostering a community of professionals who are focused on student learning outcomes in the co-curricular arena,
AIR can help us further enhance our skills and abilities. Further, AIR can continue to advocate for the role student affairs professionals play so that we don’t get marginalized on campus. We are a unique bunch, but we offer quite a tremendous opportunity for institutional research and assessment. I was very fortunate to have received a graduate student fellowship from AIR, which helped me fund my graduate school program and allowed me to pursue the Certificate in Institutional Research at Florida State as part of my doctorate. These types of activities led me to combine my passions for assessment and student affairs, and I’m able to do the things I enjoy on a day-to-day basis. AIR helped me tremendously, and I hope the organization will continue to offer that type of support for others like me in the future.
If you would like to continue the conversation about student affairs and institutional research, contact Dr. Mauk at

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Total Comments: 1
Randy posted on 1/30/2012 11:11 PM
I would like to hear examples of student affairs and IR officers working together with data to inform institutional improvement. Real examples would be great, but even sharing ideas for future collaborations would be welcomed.