Cissy Petty Named Inaugural Dean of the Student Experience

Nationally recognized student affairs leader will join GW in July.

May 24, 2018

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The George Washington University named on Thursday M.L. “Cissy” Petty as the inaugural dean of the student experience, a position she will start in mid to late July as the university continues preparations for the fall 2018 semester.

Dr. Petty, currently vice president for student affairs and associate provost at Loyola University New Orleans, is known for her strategic leadership, thoughtful approach to student affairs and her passion for issues of diversity and equality. She has a reputation for ensuring that all students feel a deep connection and a sense of belonging to their college experience.

“I am thrilled to be joining GW at such an exciting time for the institution,” Dr. Petty said. “As the university undertakes the creation of a new organization and re-envisions the student experience, there are incredible opportunities to build upon existing strengths to take GW to a level of pre-eminence in the student experience.

“I am eager to meet with and hear from students, faculty and staff about ways in which we can provide opportunities for every student to achieve academic success and personal growth.”

In her current role, Dr. Petty leads a team dedicated to all aspects of the student experience, often collaborating with faculty and the university community to develop strategies that support students. She currently oversees Student Involvement—including Fraternity and Sorority Life, Student Government, Black Student Association, Multicultural Student Association, Commuters, the Sophomore Experience, New Student Orientation and Leadership Development—as well as Residential Life and Housing, Food Services, the University Health and Counseling Center, Career Development, Student Conduct and Intercollegiate Athletics, Recreation and Wellness.

During her time at Loyola, she led a major reorganization of the Office of Student Affairs, collaborated on $31 million in campus renovation projects impacting the student residential experience and strengthened programs and the university by increasing the diversity of the student affairs professional staff by 35 percent, among numerous other accomplishments. Having arrived at Loyola eight months after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, Dr. Petty encouraged and participated in recovery projects with staff and students. She collaborated with others within the campus community to instill the importance of service for the greater good.   

Senior Vice Provost Laurie Koehler, who is leading the development of the Enrollment and the Student Experience (ESE) organization, described Dr. Petty as “a proven change agent who has used assessment and strategic planning to implement institutional priorities.”

“Throughout the search process, all of us who came in contact with Cissy were impressed by her commitment to students, her collaborative nature, her ability to think critically about an organization to identify areas of opportunity and growth and by her positive attitude and sense of humor,” Ms. Koehler said.

Prior to leading Loyola’s student affairs division, Dr. Petty served as the vice president of co-curricular education and dean of students at St. Lawrence University in Canton, N.Y. She also has held student affairs roles at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro, Mississippi University for Women, the University of North Carolina, Asheville, and the Florida Institute of Technology. She earned her Ph.D. in higher education administration from Florida State University, where she also completed her B.S. and M.S. degrees. She held a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro.

Recognized nationally as a thought leader in the field, Dr. Petty has taught courses on leadership development and counseling at the graduate and undergraduate levels and has presented extensively. She has held numerous leadership roles in professional organizations, including the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA) and the American College Personnel Association (ACPA). NASPA’s Foundation awarded her the Pillar of the Profession award in 2014, their highest peer recognition for outstanding leadership in the profession. She currently serves on the NASPA Foundation Board of Directors and on the editorial board of the Journal of Student Affairs and Research Practice.

Her colleagues at Loyola New Orleans credit Dr. Petty with overseeing the transformation of several areas of importance to students, among them Title IX enforcement and diversity and inclusion.

Loyola University New Orleans President the Rev. Kevin Wildes said Dr. Petty “helped the campus community at large to better understand and address the challenges faced by our students.”

Alice Bourque, director of health services at Loyola, said Dr. Petty is “kind-hearted and deeply committed to the development of students and colleagues.”

“It is part of her soul,” Dr. Bourque said, “and you can see it illustrated daily.”  

Peak Sen Chua, co-chair of the search committee and former GW Student Association president, said that Dr. Petty “not only impressed the search committee and the student consultative committee by detailing her extensive leadership experience but also by illustrating her role as a student advocate with and for students.”

“We are confident that Enrollment and the Student Experience will foster a campus culture where students are empowered as lifelong learners to unleash their potential and experience personal growth and development,” he said. “With an approach which treats students equitably, we're looking forward to seeing Dr. Petty partner with our campus community to drive the conversations and action steps on diversity, inclusion and community engagement forward.”

Caroline Laguerre-Brown, vice provost for diversity, equity and community engagement and co-chair of the search committee, said that Dr. Petty will bring “great experience and a deep commitment to students to her new role as GW’s dean of the student experience. We look forward to welcoming her and supporting her successful transition.”

In January, Provost Forrest Maltzman announced the creation of ESE as a result of President Thomas LeBlanc’s call to enhance the undergraduate student experience. ESE will leverage the strengths and experience of the current Division of Student Affairs (DSA) and the Enrollment Management and Retention (EM&R) Division to support a more connected, comprehensive and student-centered approach to the student experience that will integrate the academic experience with student life beyond the classroom. The Dean of the Student Experience will be the chief student affairs officer at the university, tasked with identifying and creating new approaches and best practices to enhance the student experience, and strengthen partnerships and processes within the university.

“Cissy is an outstanding leader who will be a champion for all students and their experience at GW,” said Dr. Maltzman. “I am confident that her collaborative nature and her previous experience with leading change and building teams will help her be successful in this inaugural role.”


Loyola University New orleans president wins national award - loyola vice president of student affairs and associate provost dr. m.l."cissY" petty wins jaspa's top honor 

MARCH 18, 2016

A top administrator at Loyola University of New Orleans received a national award this week for her leadership and service to students. The Jesuit Association of Student Personnel Administrators (JASPA) on Saturday awarded Vice President of Student Affairs and Associate Provost Dr. M.L. “Cissy” Petty the Reverend Victor R. Yanitelli, S.J. Award, its most prestigious honor. The esteemed honor recognizes Dr. Petty’s outstanding leadership, character and commitment to Jesuit higher education and the importance of centering Ignatian spirituality in Student Affairs work.

“Cissy is so deserving of the Victor Yanitelli, S.J. award.  She is a servant-leader, mentor and advocate for Jesuit student affairs.  She dreams big and helps others imagine a better future.  It is with this lens that she helped JASPA reimagine itself as an open, inclusive organization,” said Jeanne Rosenberger, vice provost for student life and dean of students at Santa Clara University. “A staunch supporter of students, Cissy is an optimistic and positive individual, dedicated to the notion that every person is fundamentally good and that every individual is capable of learning.”

Rosenberger and Fordham University Senior Vice President of Student Affairs Jeffrey Gray presented Dr. Petty her award at JASPA’s annual conference. JASPA 2016: Stand Together took place Saturday, March 12, 2016 at Butler University in Indianapolis, Ind. 

Founded in 1954, JASPAincludes student affairs leaders from the 28 Jesuit colleges and universities in the U.S. To celebrate its 25th anniversary in 1979, the association initiated an annual award for outstanding service in the area of student life in Jesuit higher education. The award was named in honor of its first recipient, Reverend Victor R. Yanitelli, S.J., beloved for his service to others.

The Yanitelli Award recognizes outstanding service to student affairs work in Jesuit and Catholic higher education, distinguished by a long-term commitment and support of Jesuit values to the campus, the profession, and the association.  The award winner is a person who may be fairly characterized as the servant/leader, in the tradition of Fr. Yanitelli.  The award is given annually, though it is not necessary to determine a recipient every year.

Dr. Petty began her tenure at Loyola in July 2006 and has “embraced Jesuit higher education―as a spokesperson and a leader, in ways that serve as a model to others,” Gray said. “Her care for the New Orleans community, as well as the students, faculty and staff across the 28 Jesuit American universities whom she encounters, embody the very essence of the Jesuit ideals of ‘Cura Personalis’ and ‘Women and Men for Others.’ Her work on and off campus showcases her dedication to students and commitment to her community.”

Over the last six years, Dr. Petty has served as a regional vice president, vice president/president elect, president and past president of JASPA. During her presidency, she involved all 28 institutions in a strategic planning process that resulted in a reimagining of JASPA’s leadership model and annual conference.  The new leadership model invites participation from all institutions at all levels, and the conference program is deeply rooted in social justice.  These changes have resulted in JASPA establishing itself as the premier Catholic student affairs association in the nation.

Petty served as JASPA’s president through 2014, and her involvement did not stop when her term ended. As immediate past president, Petty continued to serve JASPA, serving on the association’s Executive Board and providing ‘Mission Moments’ in the monthly newsletter. She has raised tens of thousands of dollars in sponsorship for JASPA programs, allowing JASPA to offer quality programs while maintaining reasonable registration fees.

“This work was entirely inspired by Cissy’s dedication and vision, her boundless energy and enthusiasm, and her commitment to excellence, and would not have been accomplished without her,” Gray said. “Cissy is indeed an example of all that is right with higher education and student affairs leadership.”


Loyola University New Orleans is a Catholic, Jesuit university located in the heart of the picturesque Uptown neighborhood of New Orleans. For more than 100 years, Loyola has helped shape the lives of its students, as well as the history of the city and the world, through educating men and women in the Jesuit traditions of academic excellence and service to others. Loyola’s more than 40,000 graduates serve as catalysts for change in their communities as they exemplify the comprehensive, values-laden education received at Loyola.

NEWS by: Rose Spaziani


FEBRUARY 2, 2016

M.L. "Cissy" Petty, Ph.D., vice president for student affairs and associate provost at Loyola University New Orleans, believes authentic communication is critical to leadership success. She shares her advice and perspective on the subject at "Table Talk: Speaking Truth to Power," NYIT's next leadership lecture on Friday, Feb. 5. Petty has more than 35 years of experience in her field and received the "Pillar of the Profession" award from the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators in 2014. She spoke to The Box about her career path and leadership values.

What does it mean for leaders to speak truth to power?

Speaking truth to power is about having a fierce conversation in which you are willing to come out from behind yourself and speak meaningfully about reality. In other words, you are willing to risk being seen; authenticity is not something you have, it's something you choose. In a conversation, it is important to remember that everyone has a piece of reality. Over time reality changes, so it's important to keep asking new questions. English poet David Whyte says, "No one has to change, but everyone has to have the conversation."

When speaking truth to power it is important to remember that both character and competence come into play. Character is a constant—you either have integrity or you don't. Competence, on the other hand, is situational and depends on results and skills. As a leader, your intent and behavior must match for there to be trust in a crucial conversation.

How did you find a sense of purpose in your career?

From early on, I was taking the lead, either as a child with my band of buddies or as a college student planning campus activities. I've always wanted to make things happen.

I was getting ready to graduate from Florida State University (FSU), and on my way to law school at Stetson University, when I had a conversation with Phil Barco, dean of students at FSU. The conversation changed everything for me. He encouraged me to consider a career in the student affairs field. I hadn't really thought about it before, but I knew I wanted to make a difference in people's lives. My first chief student affairs role was in my early thirties and I have never looked back.

What is your brand of leadership?

I'm a relational leader, skilled in talent identification and capacity building. I have learned to trust myself and can extend trust to others. American writer Stephen M.R. Covey describes that as "smart trust." I also believe that staff members who are able to "talk straight" with one another get us to succeed much quicker.

When was the moment (or moments) that you came into your own as a leader?

Any time I've said yes has been an opportunity for me to break through and become a better leader. Since saying yes to a career in student affairs instead of law, I've had many different positions and learned from all of them. I said yes to serving as dean for student development at Mississippi University for Women, where I learned a great deal about class and race. I said yes to serving as vice president for co-curricular education at St. Lawrence University in New York, though I had never lived east of the Mason-Dixon Line. What's important is that you say yes to the unknown and learn from it. Saying "yes" is life affirming.

How did NYIT get on your radar?

NYIT's Vice President for Student Affairs Patrick Love is a champion in our field. I've gotten to know him better over the last few years. NYIT-Manhattan Campus Dean Ann Marie Klotz and I met several years ago. As a young professional, I found Ann Marie smart and dynamic; I am pleased we became both friends and colleagues.

Who has inspired you and influenced you to inspire others?

My grandmother was probably the most pivotal person in my life. She was national vice president of Alpha Xi Delta and traveled the country checking on various chapters. Later in life she was house mother for a fraternity at Rollins College. As a 5th grader, I'd ride my bike to visit her at the house and watch her interact with the young men … and had my eyes opened!

As a leader, you interact with people 24/7 and must get to know others well. What would people be surprised to learn about you?

Publicly I'm an extrovert, but privately I like to be alone. I enjoy traveling and often take solo trips. I recently did an eight-day silent retreat at the Eastern Point Retreat House run by the Jesuits in Massachusetts. When I tell people, they can't believe I could be quiet for that long.

What are you most proud of in your career?

I know at least 30 former students who are making a positive impact in the student affairs field. I'm thrilled to see them moving up to director-level positions and beyond! Helping to build the foundation for our field's future is extremely rewarding.

R.S.V.P. for "Table Talk: Speaking Truth to Power" to learn more about positive change through powerful communication.


Dr. M.L. "cissy" petty award the national student affairs pillar of the profession

MARCH 17, 2014

Each year at the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA) conference the NASPA Foundation recognizes distinguished individuals who serve as leaders, teachers, and scholars in student affairs and higher education.  On March 17, 2014, the NASPA Foundation honored Dr. Petty and 12 colleagues from across the nation.  To many, the NASPA Pillar of the Profession is a “lifetime achievement award” signifying excellence in service to the field of student affairs. A highlight of the event was a personal letter to her, from the President of the United States, Barack Obama, thanking her for the difference she makes in the profession of student affairs and her commitment to the values of education. When asked about this honor, she replied, “I am humbled by this recognition, and owe success to terrific partnerships across campus, building talented student affairs teams, and my passion for seeing students develop.”