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5 Questions for Clarence McNeill 

Student Association President Desann Chin-Carty speaks to Dean of Students Clarence McNeill in the Campus Center. (Photo by Patrick Dodson)

ALBANY, N.Y. (Sept. 10, 2019) — Clarence “Clay” McNeill began working in Student Affairs as a UAlbany student, serving as a resident assistant in 1991, his sophomore year.

In the next 25 years he held positions as RA, management assistant, graduate assistant, residence hall director and quad coordinator — all in Residential Life. He also has had leadership positions in orientation and transition programs, and in community standards.

Last spring McNeill was named assistant vice president for Student Affairs, and tapped for the new position of dean of students.

A first-generation college student originally from the Bronx, McNeill has found a home at UAlbany. He has a BA in Africana Studies and an MS and certificate of advanced study in educational administration, and is working toward a PhD in sociology. That doesn’t leave him a lot of spare time, but what he has is devoted to his family — his wife, Karen, and children, Cinthia and Alonzo — and their home in Schenectady.

“I’m truly a homebody,” McNeill says. “I like the serenity of the home my wife and I have created.”

What exactly is a dean of students?

In a traditional sense, a dean of students (and their team) serves as a primary administrative contact and advocate for students, both undergraduate and graduate. The goal is to work with the students to provide services and support programs that enhance their lives.

While that is my role, I want our students to know that my team and I are deeply committed to their personal and intellectual growth and development as well. We will work directly with our students and connect them with the appropriate resources on campus; we will provide direct assistance to help them navigate complex and difficult situations; provide support for resolving concerns impeding their success; and we will empower them to explore options to make informed actionable decisions that support their academic success.

What kinds of student issues does your office address?

Since this role is new to the University, we’re preparing to handle whatever is thrown at us! But seriously, we designed the dean of students suite with the idea of creating a “one-stop” shop for our students and their families. Whether you are experiencing a crisis (personal, family or financial) or you just need someone to talk through a problem or experience you’re having at the University at Albany, we want you to see us as a supportive resource.

How did you become interested in working in higher ed?

While all of my professional experiences have shaped who I am today, my experience as a resident assistant laid the foundation for my decision to make student affairs a career. As an RA, I felt fortunate that the department gave me a free room, allowed me to select my roommates/suitemates, and paid me a stipend every two weeks. In return, I learned to engage with my residents, create an environment where they were comfortable interacting with one another and felt safe, put on programs that interested them, and help them problem solve and navigate the campus. It was rewarding, and positioned me to be the administrator that I am today.

What extracurricular activities were you involved in as a student?

Outside of my role as a resident assistant, I was heavily involved in ASUBA — Albany State University Black Alliance. Derek Westbrook, my summer student advisor in EOP (the Educational Opportunity Program), introduced me to ASUBA when I was a first-year student living on Dutch Quad. He would bring me to mass meetings and programs sponsored by the organization.

I met so many people in other culturally based organizations who encouraged me to get involved in the life of the campus, network with my peers and challenge myself academically. College was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and I had to take advantage of everything it had to offer while I had that opportunity.

I ran for the position of Dutch Quad rep for ASUBA my sophomore year, and I also was selected to be a resident assistant the same year. As Mike Christakis, our vice president for student affairs, likes to say, “Involvement leads to success!”

What advice would you give a student new to UAlbany?

Don’t be afraid to take risks! My team and I are here to support all of your needs as you explore the cultural richness of the University at Albany, both in the classroom and outside the classroom.

I encourage every student to visit our website as well as the website for the Division of Student Affairs and get to know the many programmatic options and services we offer. We in the Dean of Students office will be walking alongside you as you make your way through your academic journey. Now is the time to unleash your greatness!

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