Hey Badgers! Now that fall semester is in full swing, now is always a good time to get information on campus resources and policies that will help you achieve success this year.
If you need support finding the right resource, your Dean of Students Christina Olstad is here for you.
As your official coach for navigating college life outside the classroom, Dean Olstad is dedicated to serving students — specifically in areas of health and well-being, identity and inclusion, leadership and engagement, and student advocacy, all key theme areas within Student Affairs.
Earlier this month, we asked Dean Olstad several questions to delve into her priorities for the upcoming year and learn more about how she supports students and their unique Wisconsin Experience.
Q: What about being dean of students makes you want to get up in the morning and come to work?
A: In my role as dean of students, I approach every day as an opportunity to serve students, to identify challenges and issues on campus, and to creatively problem-solve those very challenges and issues. Every single day is different, but I always get a lot of energy from engaging with students. Every morning, I’m motivated to meet different students, listen to their stories, and get them connected to resources they may need.
During the pandemic, it was so difficult to see the chance to meet with students face-to-face taken away. So, I enjoy seeing students on campus and to feel the energy of our campus community — the excitement and the pride students have to be a Badger. Even though we are a large public university, I want to make UW-Madison feel like a small campus, so I encourage every student to come talk to me about any challenges they’re facing.
Q: What are you most proud of in the last year?
A: There’s a lot that I’m proud of in the last year. Because we were pivoting to meeting the needs of students, faculty, and staff during a pandemic, the Dean of Students Office was busy with several important initiatives supporting them in diverse ways.
We collaborated with the Division of Continuing Studies to enhance implemented Badger FARE, an immediate support structure for students experiencing food insecurity. Food insecurity is an area that I’m incredibly passionate about because I know that if a student is hungry, that will really impact their ability to be successful on campus. I want to ensure no Badger ever goes hungry, and that every single Badger has access to food on our campus.
On the other hand, I’m really proud of the ways we found to support our staff during the pandemic. We partnered with the Center for Healthy Minds to launch a Healthy Minds 30-Day Challenge for staff. The data was staggering! We had a large portion of staff engage with the Healthy Minds Challenge and report decreased levels of burnout and improved well-being. That was incredibly exciting data to see. Now, the Badger Well-Being Challenge for students launched this fall and I can’t wait to see students engaging with the program.
Q: What are your top priorities for the upcoming 2021-2022 academic year? Why?
A: As we are coming back together — still, in the midst of a pandemic — we know our students have been pulled in so many different directions. Students’ finances have been affected, their family’s finances have been affected, their mental health has been affected, and some students may have lost loved ones. For me, the mental health of our students is the primary focus as we return to campus. Like I said before, we launched the Badger Well-Being Challenge as a way to provide a foundation to promote resilience and get students connected to resources right away.
Secondly, I want to make certain every student on this campus knows how to report an incident involving bias or hate and what happens next after you choose to make a report. I want our community to come together to make sure that every Badger feels welcome, safe, and included on campus — that’s another huge priority for me this year.
In addition to that, we launched Wisconsin Welcome Back, which is a suite of programs, services, and support designed especially for second-year students. Because we know that second-year students had anything but a typical first-year experience here on campus, we want to make sure those students have an opportunity to learn about resources, understand our traditions, and get connected to our iconic buildings on campus in a way that may not have been possible before. I’m incredibly excited about that initiative and to support for our second-year students will continue to be a priority for the academic year.
Another exciting new initiative led by students is Swipe Out Hunger which is a collaboration across campus including the Dean of Students Office, Social Justice Hub, Wisconsin Union, University Housing, and Recreation & Wellbeing. UW-Madison will be the first campus in Wisconsin connected to the national nonprofit organization Swipe Out Hunger and our goal is to increase exposure on campus so that no Badger goes hungry. Learn more about ways to support this initiative soon.
Q: What is the last book you read?
A: The entire leadership team in student advocacy read “Caste: The Origins of our Discontents” by Isabel Wilkerson. It was an incredible, powerful read by a tremendous author — one I’d highly recommend to anyone.
Q: How can students engage with you this fall?
A: There are many different ways to engage with me as your dean of students this fall. I hold open office hours (contact firstname.lastname@example.org to make an appointment!) and also do several outreach initiatives. I’ll be around campus giving away stress putty — which I’ve heard over and over again, how helpful it is for college students. I’ll also be out supporting our student athletes at several events and games. I’m actually in the student section for football this fall so you’ll see me in the stands. If you do, come over to introduce yourself and get a free ice cream coupon to use at either Daily Scoop location on campus.
Q: What else do you want students to know about you or your role on campus?
A: I want students to know that I use my position and platform to advocate for positive change on campus. During my first year here, there were a number of students who came to me about bias incidents occurring in classroom environments. I used my role and connections across campus to successfully find and implement ways to impact academic environments and reduce bias. By raising your voice and reaching out to me, I can elevate a student’s problem or experience with my campus colleagues. When students bring concerns to me, even if it’s not within my specific portfolio or sphere of influence, I always look for ways to elevate the student voice and experience and advocate for change — that’s what I really want students to know.
Interested in meeting Dean Olstad? Keep an eye out for her around campus and at sporting events this fall — make sure to introduce yourself and get an ice cream coupon or stress putty.
Remember to follow Dean Olstad on Twitter and Instagram to learn more about her time at UW-Madison and connect with the Badger community. Stay tuned for Dean Olstad’s Back-to-School Playlist and upcoming Q+A series launching on Instagram this fall.