The intensive search for retiring dean Sparky Reardon’s replacement came to an end yesterday as Melinda J. Sutton was announced as The University of Mississippi’s new dean of students and assistant vice chancellor for student affairs.
“This is a new chapter for The University of Mississippi and the dean of students,” Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Brandi Hephner LaBanc said. “I’m excited about that.”
With more than 15 years of experience in higher education, Sutton, a native Texan, currently serves as the associate dean of student life at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.
Prior to her tenure at SMU, she served students in various administrative positions at the University of Texas at Austin, Indiana University – Bloomington and Vanderbilt University.
“It’s hard to find somebody who has all of that experience,” Hephner LaBanc said. “It’s like any job. You kind of find a niche area and you develop. I think she’s got a very good basis of experience coming into this position that will help her to be really successful here.”
In a telephone interview, Sutton told The Daily Mississippian she has always been interested in Ole Miss because of its similarity to her undergraduate alma mater, SMU.
After arriving on campus during the hiring process, her attraction to Mississippi’s flagship university expanded even more.
“As I got to know people on campus and learn more about the opportunity, I became more and more excited, Sutton said. “I think personally, I’m ready for that next step. I’ve worked in a couple of dean of student’s offices now, and I’m ready to take on that next challenge. For many reasons it seemed like a great time for me, and a great opportunity for me to take advantage of.”
Sutton said she was not actively searching to leave SMU, but came across an ad regarding the dean of students opening online. She saw the position as a professional opportunity that she could not ignore.
“I believe she’s coming here because she knows that this will grow her as well,” Hephner LaBanc said. “That’s part of the reason why I came here. You want, when you move into your next professional position, for it to make you a better professional, for you to be surrounded by new colleagues that will challenge you in different ways.
“My hope is that it’s a win-win. That she brings good things to us, but we also help her to be a better professional.”
Sutton said one of the first things she plans to do during her service as dean of students is to simply listen and get to know Ole Miss as well as her Student Affairs colleagues and faculty and staff across campus. The most important acquaintance she hopes to make is one with the student body.
“I want them to know that I am their dean of students,” Sutton said. “I want to be accessible to them. I want to be approachable to them. I’m here to listen to the good things, but also the bad things. I want to advocate for them and really work with them to help make Ole Miss as great a place as it can be.”
Hephner LaBanc hopes for the same.
“I hope to see a high level of engagement with students,” Hephner LaBanc said. “I hope to see the opportunity to take our departments and our programs to the next level. I think that her fresh perspective will add to that climate.”
Sutton will fully assume her new position June 1.