NASPA, a leading association for student affairs professionals, has recently inducted Denison students Ibrahim Ibrahim ’18 and Rhea Patil ’19 into its Undergraduate Fellow Program (NUFP), a program that Denison has a long history of students being connected to. In fact, Denison alumnus and Director of Multi-Cultural Affairs and Associate Dean of Students, Dr. Thomas Witherspoon ’05, was one of Denison’s first NASPA Undergraduate Fellows. In 2003, as a junior at Denison, he become a NUFP fellow, noting that “NASPA and the NUFP fellowship gave me the language to explain my professional passion and participating in the program has strongly influenced how I mentor young adults today.”
The program seeks to mentor students from underrepresented areas and historically-marginalized populations. Overall, NASPA hopes to increase the number of traditionally underrepresented professionals in higher education, especially within divisions of student affairs on university campuses. Two Denison standouts, Ibrahim Ibrahim and Rhea Patil, were a natural fit for this recognition, both of whom have an interest in student affairs. With the help of their respective mentors, Erik Farley ’03, Dean of Student Leadership and Community Engagement, and Thomas Witherspoon, ’05, Director of Multi-Cultural Student Affairs and Associate Dean of Students, Ibrahim and Rhea were selected. Once accepted to the program, students are known as “fellows” and have opportunities to obtain scholarships, on-campus mentorship, summer internships, and attend professional development events. Denison’s Vice President for Student Development, Dr. Laurel Kennedy reflects “We are incredibly proud of Rhea and Ibrahim. They both embody what we seek in student affairs practitioners: critical thinking, compassion and empathy, a solid work ethic, and a commitment to inclusion and diversity. They are extraordinary individuals and we’re proud to call them Denisonians.”
In the eyes of Rhea Patil ’19, the fellowship program provides a platform to contribute her ideas to the world of student affairs through its various programs in which she can interact with a completely different set of people. In fact, a crucial learning outcome that NUFP specifies is the importance of cultural competence, both a mindset and ability to care for people across different languages and cultures, hence why the program brings together such a diverse collection of people to share ideas at its events. As the president of Outlook, Denison’s queer straight alliance, Rhea has what she calls “the agency to impact the lives of queer students.” Patil shares what she hopes to learn from the program, sharing that “by attending the various national conferences that NASPA hosts, I want to build on my communication skills by observation, specifically active listening.” In addition to building a network of diverse professionals, Rhea plans to participate in a NUFP Summer Internship, where she can gain an understanding of what a student affairs career may look like. In the future, Rhea is looking to pursue a profession in either Admissions or Multicultural Student Affairs. Through NASPA, she can gain hands on experience as to what the career entails, while also developing the skills to make her a strong student affairs professional. Rhea’s Denison mentor, Dr. Thomas Witherspoon shared his appraisal of Rhea’s talents, noting that the moment they started talking about her persistent involvement with the queer straight alliance on campus and interest in Student Affairs, he knew that she would be an ideal candidate. In the future, Dr. Witherspoon hopes to establish Denison as a host school for Student Affairs interns in the NASPA program.
Ibrahim Ibrahim ’18 also plans to enter the field of Student Affairs post-graduation. From NUFP, Ibrahim values the mentorship he receives, particularly from his mentor, Erik Farley, who is very knowledgeable in the field of multicultural student affairs. This mentorship component of NUFP is an important aspect of the fellow’s program, since it gives students like Ibrahim a firsthand perspective on what it means to have a career in Student Affairs. In addition to on-campus mentorship, Ibrahim plans to take advantage of the summer internship program and career and leadership conferences, such as the Dungy Leadership Institute. As a brother of the Chi Sigma Tau National Fraternity, Inc. on campus, Ibrahim is a member of the first Asian-Interest fraternity founded in the Midwest. Chi Sigma Tau is part of the Multicultural Greek Council at Denison, and Ibrahim takes on many crucial roles in the formation of the group, serving as the secretary, academic chair, historian, and head of public relations. After his graduation this Spring, Ibrahim plans to take a gap year by working for the Posse Foundation, a non-profit organization that selects students from communities throughout the US and pairs them with universities, including Denison. Ibrahim states, “As a Posse Scholar, I am determined to give back to an organization that impacted my life forever by giving me the opportunity to be the first in my family to attend college.” Ibrahim’s NUFP mentor, Erik Farley, a veteran mentor to the program weighs in on his experiences working with Ibrahim and the NUFP program.
“Ibrahim’s personal background and disciplinary foundations in history and religion continue to shape the lens through which he frames societal phenomena and seeks to address educational, racial and cultural disparities. Ibrahim’s service to the Denison community and his current co-curricular involvement have positioned him well to take full advantage of all the rights, privileges, honors and marks of distinction pertaining to the title of NUFP Fellow. His ability to communicate, both written and verbal, beautifully complement his active listening and facilitation skills. I wholeheartedly believe that he will exceed expectations.”
Rhea and Ibrahim both look forward to the growth and development this program will provide them. Denison’s most recent Undergraduate Fellow Sydni Harmon ’17, now a student affairs professional at Iowa State, reflects upon the impact the program made on her, saying that before entering into the fellows program, she knew that she wanted to work in Student Affairs, but did not know how she was going to reach her goal. As a NUFP Fellow, she reflects “I was able to speak not just with administrators at Denison, but with professionals around the country who helped me gain an understanding of the importance of student development theory and my role as a future student affairs professional.” Now at Iowa State University, Syndi has been able to reflect on the insight she gained from her mentor, Dean Erik Farley, who encouraged her passion in assisting others in finding their purpose while also self-authoring her own: “My experience as a fellow set me up for success, and I will always value the depth of knowledge I gained from my participation in the NUFP Program.”
Written by Emily Voutes '19