WSU Spokane recently hired Jim Mohr as its vice chancellor of student affairs. Mohr began in this role on July 1.
He was most recently the dean of student development at Olympic College in Bremerton, Wash. Before that, he was the director of student success at the Community Colleges of Spokane. Mohr holds a Ph.D. in leadership studies from Gonzaga University. We sat down with Mohr to talk about his return to Spokane, his role on campus, his favorite TV show and more.
Q: Your bachelor’s and master’s degrees are from the east coast. What brought you to the Northwest?
A: I was living in New York City getting my master’s and working and at the time I felt like I was a New York City person and that was where I belonged. Then I thought, ‘Well how do I know that?’ I hadn’t lived anywhere else other than either thirty minutes outside of New York or in the city, so I decided to move initially to Anchorage, Alaska and worked at the University of Alaska-Anchorage.
So it was really about seeing who am I if I leave what I know, and kind of explore my own identity in a different place.
Q: So what did you learn about yourself?
A: Well there was culture shock (laughs) and I wasn’t anticipating that. I learned that I had to change my communication style because I could be very direct and I think I had offended a few people so I shifted that around a bit (laughs).
I really learned that I could live in different environments and in different ways and that I did have a core set of values and ways of thinking that didn’t necessarily change when I moved. To that question, ‘Who am I when I’m not surrounded by all my support systems, and does that change my core sense of values?’, I learned they stayed the same.
Q: What brought you back to Spokane?
A: Two things. I had been thinking about wanting to come back to Spokane. My partner and I, we have a lot of friends here and we thought it’d be good to move back. Then the WSU Spokane position came open and I looked at it and thought it could be very exciting to be part of this campus, which is growing. It’s expanding, it’s got a lot of exciting things happening here. So I thought it could be a great place to come and put my skills to work and work with this team.
Q: This campus is unique in that almost all of the students are in a health sciences program and the average age of the student body is 28. Given those facts, how does your job differ from someone in your position at a traditional college campus?
A: I think we’re looking at students who often have families and they have additional commitments besides school. A lot of times older students are a little more focused. You’re also dealing with a population that is focused on the academic area. We’re not working with students who say, ‘Oh, what do I need to do with my life?’ Pretty much when you come here you’ve figured out a lot. Now, some might come here and realize they’ve made a mistake, but generally speaking, ours are a very directive student.
Q: What has been your guiding philosophy in your various student services roles?
A: For me, and you know I think it sounds kind of cliché, but students matter. Students are the focus, and they have to be. When we remember that they are the focus, it helps us to come up with answers to questions and problems that we have. We can figure it out and if we’re all reminding ourselves that that’s why we’re here, we can all figure out our issues.
In my head, it’s a little bit about transformation. I think education is transformative and so I think we are in many ways in the business of transforming people. For me and many people, going through college changed who we were and helped deepen our thinking process, our critical thinking, what we want to do in life, how we think about the world. So I think it’s a real transformative space.
I think it’s exciting to be part of that development. I think when we’re looking at students we want to think about both leadership and followership. So we want to teach students how to be leaders, yet we also need to teach them how to be followers because I don’t think you can teach them how to lead until you’ve taught them how to follow. You need to be able to do both because you’re not always the leader. Sometimes, even if you have a position or a title, you need to follow because someone else is more of the expert.*
Q: Do you have a vision or any plans for the upcoming school year? Granted, you’ve only been on the job for six days.
A: I think I’m trying to learn what the issues are. I definitely have a vision of an active and engaged student affairs division that is focused on working collaboratively with the rest of the campus, focused on student success, but as for a specific vision, I’m still collecting information and data on where we are. I’m gathering information and ideas from the people that have been here. Their thoughts need to be considered.
Q: What are your hobbies away from work?
A: I like to read. I do try to go hiking as much as I can and I’m trying to make a much better commitment to do that this year. Right now, I’m house hunting. Normally I don’t do that but right now I am.
I like to be with my friends, just for dinner. I enjoy board games and card games.
Q: Finally, random question: do you have a favorite TV show?
A: I’d have to say Bones. I watch a lot of science fiction.
*Editor’s note: After the interview, Mohr provided this addition to his student affairs philosophy:
“I have a student-centered philosophy of Student Affairs work that is rooted in theory and is practiced through relationship building (students, staff, faculty, and community), empowering others, and co-creating a vision of the team’s work to build an institution committed to student success. I believe that working collaboratively across campus divisions and departments is an essential component of how we provide a learning environment where students can explore and develop the knowledge, skills, and resources they need to succeed in their chosen career and to be actively engaged in their communities.
“Student Affairs is about serving the whole student and recognizing the individual needs of each person so they are more than a number. Through this type of recognition, we are able to hear each student’s voice and needs. We are able to see each student as unique individuals who
are influenced by their life experiences, cultures, and characteristics (race, ethnicity, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, disability, nationality, veteran-status and more) and when we honor this diversity we are able to create inclusive practices that make all students feel like they belong and can succeed.
“I believe that Student Affairs employees are educators. We help students in and out of the classroom and attempt to provide experiences that allow students to connect their classroom learning with out-of- the-class experiences. By providing comprehensive services, taking a holistic approach to our work, and working closely with students, we prepare students for their chosen future.”