Cultivating Student Life
Director of Student Engagement and Development Administration and Operations Joanne West (M.S. ’10) is an avid gardener. The spring and summer seasons are when West—and her garden—come alive as she and her husband tend to their flowers, fruit, vegetables, herbs, and—her favorite—fig trees. And just as her garden grows, so do the New York Tech students she works tirelessly to support.
In her role, West works with the Office of Student Engagement and Development, including Student Life, Career Services and Experiential Education, the Higher Education Opportunity Program (HEOP), and Military and Veteran Affairs. She also serves as a liaison for Student Engagement and Development and the offices of Financial Aid, Human Resources, and General Counsel, and administers the Student Emergency Fund and CARE Grants.
“My first role at New York Tech was on the New York City campus in HEOP in 2007. HEOP provides financial and academic support to students who may have financial and academic difficulties,” says West, who cites her work with HEOP as how she fell in love with supporting students and working in higher education. “Things have come full circle for me as HEOP reports to Student Engagement and Development, and I still get to interact with this incredibly impactful and transformative program.”
A former competitive swim coach, West is a natural at helping those in her care achieve their goals. “I feel most satisfaction related to things that directly affect the well-being of students,” she says, noting her assistance with administering micro-grants and student emergency funds in the wake of Hurricane Sandy in 2012 and the COVID-19 pandemic. West also helped bring the first prayer and meditation space to the Long Island campus in the early 2010s.
Located in room 207 in Harry Schure Hall, the Interfaith Meditation and Prayer Room was moved up from the building’s basement and renovated last year to provide a quieter, calmer, more inviting space for reflection, meditation, and prayer.
Describing herself as a curious, lifelong learner, West suspects these traits are why she’s worked in higher education for the last 16 years. “Every day is different and unpredictable; I don’t think I would do well in a monotonous environment,” she says. “My job responsibilities are the reason why I enjoy working at New York Tech so much. I have my hands dipped in so many different things.”
For current and prospective students alike, West promotes the many academic and extracurricular opportunities available on New York Tech’s campuses and recommends getting outside of one’s comfort zone. Rather than come for class and go home, she suggests attending a club meeting or an event. Instead of studying at home, she encourages students to find a spot in a study lounge or at an outdoor table. Being in a position where new friendships can be formed, and new experiences can be realized are invaluable parts of student life.
“The college experience is like many things in life—you get what you put into it,” she says. “These campuses are yours to use and enjoy.”
Should campus-exploring students or visitors stumble upon West in her office in the Student Activities Center, they might find themselves leaving with some branded “swag” as she helps them locate their intended destination. West is a big believer in poet Maya Angelou’s famous quote: “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
“My goal when interacting with students, guests, or colleagues is to make people feel welcome, heard, and cared for,” she explains. “I find satisfaction in figuring out tricky situations and paving a clearer road for others.”
Outside of New York Tech, West can be found advocating and educating for the special-needs community. As a parent of a child with special needs, much of her personal time is spent participating in activities geared toward other special needs families. For example, she recently was a catechist for St. Pius X Roman Catholic Church in Plainview, N.Y., where she taught faith formation to children with special needs and helped six of those children make their first Holy Communion. Recently elected president of Bethpage School District’s Special Education Parent Teacher Association (SEPTA), West is working to build a community of local special needs families.
“I was profoundly affected by my undergraduate education at Siena College, a Catholic college in the Franciscan tradition. I try to live every day with the Franciscan values that transcend religion, which include reverence for all creation, affirmation of the unique worth of each person, appreciation for beauty, and service to the poor and marginalized.”