Meet CMU’s new vice president of student affairs
Reneé Watson begins her role leading student success and the student experience at CMU
Although she is new to Central Michigan University, having a Fired-Up attitude is nothing new for Reneé Watson, CMU’s new vice president of student affairs.
Watson was announced as vice president of student affairs on April 27 and officially began her role on Aug. 1. In this position, Watson is responsible for the management, development and coordination of services, programs and activities vital to student success and the student experience at CMU. She will provide leadership, vision and direction for the Division of Student Affairs, which includes the Center for Student Inclusion and Diversity, Counseling Center, Sarah R. Opperman Leadership Institute, Residence Life, Student Activities & Involvement, Student Conduct, Student Disability Services, Student Media, University Recreation, the Mary Ellen Brandell Volunteer Center, and more.
Watson said she felt CMU’s Fired-Up energy during her first campus visit; now, she is eager to help fuel it as the first VP of student affairs.
“I enjoy empowering teams to fulfill a shared vision and to elevate the student experience. To be able to be a strategic leader and advocate for the division of student affairs in that role is extremely exciting,” she said.
Here are a few things to know about Watson as she begins her first year at CMU:
“Everything we do must be impactful for students”
This is a core value to Watson, who has more than 15 years of student affairs experience in higher education. She was drawn to CMU’s student-first approach and will work to nurture the best experience for all students.
“How are we serving students who are under-resourced? Students who are academically gifted? Our student-athletes? How can we be entrepreneurial? How can we share our story with the community that we are a strong CMU family?” She said. “I think all of those areas are open to exploration so new thoughts can emerge.”
At the core of it all is inclusion, which Watson says must be part of every effort in student affairs.
“Our job is to create a sense of belonging – and that is not just a one-time effort. It’s being intentional to support the opportunities for all students to find belonging at CMU.”
“Showing up and listening is key”
To serve students effectively, Watson knows two things are key to success: showing up and listening. This includes being present on campus and at events and being willing to hear constructive feedback as much as positive.
“When students have good things to say, when they have questions, or when they’ve had a dissatisfying experience, I am here to listen, provide resources and better the university.”
That process has already started for Watson.
“Now that I’m on campus, I want to go on a listening and learning tour to start absorbing as much as I can,” she said. “I want to hear what students need to be successful, to learn what brings alumni back to campus every homecoming and throughout the year, and to hear the goals of the board of trustees and how they are moving the university forward.”
She looks forward to working with Alumni Relations to engage with CMU’s vast alumni network for mentoring, networking and partnership opportunities.
“I am ready to partner”
Watson believes her division cannot be successful by working in silos and will be leaning on partners to collaborate. In her position, she oversees 18 departments dedicated to helping students succeed, so she says it is great timing that the new head of academics started on the same day.
“It is a rare and great opportunity to begin on the same day as the new provost, Nancy Mathews,” Watson said. “We must work together, along with every university leader, to ensure students feel supported inside and outside the classroom, making sure there is no separation between student affairs and academic affairs.”
“Living the dream”
“I value student engagement. It keeps me grounded and it’s what I love,” Watson said.
She is a first-generation college student, born and raised in Los Angeles, California, who is motivated to serve students the way she was served as a college student.
“I had people during my journey that helped me, guided me, so now I am in a position to do the same. I don’t take that position lightly.”
Outside of work, Watson is living her dream, too. She loves ATV riding and all watersports, especially jet skiing, and she is excited about winter sports now that she is in the mitten state.