There’s no such thing as a typical day for Nathan Thomas, and that’s just the way he likes it. Although Thomas starts by looking at varying reports, along with any necessary follow-up, his next steps might take him to Renaissance Coliseum for a meeting about any of Bradley’s four athletic facilities, one of many meetings on a range of topics he’ll have in a given day. On at least two afternoons, Thomas teaches: one class explores social issues and navigating university life, the other is a leadership practicum.
That’s just a fraction of what Thomas does in a given week. As a member of the senior leadership team, Thomas sets the strategic priorities for his division of 40-plus personnel, overseeing all aspects of the student experience outside the classroom. Put that way, it might not sound like much, but the list of student areas he covers includes housing, recreation, Greek Life, clubs/organizations, government, orientation, misconduct investigations, academic support, health services and counseling, along with several others.
His biggest concern is making sure students have the support they need when they need it. Although that might mean dealing with their complaints and sometimes their transgressions, Thomas said he finds a lot of joy watching students develop their leadership potential.
“I can think of students who on day one when they moved in had an issue with their door lock or something minor, who then go on to become student body president,” he said. “You’ve interacted with them for the entirety, and then they continue on as friends in the future. It’s tough to pinpoint only one student because sometimes we lose sight of the one in the chaos, but in the moment it is just one student that makes us keep coming back every day, too.”
Managing priorities is one of Thomas’ biggest challenges, and there are days when he feels as if he’s on 24/7. “Obviously, there are finite resources in where you’re going to invest your time, and where you need to make decisions. But I know leaving campus that whichever staff member is involved, we’ve trained them well, they’re prepared and they’re tremendous student leaders. You can go home with a certain comfort level that things are going to happen in the way they should.”
The student life landscape has changed dramatically since Thomas’ arrival as director of Greek Life in 2000, and he believes today’s students face greater pressures. He encourages them to take advantage of the resources Bradley offers to help them succeed. Thomas also recommends students get involved in meaningful activities and find something to be passionate about in their major as well as outside the classroom.
“Most of us go into student affairs because we want to engage with students and that’s our population,” he said. “But what makes the job exciting is the beginning and the end of it … We get to work with 18- to 22-year-olds, which is a pretty exciting and dynamic group.”
ABOVE: Photo by Duane Zehr