Pioneer Spotlight: Linda Mulroy-Bowden
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Linda Mulroy-Bowden, director of Residence Life at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville, began serving at the university in 1990. Originally from Hortonville, Wis., Mulroy-Bowden earned her undergraduate degree in elementary education from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. She subsequently changed her career path and studied college student personnel at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse where she earned her master’s degree. Mulroy-Bowden was employed as a member of residence hall staff at both universities and cites her involvement and love of doing that as reasons for her career choice.
Mulroy-Bowden came to UW-Platteville at the age of 26, where she began working with all student conduct and programming in all of the, then nine, residence halls. Afterward she was re-titled into the director’s track where she served as the assistant director of Residence Life, supervising all resident directors. She was then promoted to associate director of Residence Life where she worked to coordinate staff training initiatives. After serving in that position for two years, she was asked to be the interim director of Residence Life after long-time director Rhonda Viney retired in 2011. Mulroy-Bowden was then named director of Residence Life in April 2013.
What originally enticed you to come work at UW-Platteville?
I love the UW System and all of my experience has been with the UW System, which some could say is limiting but I don’t view it that way. I think that I have had many opportunities as a member of the UW System and I think it is a very strong system. I was doing job searches all over the place but I was very happy that I was able to stay within the UW System. What originally caused me to move here was the job, a central level position, not a live-in position. I loved being a live-in hall director but this was the next step for me. Those jobs are hard to get because we have 12 resident directors here and there may be opportunities in the state of three or four jobs at the central level so it is kind of hard to get those. However, I wouldn’t have come here if I didn’t like the community, etc. I love the campus. It’s beautiful. I remember walking around here thinking, “Oh my gosh, it’s so green.” It really is just a beautiful campus and the people are very friendly. I grew up in a small town, so for me transitioning from La Crosse to Platteville wasn’t a big deal. It was a really easy transition. I got to meet people here. I thought it would be three to five years and here I am finishing up my 24th year.
What are some of your responsibilities as the director of Residence Life?
I am responsible for overseeing the overall operation of Residence Life in our 12 residence halls and our staff. However, I have an awesome staff that works here. We have a four-person central staff team and three assistant directors of residence life and they are responsible for supervising our 12 resident directors. They, in turn, are responsible for supervising our student staff. So although I have an overall responsibility, there are a great deal of people where that all breaks down. My responsibilities largely entail supervising the central staff, supervising our front office staff, and our administrative staff that works with the room assignments, etc. I also deal with budget and being a good stewardess with money and making sure that we are able to function within our budget model. In addition, I work with occupancy in making sure that we remain full. Last year we opened with 150 spaces and this year we are actually over-booked. So that’s a great thing. I am also responsible for, and work closely with, our new-builds and really the vision of the department and answering things like “What are we going to do with these older buildings?” and “How are we going to meet the needs of students?” I view myself as responsible for providing that vision and making sure that we are making much collaboration across campus and with facility staff and other important stake holders and making sure that we are meeting our mission of providing safe, clean, comfortable living environments and of course meeting the university’s academic vision. I work mostly with retention occupancy, budget and supervision of the staff. The assistant directors really deal with the day-to-day kinds of things related with student staff training. I do try to stay actively involved. The other thing that I work with is the enforcement of the mandatory live-on requirement, the UW System requirement. That gets a lot of my focus.
What is the most challenging thing about your job?
What has challenged me the most, or what I have learned the most and gained the most experience from, is facilities. Working with renovations, new-builds, and our awesome facility staff. I just have learned a lot about that part of campus from Pete Davis and his team and working collaboratively with that. It is an area that I was not sure about, but I really enjoy it and it has been really challenging, particularly as a woman. There are times where I am sitting at a table at a building meeting, like when we were building Rountree for instance, and I was the only woman out of 20 people. So I have really appreciated that and the knowledge base. Not many people get that opportunity as a part of the director of Residence Life to build a building and be a part of that process.
How do you see what you do in the Department of Residence Life impacting the lives of students who live on campus for the first two years?
I could talk about that for an hour. Studies show that, statistically, students do better in school when they live in the residence halls. They are retained at a higher rate and have a higher G.P.A. We view ourselves as integral to the retention efforts of the university. So, we view ourselves as a very important part of that, particularly for the first two years of a student’s life. Students who are engaged, who are involved on campus, who are invested, are going to stay here, and that’s really important. Plus, we support the academic mission by providing opportunities in the halls with our living learning communities and opportunities with programs and staff. I think that sometimes our stereotype is that all we do is babysit and that is not it at all. We are all about retention efforts and we are very deliberate about being that safe space for students and creating those welcoming and inclusive communities.
What do you like most about your job?
Well, that’s easy. For me, it’s the people. We hire outstanding student staff and I love that part. I really enjoy being around students and being around the energy and enthusiasm that students bring to this campus. I recognize that I wouldn’t have a job if it weren’t for the students and I am very appreciative of the opportunity to work with them. In addition to that, I enjoy the people I work with, not only in this department, but also across campus. I think there are some outstanding people who work on this campus and I love the collaboration efforts that we have with all the different entities on campus. Really, there is a great team here with residence life and that is what brings me to work every day and doing great things for the students. I recently wrote down a theme that we have, which is “Doing great things for students.” We are here for the students and we want people to have a good experience. So for me, it’s all about the people.
What other interests do you have?
I am passionate about social justice issues and I love politics. I love knowing about and being engaged in the political process. I am a mom and I have teenage daughters, who I am very focused on. My oldest will be a freshman here this year, living in Dobson Hall. My other daughter is 16 and will be a junior. I am focused on them developing into strong women and focused on my family. I like to hang out with my friends and I like to, again, be engaged in current events.
Do you have any other ideas to make campus living even better?
We are always coming up with ideas. We have implemented some cool things this year with our summer storage program; having students being able to contract and not have to haul all of that stuff home. We are also really focused on our online room sign-up process and making sure that is running smoothly. We are all about trying new things and having students be engaged in their community. I really am excited about, hopefully, our upcoming renovations. We are currently working on getting through the approval process. I think that is going to be really important. Other ideas, I have always thought that Residence Life, is a great place for students to work and grow. We have RAs that stay in touch with us for years and talk about that impact of the job. So, I would really encourage students to do that. Other than that, I think that our chancellor is very forward thinking and that meshes with the energy that is already in Residence Life; addressing what it is that we need to do to make things better. Very few things get a “no we can’t do that.” We have really had to think outside of the box. When you add all of the beds that we have added in the last several years with Rountree and Bridgeway, that’s a thousand beds that we have added in two years.
What are you most excited about for this upcoming year?
I am excited about a few things. First of all, I am excited to get through this summer and open after the tornado and make sure that we have everything in line for our students. I am also excited about the gender inclusive housing option and seeing where that goes in our first year. We are also over-booked for on-campus living so that is always exciting and a very positive thing. I am excited that we have full-occupancy. I am also excited for our students to come back in the fall. I always say that the best day of the year is when we open and I think that for everybody, especially the students, the second best day is when we close so everybody gets a break. However, we are gearing up for our students to come back and that’s always very exciting.
Have there been any new challenges for you in Residence Life because of the tornado? If so, what are you trying to do to combat this?
You know it is anxiety producing for everybody when thinking, “Are we going to be ready?” We will be ready. It just depends on what that looks like. We are working with our contingency plans and are figuring out more about the construction timeline and what that means for students. However, we will be ready for students. Of course, it does create a dynamic of uncertainty but this isn’t the only kind of emergency that people deal with. There have been other things that we have had to figure out over the years as well. When we were building Bridgeway we had to prepare for if that wasn’t going to be exactly ready and the same with Rountree. It’s just a part of things, having those contingency plans in place. With the tornado, we’re, number one, thankful that no one was injured. It is amazing. Number two, we are thankful that the staff that was in place that night did everything that they were trained to do, and then some. They did a great job. The buildings, we will figure it out. There are people working with that. Our job as the Department of Residence Life is to plan for the worst case, hope for the best case, and recognize that it will probably be somewhere in-between. It’s a challenge, absolutely, but we plan for this. We do disaster training and planning and this is why we plan for it. Nobody wants to deal with it, nobody wanted this to happen but it is what it is and we figure it out.
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