Wall aims to build leaders out of students

Tim Paluch

Editor’s note: In recognition of Black History Month, this week the Daily is profiling five African Americans who are making a difference on campus, but work “behind the scenes” and out of the limelight. Today, we profile Vernon Wall, assistant dean of students.Vernon Wall thinks his life has already been mapped out for him.”I am one of those who believe that there’s a path that has been developed for me,” he said. “I have no idea what it is, but things have happened to me for a reason, and I have learned I just go where the journey takes me.”That journey has taken Wall from North Carolina to Indiana, to a ship traveling around the world, and finally to Iowa State.Wall, assistant dean of students and director of student activities, has been at Iowa State for three years.His work revolves around students, he said. Wall said he wants students to become more involved in important issues so they can develop leadership skills needed for the real world.”The nature of our country, and the nature of the position people will be moving into when they graduate, is different,” he said. “A good GPA is not the only thing that’s going to get you the job. What’s going to get you the position is your ability to work effectively with other people.”With that philosophy, Wall has dedicated his work to developing leaders out of students.In the fall, he will begin the Leadership Development Model Series, a yearlong event with different programs and speakers dealing with developing leadership skills.”I want to make sure that we implement the academic experiences our students have with experiences that will give students the opportunity to know more about themselves and then also working with others,” Wall said.He also co-facilitated the first Multicultural Leadership Summit in January.”From the time I came on board here, I knew that was something we needed to do here,” Wall said.A year after his arrival at Iowa State, Thomas Hill, vice president for Student Affairs, asked Wall to become involved with the Multicultural Task Force to “evaluate it, reshape it, and get a sense of what its goals should be,” Wall said.He said the task force functions to fund initiatives that encourage multiculturalism and has already allocated more than $7,000 this year.”The goal is that organizations must work together with other organizations,” Wall said. “And that initiative must benefit the entire community.”Student involvement is nothing new to him.A self-described “student leader” as an undergraduate in political science at North Carolina State, Wall said he passed up law school after his hall director pushed him in the path of student affairs.”I knew that I liked legal issues, but being a lawyer just wasn’t exciting to me,” he said.Wall said he ended up at Indiana University, where he earned his master’s degree in higher education administration.In the spring of 1998, Wall was one of 10 student life staff members on Semester at Sea, a program through the University of Pittsburgh that Wall described as “a floating university.””Every four days you were waking up and stepping foot in a different country, a different culture,” Wall said.He also helped develop the Social Justice Training Institute, a weekend retreat that trains people interested in facilitating such programs.”There wasn’t really any formal education for the many people who have decided they have skills,” Wall said. “We don’t teach people how to train, we help people to understand who they are and how that affects how they facilitate a group.”Jamie Washington, co-founder of the Social Justice Training Institute and guest speaker at the Multicultural Leadership Summit, said Wall brings an unbridled passion to his work.”He is so organized and creative, and it’s rare that you find that organization and creativity in one package,” he said.Washington also said Wall is a caring and supportive person.”Folks just love him,” he said. “His personality is funny and warm, and he’s a very thoughtful and committed … to social justice issues.”Susana Rundquist, minority program coordinator with the College of Education and co-facilitator for the Multicultural Leadership Summit, said she knew of Wall before she came to Iowa State.”When I arrived at Iowa State I made it a priority to meet Vernon,” she said. “Not only did we share similar passions for diversity, I also knew that I would learn from him.”Wall’s personality set a standard for those in his field, Rundquist said.”He is a warm and personable individual,” she said. “He’s exactly the type of student-affairs professional I’d like to become.”And so Wall’s journey continues. Unsure of his future, Wall said he plans to stay at Iowa State for at least another year, when he will receive his doctorate.After that, he said, who knows?”We’ll take it one year at a time.”