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19 August 2012

Vice president ‘unsung hero’ at UM for 30 years

Pictured in 2001, Dr. Pat Whitely (second from right) talks with Student Government leaders. Dr. Whitely has been UM’s vice president for students affairs for the past 15 years. Photo Courtesy UM Media

Dr. Pat Whitely accepted a job at UM 30 years ago, and she has quickly climbed the corporate ladder since she first set foot on campus.

On June 1, she celebrated her 15th year as vice president for student affairs.

Dr. Whitely, originally from Port Washington, N.Y., was hired in 1982 as the residence coordinator of Stanford Residential College. Later, she served as the assistant director of the University Center. Before being promoted to vice president for student affairs, she was named director of student life and the UC, and held that position for three years.

Her current post has an immense influence on campus. Her responsibilities are seemingly infinite. They include overseeing a staff of 120, managing a budget of more than $40 million, and overall supervising policy development that impacts more than 15,000 students.

When asked to elaborate on her exact job description, Dr. Whitely explained her position by stating “it’s the senior student affairs officer on campus responsible for student services, as well as student involvement, crisis management and basically everything that goes into supporting students outside the classroom.”

The position was created at UM in 1965, and was held by Dr. William R. Butler until he retired 32 years later.  In June 1997, former UM President Edward T. Foote II announced that Dr. Whitely would succeed Butler as the vice president for student affairs.

“For me, it’s a privilege and I’m honored to serve the university, and I’m honored to be here as long as I have,” Dr. Whitely said. “I think it’s a very cool thing to see the university grow, and how we’ve changed.”

Her body of work at UM has not gone unnoticed, despite her humility. Most recently, the Student Government (SG) executive branch at UM created an award in her honor. This year, SG presented the award to Dr. Whitely, on the merit of her leadership and dedication for her work.

The award – titled the Patricia A. Whitely Unsung Hero Award – will be presented during the annual UM SG banquet to a member who “goes above and beyond his or her responsibilities,” without expecting credit.

“One of the most diverse campuses in the country, the University of Miami is constantly changing and for 15 years, Dr. Whitely has kept up and been consistently ahead of those changes,” former SG President Brandon Mitchell said. “She leads her team and leads the University with integrity and humility in everything she does, allowing the students with whom she works to grow as leaders and grow as citizens of the world. No challenge is too great to take on for Dr. Whitely.”

Dr. Whitely served as an SG vice president during her years in college.

Consequently, she works hard to foster ties with campus leaders.

“I always work closely with the Student Government president,” she said. “It’s important for me to make sure our students are involved.”

Recently, Dr. Whitely received another honor from the student affairs administrators in higher education (NASPA) to recognize her outstanding performance as a senior officer in her region.

UM President Donna E. Shalala, in her letter recommending Dr. Whitely, described her as a “pro.”

“Dr. Whitely cares deeply about students and about creating an environment in which they can grow, develop, learn and lead productive and engaging lives,” Shalala wrote. “She is a pro, and makes it possible for me to sleep at night … I know I can count on her. Every president should be so lucky.”

Dr. Whitely received her Bachelor of Science degree in management, with minors in economics and theology, from St. John’s University. She commuted to school all four years she attended college, and has worked closely to develop more programming to cater to commuters’ needs.

“We’ve been able to change the commuter experience so that it’s very positive,” she said.

Still, among her list of main goals is to “have a presence on campus,” she said.

She parks in Pavia Garage, and walks to her office so students can see her and get to know her.

“I always try, each and every day, to be a role model on this campus for everyone,” Dr. Whitely said. “I think that most people would say that they know who I am. I feel like that’s a great thing; I want to be that person they go to and ask questions.”

She hopes she can help students achieve academic success.

“We want to make sure we provide support for students so that they may be academically successful,” Dr. Whitely said.

Dr. Whitely also holds a Master of Education in student personnel services from the University of South Carolina, and a Doctor of Education Degree in higher education administration from the University of Miami.

Dr. Whitely was asked to give advice to incoming freshmen and the undergraduate student population as a whole.

“I think that the one thing students need to know is that the most important thing about your career is that you need to love what you do,” she said. “I was able to find something that I really love. I don’t ever really think of this as my job in a way, but for me it’s my call to serve. And for me, there’s a part of me that’s like a ministry. I see it as a calling to serve our students and our UM community in any way that is possible each and every day.”