Q: What does your job as director of the UC and student life entail?
A: It’s kind of a two-prong position. The student life side is more of what I consider to be student life and programming, which includes the student activities and leadership programs, volunteer services, commuter student affairs, orientation and all the student organizations. I advise Student Government and work with the Rathskeller.
The UC side of it deals more with the operations. That is basically what I do, along with other duties assigned by Dr. Whitely, which can be a variety of things ranging from working with athletics to planning trips to the fiesta bowl to working with the Convocation Center on ticket policies for basketball games. Really my job covers anything that is a student-related issue.
Q: How did you get your position?
A: This is going to be my 16th year at UM. I used to be the assistant dean of student personnel, but that position doesn’t exist anymore. Then I crossed over and got a job with the Dean of Students, working with judicial affairs and sororities. I was the only male applicant for the position, and they had never had a male in the position at this university. People were like “How? You’re a guy, how can you work with sororities?” Then in 1989 I became the assistant dean of students. I still dealt with judicial issues, and then added fraternities in addition to sororities. I did that for eight years. Then in 1997, when Dr. Whitely became vice president for Student Affairs, she asked me if I would be interested in coming over here and taking this job.
This is my 21st year in higher education. I worked at two other schools before I came here. I spent two years at Middle Tennessee State University, where I worked with students as well as was the cheerleading coach.
Q: So, how was it being a cheerleading coach?
A: I cheered two years in college and then I coached two years. I had never done it before. During my sophomore year, one of the female cheerleaders said that they really needed guys to try out because they were losing all of their guys to graduation. I was like “Me, cheer? No”- but I did it, and I made it my first time trying out as a junior. I was actually a captain my first year on the squad. It was one of those things that you would never think you would do, but I was like, “Why not?”
Q: I know that you also work with pageants as well. Tell me about that.
A: I’ve been a volunteer with the Miss America Program for 26 years. That’s really my side venture, in my spare time. I started in 1977 as a freshman in college.
My fraternity, Sigma Alpha Epsilon [SAE], sponsored the pageant. My sophomore year I was named the director and I worked it my sophomore, junior and senior year. Then, when I came to UM, after my first year here, they came to me. I began doing Miss UM and did that for about 15 years.
Then, somewhere along the line, the people doing Miss Miami decided they didn’t want to do it anymore, so I began doing that as well. So, for five years I did Miss UM and Miss Miami.
Last summer there was some issues politically and some others with the Miss Florida pageant. The Miss America organization stepped in and asked me and another woman to take over the Miss Florida pageant. So now, my title is the Chairman of the Board and CEO of the Miss Florida pageant.
Miss America is not your typical beauty pageant. Miss America has talent, that’s 30 percent of the score, and the interview is 40 percent, so that means that 70 percent of the score is based on artistic and intellectual ability. Last year, Miss America gave out $48 million in scholarships across the country. That’s amazing.
We’ve had two Miss Floridas here at UM, and they will tell you that they have been able to go to school because of the money they’ve won. One of our former Miss Floridas, a UM graduate, won over $50,000 in cash scholarships.
Q: What else do you do in your spare time?
I enjoy music. I sing. I like to entertain. I like going to the beach. It’s one of the reasons that I moved down here. My family had always come to Florida on vacations, so when I had the chance to move down here, I was like, sure, let’s try doing that for a while. I like hanging out with my friends. I like eating at restaurants. Miami is one of those places where you can do that. I live on South Beach, so I can walk to Lincoln Road or Ocean Drive for the restaurants. I’m finishing up my doctorate in higher education here at Miami. I’ve done my classes and my qualifying exams so I’m working on my dissertation.
Leigha Taber can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org