A friend in high places

You can tell a school administrator is really involved with students when she has an account on thefacebook.com. For Dr. Patricia Whitely, vice president for Student Affairs, it’s a part of the job.

“[My job is] to really support the students outside of the classroom, support student learning and make sure that they’re academically successful,” Dr. Whitely said. “I come to a lot of event-Sportsfest, Funday, Homecoming-I’m around a lot. I never want to lose that contact with the students.”

As the senior student affairs officer at UM, Dr. Whitely is responsible for almost everything and anything a student can be involved in, from residence halls, the Wellness Center and health services to Multicultural Student Affairs, Greek life and the University Center. Despite the immense responsibility that comes with administrating a staff of more than 140, she still manages to be there for the 15,000 students enrolled at UM.

“I try the absolute best [to be accessible],” she said. “Students have my cell phone, email, voicemail. I’m as accessible as I can be and anyone can get me at anytime, it doesn’t matter who they are.”

Dr. Whitely also works closely with UM President Donna E. Shalala to ensure that students’ needs are met in all areas, whether they be easing the transition to dorm life by renovating the laundry facilities, providing transportation with the Ibis Ride, or making it possible for more than 250 students to attend the historic Presidential Debate that was held at the Convocation Center in September 2004.

“President Shalala and I have a good relationship with the students and I think that there’s been great benefit from the focus on students,” Dr. Whitely said. “President Shalala’s interested in what students want and need.”

Dr. Whitely has been awarded numerous times for her involvement with students and student organizations; she was named the Most Influential Administrator by Planet Kreyol, the Haitian Student Organization and earned the Special Recognition Award from United Black Students in 2005.

“My favorite part of the job is interacting with students, getting to know them personally, solving problems and making things better for a student,” she said. “We do that every day.”

In addition to receiving her doctorate at UM in 1994, Dr. Whitely has spent her entire career as a ‘Cane, working closely with students all along. She started as a residence coordinator in ’82, and was associate director of Residence Halls and director of Student Life and Whitten University Center before being appointed to her current position in 1997.

These days, almost every student, including freshmen, will run into her at some point, even if they’re not very involved, though Dr. Whitely wouldn’t recommend it.

“Try to get involved in your first semester with one or two things,” she said. “Take advantage of lectures and speakers and come to us with any difficulty. There isn’t a problem that we can’t solve as long as we know about it.”

Natalia Maldonado can be contacted at