Friday, September 30, 2022

A day in the life with MSU President Samuel L. Stanley Jr.

January 12, 2022
<p>Michigan State University President Samuel L. Stanley Jr. poses for a photo for The State News &quot;Day in the Life&quot; feature. Shot on Jan. 1, 2022.</p>

Michigan State University President Samuel L. Stanley Jr. poses for a photo for The State News "Day in the Life" feature. Shot on Jan. 1, 2022.

Photo by Thomas Ruth | The State News

President Samuel L. Stanley Jr. starts and ends his day on campus in the Cowles House. Located near the MSU Union and Landon Hall, Stanley encounters many students crossing the lawn daily.

“You're certainly right in the middle of campus, so I would not be taking my garbage out in my underwear or something,” Stanley said. “But I think the advantage — what I really like about it — is that it's on a widely crossed area. So, it's kind of an intersection of campus, and it's nice to run into students as I'm going back and forth.”

Living on campus helps Stanley feel connected to the MSU community. 

“(It’s a) chance to be on campus, to be visible,” Stanley said. “I’m experiencing the same weather you’re experiencing — if it’s raining and gloomy outside, I’m walking through it just like everybody else. I think the notion of being accessible from that perspective is important.”

The State News shadowed Stanley on Dec. 1, 2020 to see what a day in the life as MSU's president looks like. His agenda begins bright and early around 7 a.m. when he can be found responding to emails and attending meetings or interviews. Then he makes his way to the Hannah Administration Building to begin his regularly scheduled meetings.

9:00 a.m. - COVID-19 Leadership Meeting

Stanley walks down the hallway to his conference room, setting up his virtual meeting space. Microphones are wired throughout the room so during Zoom calls or recordings, anyone can be heard from their seat at the table.

The president’s executive assistant, Jesselyn Nelson, hands him a colorful folder with an agenda tucked inside. Stanley attends a monthly leadership meeting with members of administration to discuss COVID-19 protocols.

He appreciates the virtual option to make the meeting more accessible and easy to work into each schedule.

“I think it’s really improved attendance and the quality of discussion. I think is actually better perhaps than if we were in person,” Stanley said. “More people speak up.”

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10:00 a.m. - Meetings with students

Stanley steps into his office to take a short break. At 10 a.m., he comes back into the conference room and sits at the other side of the table, leaving an open seat for the student scheduled to meet him. 

“I really enjoy those opportunities to talk with students and kind of understand how they’re experiencing an issue and occasionally think we need to do better, learn from them things we need to do better,” Stanley said. “I’ve told (Nelson) if we’re having a rough series of days, some type of meeting with students would be good.”

Stanley stands at the door and shakes the hand of his first student, an international student from Chile.

Sitting down in the open chairs, he takes off his glasses and turns toward the student who discusses concerns with support for other international students during the pandemic as well as mental health issues.

After 15 minutes, Stanley meets with another student who asks for advice on success.

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10:30 a.m. - Meeting with MSU ACE Fellow

Back-to-back meetings are a commonality in Stanley’s schedule.

After shaking hands with American Council on Education, or ACE, Fellow Wondwossen Gebreyes, he returns to the same chair. As Stanley and Gebreyes discuss a collaborative project between multiple universities, Nelson hands him another colorful folder with a stapled copy of the research information.

Stanley appreciates the opportunity to research health issues and collaborate.

“One of the challenges you have as president is that there’s always something happening every day,” Stanley said. “It’s good, it’s bad, it’s exciting, it’s striking. There’s always something coming up. And so to take the time to actually be reading and to take the time to think about some of these issues is really important because I think that's one of the things I find is lacking.”

11:30 a.m. - Meeting with COGS President

Before his last meeting of the morning, Stanley goes to his office to catch up on emails. He returns to the conference room to meet with the new Council of Graduate Students President Sara Hugentobler.

He has a meeting with them monthly to discuss any issues relating to graduate students. He asks her about her previous career experience and chats with her for a bit before diving into issues like online classes and vaccination requirements.

12:15 p.m. - Lunch with executive strategy group

Neatly laid out in a larger conference room down the hall are cans of soda and orders from Potbelly for the monthly executive strategy meeting.

Stanley arrives a few minutes later, grabbing his salad before sitting down to start the meeting. Chief of Staff Michael Zeig updates the group on inquiries and correspondence. Zeig said that weekly, the main line of the president’s office gets 75 to 100 calls. 

“Part of the responsibility that I have is to be willing to listen and understand what people’s challenges are,” Stanley said. “It’s a critical part of the job.” 

Provost Teresa Woodruff updates the group on the ethics initiative the university has been working on in tandem with the strategic plan. Executive Vice President of Administration Melissa Woo speaks about a new remote work policy and campus planning updates.

After all items on the agenda are checked off, the team chats about their Thanksgiving break. Woodruff laughs while telling the group how she uses her extra time over break to make pies.

Rest of the day: One-on-one meetings

During the rest of the day, Stanley continues his back-to-back meeting schedule with his direct reports, which are normally half-an-hour to an hour long.

He typically has individual hour-long meetings weekly with Woodruff, Senior Vice President for Student Life and Engagement Vennie Gore and Executive Vice President for Health Sciences Norman Beauchamp. The rest of the meetings are less frequent and scheduled throughout the month.

“The frequency kind of depends on their jobs and how autonomous they can be and how much we feel we need to be in touch,” Stanley said.

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5:30 p.m. - Hanukkah ceremony

Stanley bundles up to speak at the Hanukkah ceremony hosted by MSU Hillel and Chabad. In front of the menorah, he stands on a stage and speaks to students before lighting the first candle. After the ceremony, Stanley socializes and poses for selfies with students.

“It has been a very difficult year and we have worked through many challenges together,” Stanley said in his speech. “As we gather tonight to light the grand menorah, we’re reminded of the courage and power of faith to make the darkness light.”

7:15 p.m. - Basketball game

The last item on Stanley’s agenda is to attend the men’s basketball game at the Breslin against Louisville. Stanley’s day usually ends around 7p.m.

“I’m not working 24 hours a day, that’s for sure,” Stanley said.

In his free time, Stanley likes to run, play tennis, ride his Peloton and bike around campus. He said after long days, exercise helps him relax. To unwind, he likes to watch Netflix and catch up on movies he might have missed.

“Exercise I find is a big stress-buster for me,” Stanley said. “It’s really a chance to focus on things other than work for a period of time.”

It’s also essential for him to stay in touch with his family regularly through FaceTime calls. He has four children and two grandchildren scattered out-of-state.

Virtual opportunities have helped compress Stanley’s agenda and make meetings more effective. He said although in-person events are almost always better than virtual meetings, online interaction has changed his perspective.

“The way in which (Microsoft) Teams and Zoom allow you to really change your approach to meetings and travel (has) really changed my thinking for these large meetings,” Stanley said.

He said the hardest part of his job is having difficult conversations that might let MSU community members down. 

“I think all of us want to make things right for people,” Stanley said. “When people come with problems and when you have to say we don’t have the money to invest in this … we don’t have the ability to change this particular policy or rule for these reasons. It’s difficult. … I think those are difficult conversations to have, but it’s part of the job.”

Stanley said with so much responsibility in his career, he likes to keep track of positive changes made at the university.

“Seeing that kind of progress and chalking that off and saying this is a victory I think is important,” Stanley said. “There’s so many things happening at any given time it’s easy to lose track. When we’re making progress, acknowledge it. I think that’s important too, just to remind myself we’re moving some of these things forward.”

The most rewarding part of Stanley’s day is interacting with students. 

“That’s what makes this job unique,” Stanley said. “There’s people who get to run organizations, but there’s not very many people who get to do something where you get to see people’s lives get transformed in front of you. You can see the opportunity for people to reach their full potential essentially through education.” 

This story was in our Jan. 11 print special edition. Read the full issue here.

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