At the top, a student perspective

When University President Steven Knapp’s tenure at GW began in August 2007, one of his goals was to remain closely connected to the student perspective. That’s where Kelly Leon comes in.

A graduate student in the organizational management program with a degree in English from GW, Leon was awarded a Presidential Administrative Fellowship last spring. She was selected to be the student liaison to the president, a position created by Knapp as a way to stay connected to the student body.

Leon and her direct supervisor Robert Luke, the special assistant to the chief of staff in Knapp’s office, work to meet the needs of those who bring concerns to the Office of the President. Luke works mainly with parents, alumni and other members of the GW community. The office even keeps a database of questions, concerns, requests and how they were resolved.

As student liaison, Leon’s job is to track common themes and sentiments among the student population and communicate them, not only to Knapp but to various departments around campus as well. She also identifies which student events Knapp should attend and follows up with each student who voices comments or concerns to the office.

“I personally follow up with each student who visits President Knapp’s monthly office hours and assure that their concerns are addressed. Similarly, I work with all students who call or visit our Rice Hall office,” Leon explained. “There is no passing the buck here.”

In an interview this month, Knapp said Leon helps keep him connected to the student body and that it is helpful she was recently an undergraduate at GW herself.

“The liaison position helps me stay in touch,” Knapp said.

While Leon does not have the direct authority to solve most of the students’ concerns, she can connect them with the individuals and departments on campus who do.

The concerns she hears follow the “ebb and flow” of the academic year, she said. Financial aid concerns come at the beginning of the semesters, housing concerns arise in early fall and advising frustrations creep up as class registration approaches.

Barbara Porter, Knapp’s chief of staff, said the president has increased his office hours this year, one of the most direct ways for Knapp to hear student concerns.

“Sometimes all it takes is one call to financial aid to make the student happy,” Porter said. “We can cut through some of the bureaucracy.”

Leon also works closely with the Student Association to remain updated on student concerns and issues presented to them. One recent suggestion may result in a new way for students to communicate with Knapp through the popular social network Twitter.

Leon will continue to serve as student liaison over the next academic year.

“As a recent alumnus, I can relate to many of the sentiments student share with me. I have lived in GW residence halls, dealt with financial aid and planned student organization events,” Leon said. “I believe students are comfortable speaking with me because I understand them.”

After finishing up as student liaison, she would like to work in management consulting, specifically labor arbitration. But for now, Leon said she loves her role serving the students of GW.

Leon can be reached at kleon@gwmail.gwu.edu.

— Sarah Scire contributed to this report.

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