DSS director oversaw surge in department enrollment in 16-year tenure

Media Credit: File Photo by Arielle Bader | Assistant Photo Editor

Officials said they will launch a nationwide search Feb. 1 to replace outgoing DSS director Susan McMenamin.

Disability Support Services enrollment jumped by thousands of students under the office’s outgoing director.

Susan McMenamin – who worked in the Disability Support Services office for 16 years, most recently as the director – said she is leaving GW at the end of the month to “explore new opportunities and undertake new challenges.” Higher education experts said the next director should reach out to registered students and research McMenamin’s work over the past decade and change to adapt to the growing department.

“When I think back about my experience here on campus, I reflect on the thousands of students who I know were helped to find their potential during my tenure,” McMenamin said in an email. “The variety of services we were able to provide enabled each individual student to find their own success with their academic pursuits.”

McMenamin said her time at GW has been “both professionally and personally rewarding.” She added that she will most miss the “sense of professional fulfillment” in knowing she helped so many students take the steps necessary to step into their professional study and careers.

Enrollment in the DSS office jumped nearly 40 percent under McMenamin, increasing by 1,500 students between 2017 and 2018.

The University will begin a nationwide search for a replacement director Feb. 1, and Alisa Major, the DSS associate director, will serve as interim director until the University fills the position permanently.

Caroline Laguerre-Brown, the vice provost for diversity, equity and community engagement, said the University is finalizing selections for the search committee, which includes members from the student body, faculty and staff.

“We are grateful for the many contributions that Susan has made to GW and wish her well in her retirement,” she said. “Through this transition, we will continue to provide DSS services to the GW community.”

Higher education experts said candidates for the open position should exhibit strong knowledge of accommodations needed for students with disabilities and a proven track record in working with learning challenges.

Shelly Chandler, the provost of Beacon College in Leesburg, Fla., said anyone filling a disability service position needs to uphold a strong understanding of “brain-based learning” – learning styles that change as students mature cognitively.

“The impact on students really depends on the investment of the interim leader,” Chandler said. “If the interim employee is dedicated, knowledgeable, personable, kind and patient but does not have the knowledge to do the job, students will be greatly impacted.”

She said filling a departmental position could take anywhere from six to eight weeks. Any candidates considered for a disability service position must provide credentials of subject area expertise with terminal degrees, or the highest degree awarded to a student, Chandler said.

“This person should have a proven track record of being successful with students with disabilities and have a very strong knowledge of the various accommodations needed in higher education,” Chandler said.

Luci Masredjian, the director of disability services and student support at Occidental College, said supporting students who are experiencing any medical or personal challenges is a top priority for a new director. In the event of a vacancy, an official who oversees areas of student life would need to step into the interim position.

“If I were looking to fill the position of a disability services director or coordinator, I would look for someone who truly loves this work,” Masredjian in an email. “Working with students with various learning differences, chronic illness and psychological disorders is a labor of love, so the right person for the job must have a passion for the work, and for the student population.”

Masredjian added that the director should hold comprehensive knowledge about the Americans with Disability Act along with intentions to better the community of students with disabilities.

“You can’t teach someone to have the heart for the job and the hard work,” Masredjian said. “I know that any time we look to fill a necessary position, we look first and foremost for the capacity for compassion, integrity and flexibility.”

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