Students First: Retiring Housing Director Leaves Lasting Legacy
Susan Grant describes her three decades at NC State as an exhilarating ride. Except for that time she got stuck in an elevator.
“When we bought Avent Ferry Complex, we had to get it ready for opening,” she says. “I went upstairs to get lemonade to bring back to the staff and I got stuck in the elevator. I’m a little bit claustrophobic, and it was hotter than blazes. I couldn’t see much so I just sat on the floor and waited.”
After about 45 minutes University Police officers freed her, and she returned downstairs to a staff who was wondering what had taken her so long to bring refreshments.
“And then we just kept going,” she says with a laugh. “We only had two days left to open the building,”
Grant, director of University Housing, has worked for NC State since 1986. She retires on Dec. 31 with mixed emotions.
“I’m going to miss the people . . . the interactions and the problem-solving and the discussions that emanate from our work,” she says. “That’s the fun part, when you work collaboratively to brainstorm and come up with solutions together.
“Seeing my staff be successful has been my favorite part of the job, especially seeing them put into reality their ideas on behalf of our students,” she says.
Grant came to NC State from Syracuse University, where she had served in a number of housing and student services roles for 10 years. Most of her family lived in Florida at the time, so a job in Raleigh gave her a chance to live closer to her loved ones. She also leapt at the opportunity to have supervisory responsibilities and do “big picture work” in her new position as associate director of residence life.
The issues she’s tackled over the years range from the introduction of coed residence halls (which she describes as a “tough row to hoe”) to the advent of technologies that have changed the student experience in both positive and negative ways.
A Focus on Student Success
Working with students has been in her blood since her own college days at the University of South Florida. While earning a bachelor’s degree in clinical chemistry and a master’s degree in guidance and counseling, she served as a resident advisor (RA) and later a resident director.
One of the first things Grant did after she arrived at NC State was entrench herself in the RA community.
“I wanted to help these students see that this job is a foundation for a lot of different things,” she says. “One of my professional staff did his dissertation on the impact of the RA position and found that employers look for people who have been RAs because they lead teams, they know what diversity is about and they can work collaboratively across spheres of influence.”
I would know all the names of the RAs in all of the buildings.
That early-career work has proven to be rewarding for Grant, who recently ran into one of her former RAs accompanying his son to NC State’s new student orientation.
“I would know all the names of the RAs in all of the buildings,” she says. “They seemed surprised and happy that someone beyond their immediate supervisor knew them and cared about them.”
Points of Pride
As Grant’s career evolved over the years, so did the structure of University Housing at NC State.
Housing and residence life existed as separate units when she arrived in the 1980s. In the early 2000s, the units merged to become University Housing, and Grant became the sole associate director.
A big part of her additional responsibilities was managing conference services.
“Having a conference services unit within University Housing was new for me,” she says. “It was a very good experience to see how we used our facilities during the summer and how we balanced facility renovations with generating revenue by hosting camps and conferences. My staff has done some tremendous things. Last summer I think we had over 120 conferences here.”
Grant also managed the development of the Living and Learning Villages on campus, and along with JoAnn Cohen and Sarah Rajala, co-founded WISE (Women in Science and Engineering).
“Those are things that I’m really proud of,” she says. “Starting WISE and watching it grow to over 300 women has been so neat. And helping shepherd the villages into being and helping students find their footing has been very rewarding.”
She and her staff also take students on community service and diversity trips, something she describes as another point of pride. Many of these students have never set foot on an airplane or traveled out of state, so these trips are an opportunity for them to serve communities in need while expanding their own horizons.
In 2007, Grant was promoted to director of University Housing.
Since then, one of the things she enjoys most has been talking with parents during orientation each year.
I think it’s critical that the university supports student development and gives students a different college experience than their parents had.
“It’s a lot of fun to talk with them about how university housing has changed over the years, especially with things like the introduction of air conditioning in the residence halls and the switch to coed buildings,” she says. “I think it’s critical that the university supports student development and gives students a different college experience than their parents had when they were on campus.”
At the same time, Grant employs her counseling background to ease first-time college parent jitters.
“I have to remember that I just completed, between Syracuse and NC State, my 42nd opening of a school year, but for many parents this is all unknown,” she says. “So really it’s a first time every year.”
She has plenty of advice for new NC State parents, especially about teaching their children how to do laundry.
“I see a lot of pink shirts in those first few weeks,” she says.
One of her favorite war stories is about the time a student decided to defrost his mini-fridge by lighting a candle.
“Of course it set off the fire alarm,” she says. “He was on the third floor of Owen. At 1:30 in the morning on one of the coldest nights of the year, the director of housing facilities and I left our warm beds to relocate two floors of students.”
Grant leaves the job with an arsenal of great stories, but also the legacy of a career dedicated to student success.
She won the NC State Student Affairs Outstanding Professional Employee award in 1993 and the Student Affairs Outstanding Contribution to the Profession Award in 2005. She also has served as the president of North Carolina Housing Officers as well as the Southeastern Association of Housing Officers.
So what’s next for Grant?
A fitness instructor for the last 30 years, she plans to continue teaching water aerobics and weight-training classes. She also is looking forward to a springtime “Tulips and Windmills” river cruise in Europe.
But first comes the business of packing up her office and saying goodbye to NC State.
“It’s been a blast,” she says. “I can count on one hand in all these years – one hand – how many days I didn’t want to come to work. There have been challenges, don’t get me wrong, but the people have been wonderful and the opportunities to learn and grow have been outstanding.”