This week, I got to meet with Dr. Tara Benson, Associate Director of the Plaster Student Union and the Director of the Office of Student Engagement, to discuss her responsibilities and how she has managed to adjust to Covid this year.
Our meeting took place over Zoom, and we quickly began to discuss how she manages to balance both of her positions and what those responsibilities look like. Within her roles, she gets to work with a number of students and different offices in order to keep both the heart of campus—the Plaster Student Union—and the lifeblood of the university—our students—excited and engaged.
As part of the executive leadership for the Plaster Student Union, Dr. Benson has a strong relationship with many of its auxiliary services. Event & Meeting Services is housed within the Union but is also a collaborator for many of the services operating out of the Office of Student Engagement. The MSU Bookstore is another frequent partner and works with Dr. Benson’s offices to sponsor giveaways and run promotional events.
Athletics works closely with the Traditions Council to make sure that each and every Bear has an opportunity to make memories and support our teams! Other campus partners include Safety and Transportation, Multicultural Student Services, Residence Life, Housing and Dining Services, and our very own Family Programs and Student Affairs Special Events office!
Going into more specifics about her role, Dr. Benson shared that some of her favorite parts of her job include student interaction—perfect for the Director of the Office of Student Engagement! She can always count on her staff to bring great energy to whatever they need to tackle, whether it’s handing out giveaways in the PSU or coordinating Fountain Day.
When discussing how her offices have handled Covid, Dr. Benson shared that she is committed to making sure that students are able to engage with one another as safely as they can. No one was certain about how the year would progress, but Dr. Benson wanted to allow for as many opportunities for students to be able to enjoy themselves. She also maintained strict safety precautions including mandatory masking at all events and making sure occupancy capacities were not exceeded in order to allow for social distancing.
Looking to the future, Dr. Benson shared that she has already begun to consider how to best support the incoming class of 2025. That class completely lost their senior year, so she wants to make sure that her offices will be there to help them transition into not only college life, but also into a sense of normalcy.
Dr. Benson has also taken steps to maintain a sense of normalcy in her own life. When she isn’t taking on her dual-role on campus, you can find Dr. Benson at home finding a new sense of peace on her porch. Because of social distancing, this has become a place for her to safely meet with friends and family and has become home to all-new porch furniture.
Thank you for meeting with me, Dr. Benson, and for all that you to make our students excited to be a part of campus!
(Harry Riel, Assistant Hall Director; Hall Council Advisor | Hammons House; Student Affairs Graduate Association Cohort 14 Co-Liaison, Residence Life, Housing and Dining Services; Practicum Student for Family Programs & Student Affairs Special Events. )