A year in the life of BU’s popular Dean of Students.
By Corinne Steinbrenner (COM’06)
Photo by Kalman Zabarsky
Who’s the guy with the infectious enthusiasm and the purple bow tie? Any student on campus can tell you, that’s Dean Elmore.
As Dean of Students, Kenneth Elmore aims to ensure that Boston University is more than an institution of higher education—that it’s also a supportive and vibrant community. It’s a responsibility Elmore takes seriously and fulfills with his own beboppin’ brand of gusto. While overseeing offices such as Orientation, Residence Life, Disability Services, Student Activities, and Judicial Affairs (yes, discipline is sometimes necessary), Elmore makes time to get out among BU students, hear their concerns, and share their energy. Here, he walks us through a typical academic year in his very busy campus life.
Kicking off the year at the head of the Matriculation parade
“Matriculation is this wonderful time of the year when we officially welcome new students into the Boston University community. I get the honor of starting at one end of campus—Danielsen Hall—and walking up to Agganis Arena where the Matriculation ceremony takes place, with students meeting me along the way.”
“The first week of class, I’m giving a lot of ‘welcome back’ speeches. I try to pop in at hordes of events. There are lots of meetings, and the campus really comes alive during that first week.”
Hosting academic discussions—and Parents Weekend brunch
Elmore moderated an October 2010 forum—“Are Americans God’s Chosen People?”—featuring two prominent BU professors, military expert Andrew Bacevich and religion scholar Stephen Prothero. The event drew a large audience and was streamed live on the Web.
“I asked to host that. I love conversation. To attract the best and the brightest here, BU has to be a vibrant place that challenges and excites them. And it starts with conversation. Any chance I get to facilitate a conversation with people, I’m in.”
October is also the month of Parents Weekend and Elmore’s traditional Jazz Brunch, one of the many music-themed events he hosts throughout the year. “We’ve all got a heartbeat; we’ve all got a rhythm. Music is the kind of thing that brings groups of people together.”
Tweeting from the stands
While rooting on the Terriers, Elmore often sends updates from his smart phone via the social media site Twitter.
“Athletics are important, and I’ll tell you why they’re important. They provide venues for the community to come together and sustain itself and reenergize itself. If we get a win, all the better.”
“Social media is important, too. I’ve found that it has increased my ability to connect with students face-to-face. Students feel as though they’ve had contact with me, and I think that makes it less intimidating to walk up and ask me a question.”
Hosting “Coffee and Conversation” every Friday, 3 to 5 p.m.
“My favorite time of the week is always Friday afternoon. It’s wonderful to have a bunch of students talking at these high levels about concepts and ideas. We’ll get anywhere from 100 to 170 people depending on the issue we throw out on our blog each week. In December we have extra desserts and it’s almost an end-of-the-year party.”
Emceeing the University’s Martin Luther King, Jr., Day celebration
“Big day for us,” Elmore says of the remembrance ceremonies that include a sermon at Marsh Chapel, gospel performances, and guest speakers at the George Sherman Union. “Last year we did something really cool. We decided that instead of getting a big-name speaker, we would let the people talk. We had students and faculty. People were just on the edge of their seats at this thing. We caught lightning last year, and I look forward to what we might do thematically this year.”
Sitting on the selection committee for the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Scholarship
“I’ve had the pleasure to read those applications and to think about how we shape the future here at the University. The MLK scholars are people who not only engage in meaningful service in their communities but have thought seriously about their role in changing the world. It’s a real honor to help choose those students who will come here in the name of Dr. King. I think it might be one of the more important things I do.”
Pitching in during Alternative Spring Break
“Spring break is usually the time when my professional organization gets together in conference, but I always leave those conferences early because we’ve got Alternative Spring Break (ASB) going on all around the country. I try to get to an ASB site near my conference site and do a little service with the students, and then we all go out to dinner. Then I head off to my parents’ house in South Carolina. For the last several years my parents have been hosting the ASB trip in Greenville. They have the students over, and I help my mom and dad and my aunts and uncles—the whole family comes out—to do a fish fry and a barbeque and make incredible Southern fare for the students.”
Judging campus competitions
“I am often called upon to be a judge [for campus competitions]. There are dance competitions. There’s Mister and Miss BU. And last year I got a chance to judge the grand Iron Chef championship, where students come up with recipes. The food was incredible.”
Sending the seniors off with a splash
“Senior breakfast is always the day after the last day of class. We bring all the seniors into this building, the George Sherman Union. They hear about the fun-filled week that’s coming up for them after exams. The President tells them who is going to get an honorary degree [and] who is going to be the speaker for Commencement. I get to be the emcee for all of that.”
“Last year I made a bet that if we got 2,011 members of the Class of 2011 to donate to the Class Gift campaign, then I would put on a tuxedo and jump into the Charles River. I knew that a challenge would get people out.” The students met their fundraising goal during Senior Breakfast, “so I had to make good.” ■