Meet Augustana’s New Executive Director of Student Life Randal Nickel
On July. 1, Randal Nickel began his position as Augustana’s new Executive Director of Student Life. His position was created and revised following the sudden passing of Mark Chytracek in October 2015. Chytracek served as Augustana’s Director of Student and Residence Services for over 33 years. Chytracek was cherished within the community as a valued mentor who exemplified the essence of community and caring.
The Medium reached out to Randal Nickel to discuss his background, his leadership philosophy, and his vision for student life and engagement in the coming year.
Having dedicated many years to the Open Door Association in Camrose, how do you think that position has prepared you for your new role as Augustana’s Executive Director of Student Life?
I worked at the Open Door Association for 11 years and learned a lot. In addition, I’ve lived and worked overseas and in another organization that is people focused. I think all of these jobs helped me learn the importance of listening.
Listening is the key skill that has been a part of all of these different roles, and I believe it is also a key in the role of Executive Director Student Life (EDSL). An Executive Director is also tasked with protecting the mission, and the reason for being of the organization or department. In my role as EDSL, the mission is creating a great student experience.
Do you think that your approach to leadership will change as you work with post-secondary students rather than youth from the Camrose community with the Open Door?
My leadership philosophy remains the same. My leadership philosophy is focused on creating a “leaderful” organization. I want to provide opportunities for people to grow in their leadership skills and have the opportunity to fully participate. I think this “learning and doing” focus should transfer well. Some of the tasks that I’m involved in will be different.
Your position as Executive Director of Student Life encompasses many aspects of student services on campus—what are you most excited for?
I’m excited about a lot of things. Creating a great student experience is the most important. Seeing people succeed, grow and learn. Cheering for Augustana students at various games and activities. Sharing the dill pickle chips that the RAs gave me, and much more.
Do you feel a certain amount of responsibility and pressure as you fulfill a position where Mark Chytracek left such a legacy in our community?
There’s always a lot of pressure when you are working with people. Mark’s legacy is an integral part of the culture of this campus. I look forward to building on it and seeing Augustana continue to thrive.
Is there a program or service that you believe Augustana needs and that you can see as someone who initially comes with an outsider’s perspective?
My fresh pair of eyes can give me a different perspective. I’m trying to learn as much as I can about the great things going on here on campus and I’m looking for ways I can support that work, then make some adjustments.
There are critical issues that I’ve been introduced to that I will work to address with the help of students and staff.
What do you believe is the best forum for students to come forward with their issues?
I am looking forward to developing formal and informal communication channels that give students a comfort level to bring forward issues, to feel that these issues are being taken seriously, and to report back on progress. I would love to hear ideas that students have for what these meaningful channels could be and what the issues are.
How might you create transparency between the student body and current student concerns?
I plan to model a level of transparency where we find ways to have meaningful campus conversations on important topics. I plan to work closely with students to define what transparency means when working together on an issue, with the understanding that not all information about what is being done can be shared. Creating a safe space and trust are essential first steps.
What is the best way to report incidents and concerns to promote student engagement and involvement?
Similar to my answer to the last question, a sense of trust is critical. I am committed to processes where people feel listened to. As Maya Angelou said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
I feel good about the focus on connecting the academic and non-academic experience at Augustana—Dean Berger has encouraged Karsten Mundel and I to be BFFs—as well as the training opportunities brought in for RAs this year, and having Dr. Keith Edwards come to our campus to begin the discussion about consent, to name a few items.
We all play a role in making this campus a great place to live, study, and work.