In her role as residence life director at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh, Lori Develice Collins ’94, draws on both her experience as a proud Titans X 2 alumna and 20-year employee.
Develice Collins arrived as a first-generation college student on campus in fall 1990 not long after her father had unexpectedly passed away. It was the guidance of her community adviser that made all the difference during that time. Just a few years later, she became a community adviser, solidifying her passion for higher education.
After a graduate assistantship at Ball State University, Develice Collins returned to UWO in 2002, serving as the assistant residence life director—focused on student leadership, community development and event planning. In 2017, she took on an associate director role in the department with a focus on professional staff supervision and development a well as student care, health, well-being and inclusion. She held that role until she was tapped as the interim residence life director in March 2022; she accepted the director position permanently this past July.
As the fall semester winds down, we connected with Develice Collins to learn about her experience as a student and a long-time employee and what she thinks makes UW Oshkosh such a special place.
As a first-generation college student attending UWO, what made your experience special?
While I lived within commuting range from UW Oshkosh, I chose to live in the residence halls, primarily because I/my family didn’t have nor could afford another vehicle. I am incredibly thankful I did, as living on campus changed my life trajectory!
In April 1990, five months before I started classes at UW Oshkosh, my father died unexpectedly at the age of 39 years old (an undetected heart condition). Even now, 30 years later, I would identify this as one of the most difficult periods of my life.
I arrived as a new student to a very large, 10-story, North Scott Hall, scared, somewhat lost, and in desperate need for connection and community—and it was the care, push and guidance of my community adviser Yovira Moroney that made the difference. Had it not been for Yovira’s constant outreach and nudging, I would have likely hidden in my dorm room, rather than meet new people, better understand campus resources and attend floor programs, meals at Blackhawk and hall council activities.
I found community and belonging in the Department of Residence Life at UW Oshkosh. I started as an engaged resident, then served as North Scott Hall Council treasurer, and finished my last two years as a North Scott Hall community adviser.
My success as a student was impacted by countless peers and professionals, including fellow community advisers and program assistants, residence hall directors and assistant residence hall director supervisors and advisers and mentors in the central office, especially Tom Fojtik.
How did your experience as a community adviser impact your time at UWO and your future career aspirations?
I have been gifted with high-empathy and an ability to foster and build connections. It largely influences how I lead and the roles I play as a teammate. My community adviser role was the first time I was responsible for developing and leading a community, and the first time I felt such a deep commitment to a staff team. I treasured the experience and relationships, and I thrived!
While I was invested in work as an educator, I learned during my junior year, notably after completing a practicum in a middle school classroom, that my passion wasn’t in secondary education, but rather in higher education. My work in residence life, specifically my community adviser position, introduced me to careers in student affairs.
I accepted a graduate assistantship as an assistant residence hall director and earned a master’s in higher education administration at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana.
What experiences from your time as a student do you now work hard to make sure current students have?
I arrived as a new student scared, somewhat lost, and in desperate need for connection and community. I didn’t know how I was going to pay all my bills. I was navigating a significant loss. The same holds true for many UW Oshkosh and residence hall students today.
Residence life professional and student staff, programs and policies are student centered. We lead with empathy and compassion. We center, support, consider and include vulnerable students. We invest in the academic success and retention of students.
How are students different from when you began your career at UWO?
Constant connectivity, on-demand entertainment and social networking have changed how students engage and how we engage students in their residence hall community. Most evident in 2022, of course, are the impacts of COVID-19 disruptions and adverse experiences for our students during their formative years … increased academic difficulties, mental health concerns and disparities by sex, race and ethnicity, and sexual identity.
What is your favorite part of being the residence life director?
It is so meaningful, and some days surreal, to be leading and directing a department that has given so much to me and significantly shaped my values as a student affairs professional. While challenging, it has been rewarding to provide vision and leadership for a department navigating significant and ongoing change. What I most treasure are the opportunities to, in close partnership with other residence life leaders and campus partners, direct and influence wide-ranging and systemic change that advocates for students, advances the student experience and supports staff who care for and develop our students.
What makes UWO?
UW Oshkosh attracts and retains faculty and staff who: help students realize their potential; advocate and care for students; and advance and improve the student experience. I am a part of a community that truly, humbly centers students—that is what I find to be special about UW Oshkosh.