New vice chancellor for student affairs brings passion for helping students | People
It was an early Saturday morning, Feb. 16, 2008, and Brandi Hephner LaBanc had just experienced what she describes as the most difficult student emergency in her professional career.
Only 48 hours before, a gunman had entered a classroom of nearly 250 students at Northern Illinois University and opened fire, killing five and injuring 21 others before taking his own life.
"I was on my way home to try and get just a few hours sleep and a shower when I realized I needed to call every single student that was not in that classroom that day," said Hephner LaBanc, then-assistant vice president for student affairs at NIU. "We were there to support every student on that campus, so I turned around and headed back to campus."
Hephner LaBanc, who starts Monday (July 16) as the new vice chancellor for student affairs at the University of Mississippi, said the relationships and connections she built following the shootings made her move to Ole Miss one of the toughest decisions she has made.
"I knew that what I learned from that experience could serve another institution well," she said.
While the event was a pivotal point for Hephner LaBanc's professional career, her colleagues say it is her commitment and dedication to students that make her special. Amy Franklin, who reported directly to Hephner LaBanc as NIU's director of planning and assessment, said her passion for student success will prove valuable for Ole Miss.
"(Hephner LaBanc) has an amazing style and presence," Franklin said. "She notices and recognizes each individual and values each person. It's important for her to build those strong relationships, and it helps strengthen what the team is able to do."
David Rock, dean of the UM School of Education and a member of the hiring committee, said Hephner LaBanc's experiences and dedication to students made her stand out from the rest of the applicants. Because of her strong student affairs background, Hephner LaBanc also will be a welcome asset in the classroom as a faculty member of the School of Education, Rock said.
"She's not just a rising star in student affairs – she's already there," he said. "What better person to have in class than a person who has these experiences? You want to take a class from the vice chancellor of student affairs whose experiences allow her to talk about a shooting on campus and a budget for student services."
In addition to her time at NIU, Hephner LaBanc has served students in multiple administrative roles at Arizona State University, University of North Carolina at Wilmington, University of Akron, Baldwin-Wallace College and Kent State University.
Upon receiving her undergraduate degree in accounting from Akron, Hephner LaBanc worked with Merrill Lynch before eventually returning to school. While she loved the field, Hephner LaBanc realized that she greatly enjoyed her Greek experience as an undergraduate and decided to pursue a graduate degree in higher education while working with Greek life at Kent State.
Her work as a Greek adviser at Kent State, Arizona State and UNC-Wilmington created a good foundation and prepared her for the world of student affairs and enrollment management, she said. At Ole Miss, an institution home to 31 national fraternities and sororities, Hephner LaBanc appreciates the role these organizations play on campus and in the Oxford community.
"I understand the value of it," she said. "I always like to say I'm their biggest advocate, but I also know so much about it that I'll hold them to their own standards."
Alex Sitton, a senior at NIU and president of Sigma Nu Theta Eta chapter, has worked closely with Hephner LaBanc for more than a year. Sitton said Hephner LaBanc became the chapter's No. 1 resource after she became the faculty adviser in fall 2010.
"Usually, the adviser is there to sign papers for things required by university," Sitton said. "She went above and beyond that and made it a point to help our members and expand all opportunities. She was always communicating with us to help us improve our chapter's community service, scholarship, recruitment and LEAD program."
Besides the opportunity to work more closely with students, it was the campus, the town of Oxford and the people she met that made her want to be a part of Ole Miss. A self-proclaimed gym rat and sports fan, Hephner LaBanc said she is excited about experiencing the Grove and the upcoming Rebel football season. She and her husband, Dave, look forward to living in Oxford.
"From a gut perspective, I just felt connected. I loved talking to the people and it just felt like a genuine place," she said. "It's a dream job. Where better (to work) than at Ole Miss?"
Information provided by the University of Mississippi.