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Summers reflects on time as VP

By : Katie Ellis

Rodger Summers will step down as vice president of student affairs on Aug. 15. He’ll teach courses in student affairs administration in the spring.

Rodger Summers wasn’t sure Binghamton was the place for him when he came to campus as a candidate for the vice president for student affairs post more than 16 years ago. “I was used to ivy-covered buildings and didn’t even like the way the campus looked,” he said. Won over by the excitement of being part of a team that he believed could make good things happen, Summers accepted the position and, since 1991, has bridged the worlds of students, parents and administrators.

Much has changed during those years, including the students, he said. “When I came here, the students always seemed unhappy, but we got to know each other better and learned that we really want the same things, including more programming,” he said. “The kinds of things happening here have an impact and make this institution a better place.”

Summers has also learned that developing relationships with the students creates a more receptive atmosphere. “You’re helping students understand that you’re not weird,” he said. “You can get to the point where they say they want to thank you for your advice and encouragement, and ‘Even if I don’t agree with you, I understand you and respect you.’”

Summers has gotten as much as he has given during his career, he said. “As I talk with people, sometimes they don’t understand that I’m getting as much from them as they are from me. I’m constantly growing and learning,” he said.

That growing and learning has worked both ways, as evidenced by the number of alumni and former colleagues who remain in contact with Summers. “The fact that I’m still in touch with people I worked with in my first years in student affairs is gratifying,” he said. “And I get letters all the time from students who keep in touch. It sounds selfish, but I think I’ve helped make a difference in some people’s lives. I believe I’m here to help.”

Interactions with parents have also been part of the relationship-building for Summers. “Parents feel like they’re leaving their kids in the hands of someone who cares,” he said. “We don’t coddle them like babies, but we make sure they have everything they need to be safe.”

Just what is the secret to Summers’ ability to work successfully with so many different audiences? “What I try to do is listen to people and invest myself in them, and invest that knowledge in the next person who comes along,” he said. “And I never let myself get caught in the trap of believing we couldn’t do something.”

As a key member of her senior staff, Summers has helped shape the Division of Student Affairs, President Lois B. DeFleur said. “Under his leadership we have seen significant expansion of our residential communities, and he has played a key role in development of co-curricular programs such as the Discovery Program, Late Nite Binghamton and internationalization efforts. He has done a remarkable job.”

Summers credits his staff and colleagues with any successes he has had. “I’ve always been impressed with the time our people put in because they’re so passionate about what they’re doing,” he said. “You’re only as good as the people who surround you, and as vice president, I didn’t have all the answers, but just good sense of where I could get them.”

Summers will step down from his vice president post Aug. 15, and spend the fall researching and putting together syllabi for two courses in student affairs administration that he’ll teach in the spring. “I’m hoping we can groom future student affairs leaders through some of my courses,” he said.

“Students are the winners here,” DeFleur said. “We all feel this is a very important program and we know we have the ‘Dean of Student Affairs’ to impart his knowledge.”
As Summers reflects on his time as a vice president at Binghamton, he’s most proud of empowering his staff. “I taught them how to laugh, how to be compassionate, how to respect themselves,” he said. “I hope that message has gone out.”

Known for “awarding” sweet potato pies on occasion, Summers is also looking forward to having some time with family and in the kitchen. “I really find pleasure in cooking and baking because it’s something you get to finish — there’s a beginning and an ending,” he said.

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Last Updated: 10/14/08