Eastern Michigan University

N.J. Akbar

Describe your current professional role and responsibilities.Akbar

Currently, I serve as Assistant Dean for Academic Diversity Success in University College at Kent State University. In this role, I oversee four offices and units: TRiO Student Support Services, McNair Scholars Program, Success Coaching and Academic Diversity Outreach for the Division of Academic Affairs. Essentially, I serve as the senior academic student diversity officer for the division, providing leadership for the establishment and success of academic diversity outreach offices in all 10 colleges at the university.

How did your HESA educational and co-curricular experiences prepare you for this profession? How have your experiences (both within higher education and external to higher education, if applicable) prepare you for your current position?

My undergraduate and graduate years at EMU definitely prepared me for this role. To be successful in this role, I have to be politically astute and understand the workings of the institution. My years in student government and my fraternity along with my GA position, internships and previous roles have prepared me for this role. I have long been passionate for creating systems that support success for underrepresented students, in my most previous role as Director for Diversity Outreach in one of the colleges, I was able to have a direct impact on student’s admissions into graduate programs and success during their undergraduate academic path. In my current role, I am able to help build a university system of support due to the success we had at the college level. In three years, our retention rate for racially diverse students increased 11.7%, which is virtually unheard of. We did it through hard work, building a great team who were willing to put in the long nights. All of it happened mostly because of our genuine passion for student success.

What advice would you provide to a graduate student who is struggling to select a functional area of higher education in which to work upon graduation?

Take a deep breath; breathe. It will be OK. I used to say I wanted to work in a learning center and with students who struggled academically. I was also interested in student conduct and career services. I got my start in all three of those areas, but what I was missing in my roles was that connection to underrepresented students. Therefore, I worked outside of my roles with students and organizations who served that population. My passion for that area was noticed by others and I was asked to take on larger roles in diversity student services – blending my passion for working with students around academics and the population that gave me the drive for the work. What I have learned is to step out on faith by taking opportunities when presented. By doing so, you might feel unsure of yourself: do yourself a favor and grant some grace for your own sake. Lastly, do the work. You will find the place where you thrive and it may not be your first role. However, if you go to work daily focused solely on your students, everything else will follow.

What are the top lessons you learned during your first year as a student affairs professional? And how did those lessons impact you both personally and professionally?

In my first year, I learned that you should not put your focus on your title, how much everyone else is making, etc. Focus on serving the students and doing the best job possible. Implementing a CAN DO attitude over a, “This won’t work” attitude will take you far both personally and professionally.

If you were to impart one piece of advice to HESA alumni what would you share? What advice would you share with current students?

In the words of Dr. B., dedicate time to spend good company with students. The more you spend time talking to and connecting with students, the better you will be at your job. The more you know of what students at your institution really need and struggle with, the more you can work to address their needs. Your work will speak directly to students, which means more students will gravitate towards you and your work will be fulfilling.