Minnette Ellis: UNA’s first Dean of Students in over 20 years

Brooke J. Freundschuh, Managing Editor

This year Minnette Ellis is taking on a role that has not been filled at the University of North Alabama in over 20 years, Dean of Students. In her new double-role as Dean of Students and Associate Vice President of Student Affairs, Ellis is getting to work hands-on with students and oversee the university offices that work closely with them, such as case management, student conduct and housing and residence life. 

Since arriving on campus in the first week of January, Ellis has taken every opportunity she has been given to introduce herself to students and familiarize herself with the culture of UNA and its campus. Her ultimate goal is to be able to best represent students within faculty committees and provide them with the most complete list of resources available to them from the university and the community or as she described it, “being able to help students find what the UNA experience is and finding how we can help them get the best out of UNA.”

“I looked at UNA, and I love the feel of campus,” Ellis said. “The first time I came here it was like ‘I can see myself here.’ It feels like a small school at a larger level. There’s a lot of resources for students that I haven’t seen at other places”

Ellis is a graduate of Southeast Missouri State University’s undergraduate program. She received her masters’ degree and is in the process of getting her doctorate from Western Kentucky University. She worked at KYU for the last 11 years.

“My doctorate has helped me see beyond everyday and see how the institution works at a larger scale,” Ellis said.

She states that it was in her own college years that she found her desire to make a career out of higher education. She is a first generation college student and states that she knew nothing about college when she first began 15 years ago. For her first year of, she commuted to a local school before transferring.

At SEMSU, she lived with students who were also transfer students. She became involved in many facets of campus life and became a residential advisor. From that point forward, her life was transformed by higher education. 

“It was being connected that made me realize I loved everything I was doing outside the classroom,” Ellis said. “You don’t realize when you’re in school that people’s jobs are to work at a university. Of course they do, but you don’t see it as a career path.”

It is all of the factors which make her and her own education experience unique, being a first generation college student, having been a transfer student, undergraduate student, graduate student and doctoral student and being a woman of color, that make her feel she is fit to be in a position to help all students she comes in contact with. 

Her efforts to get to know students have started with her attending sporting events and the most recent Student Government Association meeting. She’s been to events such as Step-Sing, Light the Fountain and the unveiling of the Year of the UNA woman mural in the library. 

On March 14, she sent out her first newsletter to UNA students as a way to introduce herself to the campus. The newsletter included some information about herself, as well as tips for spring break and information about the First Amendment and the rights it gives students. 

“I wanted a way to connect and provide information to students that I thought everyone could benefit from,” Ellis said. “As it gets warm, more visitors come to campus, and I think students forget that they have free speech as well. I’ve been on many campuses that have outside visitors that can sometimes be a point of contention for students. This might be the first time someone is vocally saying something that disagrees with their own point of view.”

She plans to send out another newsletter before the end of the school year, one over the summer, then send them monthly as the fall semester begins. She will also be presenting at SOAR to meet incoming students. 

One of Ellis’ proudest accomplishments in her professional career so far is the work she did at WKU to benefit the campus’s LGBTQ+ community. She was part of the campus pride index committee. She was able to speak in support of LGBTQ+ students, negotiate having various restroom options on campus that better supported students’ needs and helped organize the first drag show to take place at the university. 

“My graduate thesis was on a transgender student’s experience in housing,” Ellis said. “[I’m] definitely an advocate, but not only for LGBT, but for all students who aren’t represented at a larger scale.”

In her free time, Ellis spends time with her husband and two children, enjoys reality television and Lizzo’s music. 

Since the role of Dean of Students was last fulfilled in the late 1990’s, the world has changed drastically through technological development. Ellis believes that it is now easier than ever to access students, and looks forward to continuing to make connections to make UNA a better place for all students.