Jeffrey Waple, Ph.D. ’00 received the distinction of being the 2018 Higher Education Professional of the Year at the 2018 Department of Educational Administration and Foundations (EAF) Gala. Waple is no stranger to the EAF Department, though he completed his Ph.D. in 2000.
He has stayed in touch with our department by referring students from Northern Kentucky University to our college student personnel administration (CSPA) master’s program. Waple is known for creating the “GRAD” (Graduate Recruitment and Assistantship Day Program) days in 1998, which are still in effect today. He also served on the search committee that hired EAF Professor Phyllis McCluskey-Titus. Even while working in other institutions, he retains a strong bond with Illinois State University and is still contributing to the University in many ways.
Since earning his Ph.D., Waple has held four positions, including his current role as the vice chancellor of student affairs at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. In this position, he has expanded the recreation center, built new turf fields for intramurals, and created the first-ever center for diversity and inclusion.
Waple has been active on a national level as well, where he is a part of the NASPA (National Association of Student Personnel Administrators) reimagining the Greek Life Task Force and was nominated to be the co-chair of the NASPA Fraternity and Sorority Life Knowledge Community starting in 2020. He was previously the director of campus life and the Gemmel Student Center at Clarion University in Pennsylvania and assistant vice president for student engagement and dean of students at Northern Kentucky University (NKU) where his services to student affairs earned several accolades. Along with the assistant provost at Clarion University, he created a four-year retention program, which was recognized by the Gardner Institute for best practices in higher education.
At NKU, Waple supervised 13 departments, led the university through changes in Title IX, and provided leadership and the vision for building a new $45 million campus recreation center and a $22 million residence hall. Due to the strength and national reputation of Illinois State’s master’s degree program in student affairs, while working at NKU, Waple sent over 15 students to attend this program, further solidifying his support for our institution.
With great passion, Waple marches forward in bringing about cultural changes that serve students from all backgrounds. “We have to think a lot differently. Change is tough, especially cultural change,” he said. Quoting Yoda from Star Wars, he said, “You must unlearn what you have learnt.” Waple tries to instill a new culture among his staff to serve students in a more efficient way. One such change is to shift office work hours from the traditional 8:30 a.m.–4:30 p.m. model to 8 a.m.–8 p.m. model so post-traditional and graduate students can access student services. He is also challenging his staff to think about how to provide better support to online students, commuters, and transfer students. He notes that higher education must recognize the shift of the changing demographics of students and find new and innovative ways to meet the needs of these student populations.
One of his secrets to success is to take every experience as a learning experience, be it a good one or a bad one. This is evident when he was asked to chair the tobacco-free committee in Kentucky. It was a challenging task, as he had to work with several people, those for and against, understand what is legal and what is right, collaborate with lawyers and doctors, and eventually a solid policy was borne. He notes that this was not part of his job description but taking on new assignments will make a person a stronger and a better administrator.
So, what made him the successful administrator he is today? Waple attributes his growth to Illinois State University: “My foundation that was set at Illinois State University was because of caring people who saw in me a potential to lead. I was very fortunate to learn from professors like Dr. Ed Hines and Dr. Jim Palmer. I had the opportunity to learn from one of higher ed’s greatest leaders, Dr. Vic Boschini. I was fortunate to serve in his office as a doctoral fellow and have my hand in many student affairs initiatives. Every experience and person I had a chance to learn from played a hand in my professional development, molded me into the administrator I am today, and has had a big impact on my professional career.”
Waple believes that higher education leaders should get involved in their communities. He is quick to remind everyone that somewhere down the path of life, someone has invested in your future and you honor their commitment by giving back. Waple serves on the board of a local soccer club, coaches youth soccer and basketball, and is involved with a local church. When he is not watching his kids play sports or spending time with his family, you can find him enjoying his favorite hobby, golf. This game provides a mental challenge that he loves. He also runs 5Ks and is training for a half marathon. A college football fan, Waple never misses watching a game.
His affiliation with Illinois State University continues to this day as his oldest daughter, Emily, is a junior in the nursing program and his oldest son, Nate, will be attending the nursing program as well, next fall. He often makes the trip up Interstate 55 to visit his daughter and engage with staff at the University, and he loves Uptown Normal, which didn’t exist when he attended Illinois State.
Waple provides key advice to the young leaders: “Be a sponge and absorb everything. Be a student of the game and become an expert in something and be the best in whatever you do. Find a mentor, be responsible for your own professional development, give back to the community, and last but not least, never underestimate the power of thank you.”