In 1999, Dr. Phyllis McCluskey-Titus didn’t expect Illinois State University to be her home for the next 22 years. She was also a finalist for Michigan State’s director of housing that year.

“I really wanted that job,” said McCluskey-Titus, who had just completed her doctorate in higher education administration at Florida State. “But I always say, ‘Someone much smarter than me has a plan for my life.’”

East Lansing’s loss was Illinois State’s gain. And the opportunity to develop the University’s College Student Personnel Administration (CSPA) program was a huge draw for her.

Over her time at Illinois State, McCluskey-Titus teamed with her colleagues in the Department of Educational Administration and Foundations (EAF), especially Dr. Marcia Hickrod, and more recently, Assistant Professor Dr. Gavin Weiser, to create an outstanding CSPA program. The alumni network now tops 500, and over a quarter of them went on to complete (or are completing) a doctoral degree. Many are now college vice presidents, student affairs leaders, and even faculty members. And each of them who graduated in the new millennium have known “Dr. Phyllis.”

“It’s just such a positive experience to work with the students on this campus and other campuses, and then to see them succeed,” she said. “They’re making a difference in the field, and that, to me, is so rewarding.”

Outside the classroom, McCluskey-Titus was a regular at Illinois State athletic events. She notes fondly that most Saturdays in the fall she either has two-to-three TVs running college football games, or she’s at Hancock Stadium. But she loved other Redbird sporting events, too.

At the end of 2022 summer session, McCluskey-Titus will hand the reins over completely to Illinois State’s next generation of CSPA leadership, including Weiser and new recruit Assistant Coordinator Dr. Marci Rockey, who is a CSPA alum.

But with so much history to share, the College of Education opted to share her thoughts through a Q&A. Enjoy the transcript of a tried-and-true Redbird.

What will you miss most about Illinois State?

The campus, the people, I’ll really miss a lot. I’ve kind of grown up on college campuses, and I have lived in college towns since the fall of 1975. So, I love the campus environment, from the beginnings in August to the endings in May. I love seeing new students come in every year and working with students who are passionate about what they want to do. It just gives you a lot of energy, and it gives you a lot of hope. And of course, after they leave, I love hearing about what they have been able to achieve professionally, personally, and academically.

What are some of your proudest moments as a faculty member?

I still remember the firsts. From a research perspective, I still remember the feeling of accomplishment I had when I had my first article published and was awarded my first grant as a faculty member. The research I’ve done has contributed to practice and student affairs. It’s been about assessing learning from out-of-class activities like living on campus, being a part of living learning communities, being involved in campus organizations, or participating in campus athletics. My research has been focused on what do students learn and take away from those aspects of college life, and I’ve appreciated the fact that Illinois State values that type of work.

But when I’ve been recognized for my teaching, that has meant the most to me. So, the first time I received the Manahan Teaching Award, that was important because the students voted on that award. I don’t need an award or whatever, but especially early on, that one had an impact on me.

What was your favorite course to teach?

Teaching is what I have loved about being a faculty member, and that’s where I get a lot of energy.

I love creating new classes and assignments that incorporate projects that students would actually do on the job as assignments. But when I put together EAF 461, which is student development theory, I was really focused on helping students refine their writing. Because you need to be a good writer, even if what you’re going to be doing all day is writing emails or writing reports. Alumni today, when they talk about things they really remember about the program, the critical feedback they got on their writing always comes up.

What’s one thing that’s different about CSPA at Illinois State?

A colleague once told me, ‘Your students really love college.’ And I’m the same way. This job has afforded me the opportunity to work with students who are amazing, and we’ve grown together.

The relationships and the trust I’ve built with students, with other faculty and staff members, has meant so much. There are just so many things that are really positive about CSPA’s place at Illinois State. This has been a really good place; it has been a really good place to build community. Absolutely.

What’s next?

I think that’s the hardest part. Kind of figuring out who you are, without the work. Who I am is tied into my career. This isn’t a job that I come to do every day. This is the work that I’ve done for 40 years. It is who I am just as much as any of my other salient identities. So, with that said, I’m not stopping work. I’ll be doing something next year, either teaching, or doing some interim administrative work at a different campus.