Five Questions: Robyn Hadley
Vice President and Chief Student Affairs Officer, Dean of Students
Hadley was the first in her family to go to college, a Morehead-Cain Scholar who played basketball at UNC and a Rhodes Scholar who rose to president and COO of an export import management company based in Hampton Roads, Virginia. In 2004, she pivoted from volunteering in education to full-time work with school systems and supporting students and families to help them understand the college and scholarship application process. Before joining UVA, she served as associate vice chancellor and dean for scholar programs at Washington University in St. Louis. We asked questions of Hadley at the close of her first academic year on Grounds.
- What are your thoughts about the importance of the student experience at UVA?
The student experience at UVA is as rich and diverse as each and every student. In student affairs, we strive to provide opportunities for students to engage in the life of the University and, through student self-governance, shape an experience that promotes their learning, growth, and development. It starts as new students come to Grounds and live in residence halls and work alongside others in the classroom whom they would otherwise have never met but for their shared UVA experience. It continues into their involvements in Student Council, honor, Greek life, or the many clubs and organizations around Grounds—where they learn to hold one another accountable, have fun together, and build the community of trust and caring that they want to live in together. And so, many take those experiences of community building and caring off Grounds as they serve the Charlottesville community and communities across the country and the world. Ideally, student affairs provides the scaffolding that allows students themselves to build a web of experiences that make them into the service-oriented and caring citizen-leaders we know them to be as alumni.
- Now that students have spent a year back on Grounds, how have things changed?
First of all, I need to commend our students for the amazing work that they have done over the course of the pandemic keeping one another and our community safe. While there were some bumps in the road along the way, by and large our students rose to the challenges of COVID and were able to maintain living and learning on Grounds. I am so proud of what we were able to accomplish together in such challenging times and circumstances. More recently, as we have begun to shift our response to COVID-19 from pandemic to endemic, I have felt a new energy and excitement in the air around Grounds. Students are able to get out more, socialize with friends, and more easily make new friends. By taking part in events this spring like Days on the Lawn, you can sense a real coming together in anticipation and joy for what’s ahead. The same is true as I walk the Lawn each day now and see students gathering to take their graduation photos or to simply picnic together and enjoy the beauty of the Grounds. Maybe it was just the optimism of spring and the fanfare of Final Exercises, but I know that I am looking forward welcoming the class of 2026 this summer, and to starting my second academic year in the fall!
Every gift, no matter the size, shows us in student affairs how much our alumni, friends, and supporters of the University value the student experience and how much they appreciate the work that we do.
- What new initiatives to support students excite you most?
Over the last several months, I have been challenging student affairs staff and others to think about the new students and transfers arriving on Grounds in fall. When they arrive, the last class to have had a “normal,” maskless, UVA experience will have graduated in May. In fact, the last time our new first-year students will have had a fully maskless, in-person educational experience would have been their freshman year of high school—when they were 14 or 15 years old. These students will need to be introduced to the values and traditions that make UVA and the student experience here one of the most special in the nation, and they will need more scaffolding and support to uphold the values of self-governance and the community of trust that we hold dear.
To do this, I am asking the staff to reimagine the new student orientation by envisioning the college transition as a continuum of resources and experiences that begins from the moment a student receives their acceptance letter to when they select a major by the end of their second year. This approach will involve coordinating our work as a division but also building stronger partnerships with our enrollment and academic colleagues to create a curricular and cocurricular scaffolding through strong advising and mentoring. I am excited about the opportunities we have available, ranging from connecting with colleagues in the Karsh Institute for Democracy to working with operations colleagues to build residence halls that meet the goals of housing all second-year students. These partnerships will ensure that our students have a strong foundation that supports the deeper, more intense learning experiences that will take them to Final Exercises and beyond.
- How does philanthropic support help you achieve your vision for the University of Virginia?
Every gift, no matter the size, shows us in student affairs how much our alumni, friends, and supporters of the University value the student experience and how much they appreciate the work that we do. That is an important message for the hardworking and dedicated staff to hear. Furthermore, these gifts allow us to think and dream big about the future of student affairs and the important and innovative ways that we can serve a growing and diverse population of students.
For example, as we think about reimagining the new student experience, including outreach to students as they are admitted to UVA, how do we ensure that first-generation and low-income students see the University as a place of support and belonging? How might we ensure that programs like Days on the Lawn and in-person orientation are accessible to all students and their families? How do we ensure that all students have opportunities for cocurricular engagement, including participating in clubs and organizations, internships, service, and community connection? How do we create an environment where a third-generation UVA first-year student will be as excited about their first day of class as their grandfather? It’s through philanthropic support of initiatives like The Cavalier Fund and support of emergency and essential student needs that we are able to allow all students to take part in the student experience and see themselves as part of our extended UVA family.
- You’ve had so many experiences—both professional and academic ones. What keeps you interested about life here in Charlottesville?
I moved to Charlottesville from St. Louis in the middle of the pandemic and hit the Grounds running—meeting with colleagues and learning as much as I could about the division and the University before the semester began. Living on the Lawn in a pavilion has been an amazing experience, but I still feel part University ambassador and part tourist each day I walk out of my front door. Much of the University is still new to me, so I’m really looking forward to starting my second year here with continued curiosity and excitement about what lies ahead! And as a former varsity basketball player at UNC and Oxford University, I am very excited to meet and support our stellar student-athletes at UVA.