10 Questions With Ericka Shoaff, Assistant Dean of Students and Director, Student Advocacy and Support
Kent State alumna Ericka Shoaff, ’11, has returned to Kent State University in a newly created position designed to further support students as a central hub for basic needs resources. She is the assistant dean of students and director of student advocacy and support in the newly created CARES Center.
Q. How would you describe your position?
In my role as an Assistant Dean of Students and the Director of the CARES Center, I have the opportunity to provide leadership to the center while working alongside a wonderful team of caring and dedicated individuals who make the work possible. I view our work through a macro and micro lens, keeping best practices and trends in mind, while centering the voice and needs of our students. In my dual role as an assistant dean, I have the opportunity to observe and learn from our dean of students, and to broaden my scope and understanding of higher education.
Q. Why are you excited about your new position?
So many reasons, but the number one reason is definitely the students. That’s what it’s all about for me, finding the best ways that we can support them. The opportunity to collaborate with the creation of something that will serve such a significant purpose in the lives of students. To be able to advocate for them, to support their well-being, which, in turn, will help with their academics and improve their overall experience as a student here at Kent State.
Q. What is something you want the people of Kent State to know about you?
I'm dedicated to the success and wellbeing of our students and of our community as a whole, which is what has brought me to this work. On a more personal note, I love to laugh. I recognize that life is short, so I search for the joy in each day. It's important for me to bring joy into the work that we do, because sometimes it can get heavy. Humor is one of my coping skills, so if you have a good joke, come find me!
Q. How does it feel to return to Kent State?
I graduated from Kent State in 2011, so it's been 10 years since I’ve left. In some ways, it feels like coming back home, except home looks a little different now, and my role here has changed. I’m a nostalgic person so being in the Hub and student center now is like a walk down memory lane, which I’ve loved, so it feels really good to be back. I’ve been welcomed with warm support, which I am very thankful for.
Q. When and how did your passion for mental health begin?
My experience growing up in a large, nontraditional, blended family, as the youngest with five older siblings, sparked my interest in the human experience and relationships at a young age. But my passion for mental health started to develop later in high school. During my junior year, I came across a psychology book, and I would read it during my classes, it was so interesting. That knowledge sparked real interest for me, and I wanted to learn more about how I could help other people because that’s something I’ve always been drawn to. That interest led me to Kent State to study psychology in my undergrad. After my first semester here, my family suffered a tragic loss, my uncle had died by suicide. It was a very tough time for my family. In my healing from that loss, I gained motivation to move ahead, continue with school and become a licensed counselor so that I could try to help others navigate through distress and build resiliency. Being a part of a helping field has been a blessing to me. I’ve found great meaning in being able to bear witness to the growth of others, and to be along as a passenger in that process is an honor.
Q. What are you passionate about outside of your position with Kent State?
I’m big on family, and for me, time is priceless, so I’m passionate about spending it with my family and friends doing the things we enjoy. I’m also one of those people who’s obsessed with their dog, but I love him, and he brings me so much happiness. I have a couple of hobbies: I enjoy baking, it’s really calming for me and I enjoy sharing what I bake with others. I'm also in a bowling league with my family, which is really fun, and I absolutely love to travel. Whether it’s an adventurous trip to go whitewater rafting or a trip to the beach, I find that traveling and taking yourself outside of your typical space really helps to put life in perspective.
Q. Which parts of campus are your favorites?
My nostalgia is kicking in with this question, so I have to say the student center, it’s the pulse of campus. Whether it's grabbing something to eat in the Hub, or looking out of the windows on the 2nd floor to see the beautiful views of the Risman Plaza.
Q. What is the overall objective of the CARES Center?
The CARES Center works collaboratively with students to utilize available basic needs resources. We know continuous access to nutritious foods, secure housing, financial stability, and mental well-being resources equip students to succeed both academically and personally.
Q. How can students benefit from the CARES Center?
The Center is a warm and welcoming place for students to find support with basic needs. Our case managers act as guides who help students navigate access to basic need resources both on and off campus. Our on-site Flashes' Food Pantry has appointments and walk-in times available each week. Our educational and skills development workshops will be offered throughout the year and are a great opportunity to connect with the campus community and learn helpful skills!
Q. Where do you hope to see the CARES Center in the next five years?
In five years from now, it's my hope that the presence of the CARES Center on our campus contributes to the de-stigmatization of accessing resources, so much so that conversations about basic needs and the CARES Center are had often and without hesitation. In the more immediate future, I hope to see the CARES Center in a designated space that allows us to grow and support the basic needs of our students as they continue to evolve over time. Our team is excited to support and advocate for our students’ personal and academic success. We also look forward to the opportunity to facilitate peer-led work, students helping students, to truly embody our culture of care that is Flashes Take Care of Flashes.
To learn more about the CARES Center and to find out about how you can partner with us to support students, please visit www.kent.edu/CARESCenter. Follow us on social media @KentStateCares.