Shelissa Newball ’05 began her new position as dean for the class of 2026 on Monday, Oct. 16, 2023. Filling a vacancy left by former dean Michael Guerrero, Newball has worked in higher education for much of her time since graduating from the University. She’s worked in residential life (ResLife) as both a student and a professional, Greek life, and even our very own Office of Student Involvement and Office of Advancement before becoming a class dean. In her busy first week on the job, Newball found time to sit down with The Argus to chat about her time at the University and beyond, how she got here, and what she hopes to bring to the role.

The Argus: So, introduce yourself! When did you graduate, what’re you up to now?

Shelissa Newball: Oh my goodness. I graduated from Wesleyan in 2005—don’t do the math on that, I was only four when I graduated—and my title here is Dean for the Class of 2026!

A: How has being the dean been so far? What’s the first week been like?

SN: So far, so good. I’m loving it. Today is day five, and it has been good so far. A lot of meetings, a lot of emails, a lot of learning, a lot of meeting students, people, departments, and trying to understand better the role so that I can figure out how to best support the class of 2026.

A: So, map me through from graduating Wesleyan in 2005 to now. How did we get here?

SN:  First, I would like to state for the record, I’m from Brooklyn, New York. That’s very crucial to understand. So when I was choosing schools, Wesleyan was a good place for me because it was close enough to Brooklyn, but also far enough to really feel like I could grow. When I came into Wesleyan, I thought I was going to be a doctor, and I took my first couple of science classes. It really was biology where I was like, “Mmm, oh no, no, no, this is not it!”

I spent a lot of time trying to figure out what I was going to do, ended up majoring in African American Studies, and just realized that I was having a lot of experiences outside of the classroom that were having a bigger impact on me than what I was learning in class. Not that what I was learning wasn’t important, but it was just those extra things like being involved in ResLife, being involved in student clubs.

Also, I spent a lot of time seeing my class dean and trying to navigate entering Wesleyan, feeling like an imposter, coming from a school in Brooklyn where I was number three in my class, and then coming to Wesleyan where everybody’s like, “Yeah, I was three too” or “I was number one,” and I was just like, “Oh, we all smart.” So, I spent a lot of time in my class dean’s office. I just know that the reason I graduated is because of the support behind me from those different offices, and so I wanted to do that in some regard.

So once I graduated, I went back to Brooklyn, spent a year working at a museum, and was like, “This is not it. I need to find my calling.” I got accepted to a grad program at [the University of Connecticut]—the Higher Education and Student Affairs Program. I got my master’s in that, worked at [Pennsylvania] State, worked at Eastern Connecticut State University. Both of those jobs I worked in ResLife. Then I worked at the University of New Haven in fraternity and sorority life, leadership development, and student activities.

In 2017, a position opened up at Wesleyan, and I was like, “Uh, gotta apply, it’s my alma mater!” and came back here. Had the opportunity to try something different last year and went to the Office of Advancement, where I worked for about a year, and then this opportunity presented itself. I was just like, “I need to come back to working with students in that capacity.” So that is how I ended up where I am right now! That’s the short version. Or the medium version, I don’t know.

A: That’s the perfect version. So what did the process for getting this job look like?

SN: There was an opportunity when Dean Guerrero left, and Dean [Laura] Patey kind of talked to me about the possibility of this job opening up, and I applied. I met with people in the office, with a couple of students, and we went from there. It just felt like a whirlwind because it went so fast. I was like, “Oh wait, here we are!”

A: So what’s kept you in higher education this long?

SN: The students. I love working with students. I love seeing where people end up, but I think the biggest thing for me is when somebody is like, “Hey, I want to invite you to my wedding” or “Hey, I’m defending my Ph.D., do you want to come?” or “I just had a baby!” or whatever. They remember you, or people say thank you. You just get to know people on a different level, and for me, that’s so important. Because when you see somebody years later, you’re like, “Oh, look at you being amazing and awesome like I knew you were!” It’s a special thing.

A: Have there been any stressors or surprises with starting this new job yet?

SN: Not yet, but catch me in a year and we can have a part two.

A: What are you most looking forward to in the coming months, years, etc.?

SN: I really am most looking forward to getting to know my class. I can’t wait to meet them and talk to them and figure out about some of the things that they are concerned about, excited about, happy about, so I’m looking forward to meeting them.

A: What’s on your docket now? What’s up next?

SN: What’s next? Damn, I gotta learn how these processes work! I gotta learn the job. Right now, I’m just going through the process of understanding what a daily flow looks like in terms of putting in paperwork, documentation, [etc.].

I’ve been meeting with a couple of students trying to understand how to do withdrawals, add/drops, all those paperwork-y things. The next big thing on the docket is learning how to go through the process of declaring a major and working with sophomores on that.

A: Has there been any sort of issue with starting in the middle of the semester instead of the start of the semester?

SN: I don’t know if there have been issues. I think the hard part is that in the beginning of the semester, or if it were over the summer, I would have been able to meet people earlier, but now I’m just playing that catch up of letting people know who I am, trying to meet students where they are. Hopefully, I can get into some of the residence halls, do some things to get to know people, and let people know that I’m here so that they don’t feel like they don’t have a class dean. You can come see me, come talk to me, book a meeting with me on my Calendly!

A: Do you have a message for your new class of children?

SN: In general, I just want people to know I’m super excited. I want people to know that you can come meet with me and we can talk things through. I’m looking forward to meeting with people and getting to know them. But an overall message—not yet, Sam. That’s gonna be in part two. I’ll have a message the second time we meet.

A: We’ll do a follow-up. Speaking of following up, as mentioned in your WesCeleb, you were a major part of a certain student activist group on campus: Jesus Wore Sandals. Has this advocacy carried over into your work now?

SN: Oh my goodness, my WesCeleb. That was something that my friend here would always say. Anytime she saw anyone walking barefoot, she was like, “Jesus wore sandals, are we not concerned about catching anything?” But no. 

A: Not still keeping up the Jesus Wore Sandals initiative?

SN: No, we let it go in about 2005. It died. It went away.

A: That’s so tragic.

This article has been edited for length and clarity.

Sam Hilton can be reached at shilton@wesleyan.edu.

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