Meet Desirée Rieckenberg
Dean of Students | Office of the Dean of Students
Eight Years at Carolina
What is your role as Dean of Students, and how have your responsibilities changed since the switch to working remotely?
My role as the Dean of Students is ultimately to support the holistic success of all UNC students as they create, navigate and attain their goals on campus. This includes leadership for personal and academic support and resource connections, the Carolina Veteran Resource Center programs and services, and the University Approved Absence Office. I also spend time leading crisis response and consulting with faculty on a variety of student matters. Ultimately, I am a listening ear, a problem-solver, and advocate for students.
Since the pandemic started, I am still working toward the same goal of supporting the holistic success of students. The shift has been in the context of the current student experience around COVID-19. I co-lead the CV19 Student Care Hub and lead a broad portfolio of response and planning efforts, balancing between the needs of students and the University operations.
What has been the biggest challenge you’ve faced when transitioning to remote work?
The biggest challenge for me personally is balancing the demands of my professional roll with that of being a parent without childcare and partner to someone else who also needs to work. It can feel like I am running on a 18-20 hour day calendar.
What have you been doing to provide support for students during COVID-19? What are some of the biggest issues/concerns/questions you are hearing from students?
My role has been to bring people together to develop strategies and resources to support our students (e.g. the CV19 Student Care Hub) and to bring in the student voice and experience into the planning and response conversations. I am fortunate to be surrounded by great colleagues both in the Office of the Dean of Students and our larger campus who are really putting in most of the face-to-face or screen-to-screen time responding to individual students.
Students, rightly so, are sharing a range of multi-dimensional concerns. First and foremost, students are concerned about their health and safety and that of their community and families. There is so much uncertainty, anxiety, anger, and hurt across multiple landscapes. They crave what we all want — certainty — and have a need to know that the University is doing everything we can to understand their needs and support their holistic health and wellness. Diversity, equity, and inclusion is at the front of our student’s minds.
Our Black, Brown, African American, and Indigenous communities, as well as those that identify as persons of color, are calling out to be seen and heard in ways that translate to meaningful and tangible action. All of this is on top of financial concerns, worries that degree progress will be delayed, impacts to the student experience and employment prospects, and a calling to engage in what is anticipated to be a major election cycle this fall. And this is before they actually start classes. Our job as a University community is to consider and implement systems and supports that take all of this into account.
How are you maintaining a sense of cohesiveness among Dean of Students Office staff?
I have focused on consistency and communication. We have maintained our staff meeting schedule, and I am meeting regularly with individual staff. The once-simple hallway conversations are still encouraged but just through technology. Speaking of technology, we have all had to quickly figure out how we can best leverage technology to stay connected, coordinate our efforts, and serve our students.
How have you set up your workspace at home? Where are you working from and did you bring anything from your office to your home?
Yes, I have a workspace at home. It is part office, part spare bedroom, and part childcare/entertainment center. The only thing I brought from the office home is my laptop, some paperwork, and my favorite coffee tumbler.
How are you continuing to support Carolina’s mission?
The ODOS mission — and my role — is interconnected with Carolina’s mission. First and foremost, I see the role of ODOS and myself as educators. In every effort, program and service we look for learning opportunities, creative strategies to enhance the Tar Heel experience, and caring and compassionate approaches to increase access and foster holistic student success. As we approach the fall, we are leading efforts to put Carolina Together Care Kits into the hands of each of our students who will be learning in face-to-face/hybrid instruction. We are designing holistic student support plans to respond to students impacted by COVID-19. Perhaps most importantly, we are spending time listening and supporting students in all the ways that we can.
What do you like most about your work?
The students, of course, and the wonderful colleagues with whom I have the privilege to collaborate to help make Carolina just a little easier to navigate for our students.