Dean of Students Margarita Perez has been on the job at UL Lafayette for about eight months. In this Q&A, she talks about her love of student affairs, her first year on the job, and the excitement of a new semester.
What does a typical day look like for you?
There’s really not a typical day. What I love about working in student affairs is you never have two days that are alike. That’s what makes this job so exciting and interesting. You can never get bored in a job like this.
What happens in almost all of our jobs is we get stuck behind the computer, and I don’t get my energy from sitting behind a desk. I get my energy from being around students. That’s why I love this job: I love students. I have to engage with students every day—I have to search that out.
How did you get to be Dean of Students at UL Lafayette?
In undergrad, I was a really involved student. During my sophomore year, I thought, “Wow, this would be great to do for a living!” I had mentors in Residential Life and Student Affairs, and I shadowed the vice president for a day. Those relationships and experiences helped me to discover this calling.
After graduation, I got a job as an area coordinator at Southeastern Louisiana University. I did that for two years, and I realized that my passion was in the programming and the community building side of Student Affairs.
After that, I worked at Tulane University as the Director of Student Programs. I did regular programming, like UPC does here, but I also did programming that focused on academics.
In 2005, Hurricane Katrina changed my life. It changes your perspective. You realize what’s important, and you start to really evaluate your life. Katrina really rocked my world — my safe world. It made me think, “There’s just more to life. I need to take advantage of every opportunity.” We basically spend our lives equipping ourselves with tools—tools to get through issues and crises, and Katrina bent all my tools. I still had all the tools, but they were damaged.
I then became the associate dean of students at Spring Hill College in Mobile, Alabama. During my eight years at Spring Hill, I really missed Louisiana. I really missed my family and I was ready to come back and make a difference in my home state. So I patiently waited a few years for the right job, and then I saw the UL Lafayette Dean of Students job posting. It was just a perfect match of the culture and community I was looking for, and it matched really well with the strengths that I could bring to any team.
What would surprise people to know about your job?
It’s a lot of fun. Yes, there are hard days, and there are difficult conversations but it’s exciting to walk with students on this part of their life’s journey.
I get to see the successes and celebrations when students reach their goals. But I also get to work with them when they haven’t met their goal or hit a road bump, and help them to learn from it and continue on.
What do you want to accomplish as the dean of students?
My goal is always to leave it better than I found it, and that’s really something I have to remind myself almost weekly. In 10 years, or 20 years, or 30 years, I want to say that I’ve made an impact to make this a better institution, a better community, and a better experience for our students.
Have you had a favorite interaction or experience with students here?
I’ve had so many good experiences. I can honestly say I’ve just found every day, every encounter to be wonderful. It is great to be a Ragin’ Cajun!
What are you looking forward to this year?
The fall! There’s something invigorating about a new class and the excitement of a new year and all the possibilities. Everyone starts out with a blank canvas of what their year’s going to look like, and they start painting and drawing and splattering. That’s what so great about the fall: it’s all new.
Tell us a fun fact about yourself.
I collect M&M’s paraphernalia. I have lots of M&M dispensers and magnets—anything M&M. So I always have M&M’s for students. I’ve been collecting them since I was about 10 years old, and my first one was an M&M basketball player.
And I’m a huge New Orleans Saints fan. I, of course, love all things Louisiana.
How do you take your coffee and how many cups does it take to get through the day?
I usually can get by with just one cup of coffee. In the summer, I like to get iced coffee with sugar-free hazelnut and skim milk. I try to limit my coffee to just one a day, because I’m a little high strung as it is.