For each of Temple University’s 40,000 undergraduate and graduate students, they’ve paved a small part of the school out for themselves. Whether it’s in their academics in their school or college or a student organization they’ve found their passion within, most students have found a space where they feel most comfortable to grow.
But without many Temple administrators who work each day to carve space for students to have these opportunities, it could be unattainable. The Temple News compiled a list of the top six Temple officials you may not know who are shaping the student experience every day.
1. Donna Gray
Position: risk reduction & advocacy services manager for Campus Safety Services
Role in student life: Every day, Gray meets with survivors and victims of crimes to help outline paths to their recovery.
Gray is one of the first points of contact for victims of crime, and she serves as a “liaison” between police and victims or survivors of sexual assault looking for resources on the criminal prosecution process or to file a report with Student Conduct. She helps individuals navigate different systems to increase their feelings of safety and reduce feelings they will be further singled out for what happened to them.
“There is something wonderful and powerful about being part of the renewal of someone’s spirit,” she wrote in an email.
Gray also teaches in the classroom. Each semester, she teaches a Self Defense for Women class, which always has a waitlist.
“Not only are the participants transformed and empowered, but also I am inspired by cultivating positive connections whether it is with student organizations or colleagues,” she added.
2. Shondrika Merritt
Position: Interim director of University Housing and Residential Life
Role in student life: Merritt is currently filling the shoes of several top leaders in University Housing and Residential LIfe.
She has been serving as the interim director of the branch of Temple that houses nearly 6,000 Temple-owned and sponsored beds for the last few months, while still fulfilling her duties as an assistant director, which include overseeing student behavior, operations and Living Learning Communities.
And she doesn’t know how she’s doing it all.
“Just because staff leaves doesn’t mean that students don’t need what they need,” Merritt said. “When you’re in positions like this, you have to be student-centered to push through. A student’s transition isn’t any less important. Student crisis isn’t going to stop. The education and engagement that we owe students who live with us on campus, that expectation does not go down.”
Merritt has been at Temple for the last seven years.
Without administrators motivating her during her years of undergraduate students at Shawnee State University in Portsmouth, Ohio, Merritt said she wouldn’t be here.
“When I was a college student, all the odds were against me,” Merritt said. “I was pretty much on the road of not being successful.”
It took the intervention of administrators to help keep her afloat.
“If it wasn’t for me getting involved and having administrators pull me in and say, ‘We’re not gonna let you fall,’ I probably would’ve failed,” she said. “Those people have an imprint on me.”
Merritt is also responsible for rolling out a new residential curriculum to increase student success.
3. Rafael Porrata-Doria
Position: Faculty Senate president and law professor
Role in student life: Porrata-Doria has been teaching at Temple for more than 30 years, but this year he stepped into a new advocacy role as president of the Faculty Senate.
The Faculty Senate is a representative body for the university’s 2,200 full-time faculty members. Its president sits on the Board of Trustees but has no voting power for the Board’s decisions. Still, Porrata-Doria has been involved with the Faculty Senate for about 20 years, serving previously as its vice president or as the Beasley School of Law’s representative. He now oversees the more than a dozen committees in the university’s faculty governance mechanism.
“As the president of the senate, I’m working with all those pieces of the puzzle,” he said. “I can’t say I have a typical day.”
The Faculty Senate has a good relationship with Temple’s administration, Porrata-Doria said. This allows him to bring issues directly to the Office of the Provost or Office of the President. For example, when offices for international students were displaced due to construction in 1810 Liacouras Walk, several faculty members raised the issue to the Faculty Senate. This allowed Porrata-Doria and others to approach Temple’s top administration to address it and eventually get the offices moved back closer to campus, he said.
4. Valerie Dudley
Position: Director of multicultural education and training in the Office of Institutional Diversity, Equity, Advocacy and Leadership
Role in student life: Dudley knows she won’t change people after they walk out of one of her two-hour diversity development sessions. It’s all about planting a seed of a new idea of how to think about race and diversity.
Dudley is responsible for training faculty and staff on a wide variety of diversity education programs, like workshops on microaggressions, unconscious bias or topics spurred by current events on campus or nationwide. University departments will contact Dudley to train their staffs in whatever multicultural topic they need.
And she’s been doing it for about 30 years, for a broad range of environments including other Philadelphia-area schools like the Community College of Philadelphia and West Chester University. She spent her early career at Temple working within financial aid and left for several decades before returning in 2015.
Dudley now works as the middle-man to ensure faculty and staff “create welcoming and inclusive environments for our students and for each other,” she said.
“We have people stop and think about their role at Temple: what is it that you do that helps the university push diversity and inclusivity initiatives forward? How do you reach out to students in need?” she added.
Institutional diversity is more important than ever as society and Main Campus are becoming more diverse, she said.
“What I’m trying to do is get people to look at the commonalities,” she added. “There’s usually something that brings us together. You can learn from people who are different from ourselves.”
5. Jim Cawley
Position: Vice president of institutional advancement
Role on student life: Although Jim Cawley’s career has taken him to the second-highest position in Pennsylvania, he has somehow always come back to Temple.
Cawley, Pennsylvania’s former lieutenant governor and a two-time Temple trustee, now serves as the vice president for Institutional Advancement. His day-to-day job — one he said is on his “list of dream jobs” — is focused on raising money through donors and grant money to expand and enhance student life and research at Temple.
Temple’s endowment has increased each year for the past several years, surpassing $500 million in 2016.
Cawley isn’t shy about asking big donors to back Temple, either.
“I know people sometimes feel awkward about asking other people for money for anything,” he said. “But if I don’t ask, then we don’t have the resources we need in order to make sure that Temple continues to be the special place that it is. That’s enough of a motivation for me.”
Cawley has had a hand in finalizing big gifts since he left his trusteeship in 2017 and returned to work as an administrator. These big gifts include the $10 million endowment from trustee Steve Charles to build the Charles Library, set to open in Fall 2019.
The two-time alumnus and former member of Temple Student Government during his undergraduate career now focuses on bringing alumni and their family and friends back to Main Campus to increase alumni engagement and culture.
6. Aaron McKie
Position: Men’s basketball associate head coach
Role in student life: Aaron McKie will soon have big shoes to fill. Next season, he’ll replace coach Fran Dunphy, a Big 5 great who has led the men’s basketball team for 13 seasons. And he’s already working every day to build an NCAA Tournament team, even when the team has days off.
“You’re always finding ways to get your guys better,” McKie said. “It’s a round-the-clock job. You’re recruiting in all these different places. You’re moving and shaking quite a bit.”
The Philadelphia native and Temple basketball alumnus comes from impressive roots in the national basketball scene. He played for nearly a decade on the Philadelphia 76ers and other NBA teams. He worked as an assistant coach for the Sixers for several years before returning to Temple as an assistant coach.
“I still scratch my head as to how I got myself into this,” McKie said. “All of these guys I know and love have the same goals that I had. The main goal for me making sure they’re ready for the real world when the basketball ends, whenever that is.”
McKie hopes to continue on Temple’s legacy of great coaches. And he’s competitive — willing to work hard on and off the court to make sure he makes the Temple and North Philadelphia communities proud.