Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal
Eric Scott’s transition from a working class family in Baltimore to freshman at the University of South Carolina wasn’t exactly what you’d call silky smooth.
“I had a really challenging first year,” said Scott, who was recently named vice president for student affairs at the University of New Mexico. “I was an out-of-state college student attending a pretty large institution. I did not know what to expect. I experienced homesickness. I was lonely and stressed out. I had impostor’s syndrome, that feeling that you don’t belong or deserve the opportunities you are getting.”
That unsettling period ended up pointing Scott to his life’s work, which is helping students adjust to and succeed in college life.
“I think of (student affairs) as a public service,” Scott said during a phone interview from Boise, Idaho. “It’s about creating a positive and welcoming atmosphere, one that is conducive to students being academically successful. It’s a good way to make a living and a life, a way in which you can contribute to individual people but also to society at large.”
Scott, who has been associate vice president for student affairs at Boise State University since the fall of 2019, starts his new UNM position on Aug. 1.
Scott not only surmounted the difficulties he encountered early on in college but flourished at South Carolina. He attributes that to the University of South Carolina’s support system, which includes a nationally recognized University 101 program designed to help first-year students acclimate to campus life academically and personally.
“University 101 is a seminar that covers basic student success activities, helps students understand other people and how to engage as a community and teaches the values of the university,” Scott said. “The more I benefitted from the infrastructure to support students, the more I wanted to give back.”
When he was a sophomore, Scott became an adviser in a South Carolina residence hall, a position that allowed him to help fellow students navigate the challenges he had faced. He was a residence hall director for two years while completing his master’s degree at South Carolina.
“I spent a lot of time serving fellow students in the residential area,” he said. “The more I learned about supporting other students, the more I applied those things to myself. How to engage with faculty. How to get to know people different from me, listen to them with empathy and learn from them.”
Prior to becoming a resident adviser at South Carolina, Scott had worked in landscaping, plumbing and retail.
“My freshman year of college I worked at a dry cleaners,” he said. “It was becoming a resident adviser that sparked my interest in my chosen field, and to this day it is still one of the positions that I learned the most in. It was the first job I ever had where I was doing something I truly wanted to do and still got a paycheck at the end of the week.”
It snowed in Boise on May 9, the day Scott talked to the Journal.
“I spent the morning cleaning up limbs from the backyard,” he said. “A limb from the neighbor’s yard knocked down some string lights I have. But I was lucky. The limb knocked out (the neighbor’s) power.”
Scott can handle snow and the trouble that sometimes comes with it. Before going to Boise State, he was the dean of students and campus life and director of campus life at the University of Alaska Southeast in Juneau. He has also served as coordinator of residence life at the University of North Carolina Greensboro.
“I’m thrilled to have Dr. Eric Scott joining us as our new vice president for student affairs,” said James Holloway, provost and executive vice president for academic affairs. “Eric brings an amazing wealth of experience to UNM, having worked at several universities of different profiles.”
Scott earned a bachelor of arts in 2008 and master’s in education in 2010 at South Carolina and a doctorate in education from Oregon State University in 2021. He is part of the first generation in his family to attend college.
“My father was a plumber for his entire career,” Scott said. “I am really proud of my father. He is the one who taught me my work ethic. My mother was a teaching assistant for the majority of her career, but she had other jobs throughout our youth.”
Scott graduated from Eastern Technical High School in Baltimore.
“I played lacrosse and hockey in high school,” he said. “I was also a Boy Scout. I spent a lot of time camping, working on merit badges and community service.”
He made Eagle Scout, the highest rank attainable in the Boy Scouts of America, when he was 14 and stayed involved with the organization until he was 18.
Sense of place
Scott has been married to Brandy Diaz Scott, also an educator, for 10 years. They are the parents of a 1-year-old son, Orion Norte Diaz Scott. The family also includes Buster, a 12-year-old black Labrador who was 4 when the Scotts adopted him.
Eric and Brandy were both undergraduates at South Carolina but did not meet until he was doing graduate work and she was teaching first grade. Shared passions for education and the outdoors helped mold their affection for each other.
“We have sustained our friendship through many outings, including remote cabins in the Alaskan back country, through hikes on the Chilkoot Trail and Wonderland Trail, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing treks, mountain summits and more,” Scott said. “We even completed a 45-mile trek through the Bighorn Craigs area while Brandy was pregnant with our son. Now, with our son, we have already camped at the Oregon coast, Grand Teton National Park and Redfish Lake and taken many day hikes in his first year of life.”
When they were in Alaska, Scott and his wife started a company that produced artisan candles intended to give off fragrances – beach bonfire, Sitka spruce – reminiscent of the great outdoors.
“We sold that company when we relocated to Idaho,” Scott said. “But it was a fun project. The outdoors is where we center ourselves, reflect and connect. It has been a deeply meaningful connection my wife and I have had in our years of marriage.
“Sense of place is an important value in our lives, and we have sought to connect with the land and people of every place we have been. That tendency has led us to transformational relationships and experiences, and we are excited to explore and connect with the diverse physical and cultural aspects of New Mexico.”
A valuable lesson
Scott said listing all the duties of a vice president for student affairs might take a while.
“But it is a leadership position in charge of the student experience on campus outside the classroom,” he said. “It’s a very wide portfolio – student conduct, basic needs, … student support programs, counseling, student activities. It’s all about health and wellness, belonging, engagement and learning.”
Scott said he is excited and honored to be joining UNM in the early stages of the university’s UNM 2040 program, a multi-year plan to build on the strength of diverse cultures and more fully integrate the school’s activities.
“What I love about the plan is that all five goals (Advance New Mexico, Student Experience and Educational Innovation, Inclusive Excellence, Sustainability and One University) speak to student affairs,” Scott said. “Advance New Mexico is really about understanding the needs, history, culture and people of New Mexico and what is needed to advance communities from both an economic and social standpoint.”
Equity and inclusion are core values in Scott’s approach to his work. His research at Oregon State focused on how race, gender and rural background affected college outcomes for students from remote Alaska.
“One of the biggest influences on a student’s college experience is their peers,” Scott said. “You focus on creating a culture that is welcoming, so that students feel empowered and encouraged to show up as their full selves, representative of their whole identity.” He is speaking not only about ethnic minorities, “but students who identify as LGBTQ, students from low-economic backgrounds, students from rural areas, students with disabilities.”
One lesson from his own college experience that Scott never forgets is what it feels like when you think you don’t belong.