There is no doubt that being recognized for your hard work and the impact you make on student’s lives is an incredible feeling. Tanisha Jenkins agrees, having been recognized for her dedication to students several times over the course of her career, most recently being awarded the James E. Scott Outstanding Mid-Level Student Affairs Professional Award from NASPA Region III. But, she says it’s never about the awards or the recognition. To her, seeing the impact her work has on student’s lives means more to her than anything else.
“I don’t do this work for the awards,” says Tanisha, director of Multicultural Student Life. “I can rattle off at least three pages of stuff I’ve won, things I’ve done, accomplishments I’ve had, but it’s not about that for me. I want to make a difference; I want to make a positive difference in the lives of others. I want to help others see their full potential. At the end of the day, I want to know that I did the best that I could to help someone else and for me, that does not have to come with accolades.”
In the true Volunteer Spirit, Tanisha is more focused on ensuring that each student has the same opportunities and necessary support in order to succeed during their time at UT, with no professional awards needed. The recognition, according to Tanisha, comes when she receives graduation cards from seniors that she has had an impact on at UT. She goes on to say that she keeps those cards on her office wall and in a filing cabinet, every single card.
“I had one of our spring 2020 grads reach out to me and thank me and MSL for letting her be a part of the programs and services within MSL. She was also very appreciative of the graduation box we sent all of our graduates as they didn’t truly get the chance to celebrate their accomplishments. She expressed how much being a student leader in MSL meant to her and how much we had instilled in her. Those moments are the things that warm my heart and the things that keep me energized to do this work.”
With students remaining Tanisha’s top priority in her work, it’s no wonder she was recognized as this year’s NASPA Region III outstanding mid-level professional. Named after former NASPA President James E. Scott, the award itself recognizes the great work that mid-level professionals are doing for students outside of the classroom. This award is given in each of NASPA’s seven regions, with each award recipient then becoming qualified for the national award.
In explaining the significance of this award, Tanisha says “I would say it speaks to the great work that individuals are doing on their campuses as well in their regions. The work that we do can sometimes be frustrating, and disappointing. So, these awards allow us to celebrate our colleagues and recognize the great work they are doing in an effort to make sure that people know that the work in student affairs is still important and there’s still value in our work.”
“For me, I would say that it encourages me to continue to do the work that I do,” says Tanisha. “Oftentimes, the work we do is not always appreciated or seen and valued as important, even though we know what we do is important, and we know we are making a difference in the lives of students. But to have your work be recognized by your colleagues is exciting and encouraging.”
“I truly believe that things happen when they are supposed to happen and how they are supposed to happen. The day that I received the announcement that I was this year’s recipient, was also a difficult workday for me. Receiving this announcement gave me reassurance that I was still on the right path, doing the right thing for our campus, our students, and for myself.”
Tanisha’s commitment to students, specifically her commitment to students of color, and the student affairs profession will go even further now that she’s completed her Ph.D. program. She recently received her doctorate of Philosophy in Educational Leadership and Policy Studies with a focus in Higher Education Administration at the University of Tennessee. “I’m very excited about finally being done and having this degree completed. As a first-generation college student, a Ph.D. or doctoral degree was never something that I strived for. My parents just wanted to make sure that my brothers and I got a four-year college education.”
She notes that choosing to get her doctorate was something she not only did for herself but for her family and those to come after her. “It’s for my little cousins and others to see that someone who looks like them has achieved this and they can too.” Her research was focused on the experiences of African American women in senior-level student affairs positions at land-grant institutions.
“My focus was on doing scholarly research about African American women because if we don’t write about us, who will? But then also, to look at their experiences of how they have navigated through their positions and learn about their experiences in those roles. I wanted to use my research to help inform our profession about those experiences and what we can do to make experiences better for African American women in those roles.”
Work such as the research Tanisha focused on will provide the student affairs professionals with the necessary information to improve the experiences of African American women in leadership roles, and plays an important part in ensuring the success and retention of African American women in the profession.
It’s very clear that Tanisha Jenkins has made a major impact on not only the students who engage with MSL but within the student affairs profession. She is consistently recognized for the work she and her team do for students of color on UT’s campus. But to her, it’s just part of the job, and it’s a job she continues to excel at.