Elizabeth “Liz” Hansen works around the clock to help students make their college experience more enjoyable. As assistant director of Student Engagement, it is Hansen’s job to be there for students when they need help. Whether it is assisting students in finding solutions to their problems, being an expert on UW Tacoma’s policies or getting the campus engaged in fun events, Hansen does it all with a caring and compassionate heart.
Hansen’s education experience
Hansen completed a Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education at the University of Maine in 2005. “I thought that I wanted to teach kindergarten, but it’s sort of like I burned out of teaching before I even started and I realized that I wouldn’t be happy in teaching,” she said. Hansen then attended the University of Maine: M.Ed in Higher Education and Leadership in 2007.
What brought you into this line of work?
“I was very involved with Greek Life and Student Entertainment while I was an undergrad. And for a long time, I didn’t even realize that this was a career. Even though I had been interacting with these people my entire educational career. There is no real path in Undergrad for this, so I just didn’t consider it before. But one day I sat down with an advisor and they said: ‘You can do this as a job!’ and then it sunk in for me that this was an actual career path that I could take,” Hansen said. “If I had either a really positive experience or a really negative experience with something I thought about going into it — either to give that positive experience to that I had or to create the one that I didn’t. Really, I just wanted anything that wasn’t in the classroom. I went the student activity routes because that was the most fun.”
Hansen’s day to day life at UW Tacoma
“Definitely no two days are the same. One-on-one advising, giving students the support that they need to get their job done is just the beginning. I need to be an expert on campus policies. Making sure that everything we do is with a student first mindset, while also financially making the right budgeting decisions,” Hansen said. “Any other student issues, like with a roommate, that I can’t personally help with I help them get connected with resources. Some weeks I feel like I am out of my office more than I am in it — but I like that.”
What are some issues you see in higher education?
“Something that I’ve been following is higher education for undocumented students. Some states offer in-state tuition for undocumented students, while others make them pay out-of-state. Some students are not eligible for DACA, as such higher education becomes less and less accessible to these students,” Hansen said. “Another issue that has been on my radar is support for formerly incarcerated students. I’ve been learning about the ‘post-prison pipeline’. This is a population that has always been on campuses but we are only starting to see it discussed in the mainstream.”
What makes you good at your job?
“I’ve learned over the years that I am a very empathetic person — for better or for worse, usually for better. I will always put students first; whatever I can do to help I will do, beyond that whatever perspective a student brings I will try and understand,” Hansen said. “Another thing that helps is still being excited about the work helps too. Sometimes I feel as though I never left college.”
Hansen went further to talk about problem solving with students. “One of my favorite situations is when a student comes in saying ‘I don’t know if we can do this but …’ and then finding creative solutions to do it, finding out if it is something that we can do, and how we can make it happen,” she said.
What is the culture in higher education like
“Before I started working in higher education everyone always told me that it was really small. I never understood how that can be. There are thousands of schools, but as I work in it I realize how true it is. That can be great for things like networking and keeping connections strong,”Hansen said.
Hansen briefly discussed life in higher education regarding self-care. “Salary work can become toxic. No matter how much you work you make the same amount — but some people have to work harder and longer than others. Some jobs are very taxing as well like resident life for example. Some schools provide more support than others, but often we don’t take our own advice. We need to be kinder to ourselves,” she said. “Sometimes in student affairs, you may be the only person doing this thing, but that doesn’t mean that you don’t have the right to take time for yourself. It’s important that you do. But, if I stay home sick that means potentially canceling 5 meetings with students, but I always liked that saying “you can’t pour from an empty cup” and I try to keep that in mind.”
If your career progressed in an ideal way where do you see yourself in the future?
“I don’t know, is that wrong? Astronaut used to be one, but maybe it’s too late for that,” Hansen said. “I like working with and supporting a team that is so different and varied.The exact same job at a different school is a totally different job. Students, regional differences, etc. I also always say that the day that I walk outside and am not in awe of the mountain then I’ll know that it’s time to leave. But I don’t see that happening.”
Hansen discussed possibilities of moving on and impacting other campuses. “I joked that my next move would be to San Diego, California. I’ve been in Maine, Georgia, Washington, and if I go to California then I’ll hit all four corners — I also really want to go to Alaska,” she said. “ I like to leave the programs that I work on better than I found them — so when I feel like I’ve done what I can here then I’ll know that it’s time to move on.”
What do you like about UWT?
“I like the campus size, that’s the first thing that drew me here. I knew that I was having an impact at my old job, but I wanted to be able to actually see it,” Hansen said.
Fun Fact about Liz Hansen:
“When I moved here from Maine I took a five-day cross-country road trip with my mom, sort of recreating a trip that she had done 50 years prior. We even wrote about it from our perspectives and had it published in a textbook by a family friend. At one point during the trip, I found an antique sheepherders wagon in Montana on Airbnb as a joke. I showed it to my mom laughing that we should stay there for a night and surprisingly she agreed! So we booked it, the next morning we woke up to the sound of pigs rooting around outside our wagon.”
If you’d like to read more about this trip check it out in the second edition of “An Introduction to the Geography of Tourism,” by Velvet Nelson