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November 5, 2008

Office of Student Life now under new leadership

By: Jimmy Robertson

Reyna Gilbert (third from right) will be coordinating many outreach projects in the future similar to this one in which Paul LaPenna, Erin Reddan, Natalie Sherbak and other members of the track and cross country teams collected shoes for Nike's Reuse-A-Shoe Program.

The Virginia Tech athletics department’s latest hire has two main tasks ahead of her.

First, she’ll be in charge of maintaining the excellence of the Office of Student Life. Then she’ll take on the challenge of expanding on that excellence.

Reyna Gilbert recently took over as Tech’s assistant AD for student life, overseeing an office designed to assist student-athletes with the transition to college life, while also integrating them within the community and university during the rest of their time in college and helping them pursue careers of their choosing. In 2006, Tech’s Office of Student Life was honored by the Division I-A Athletics Directors’ Association with the I-A CHAMPS Program of Excellence Award, a lifetime award that recognizes Division I-A athletics programs that have established student-athlete welfare as the cornerstone of their operating principles. Tech became the 43rd Division I-A athletics department to be recognized and the fifth ACC school.

“The opportunity to become an assistant athletics director for student life at a major Division-I institution was extremely appealing,” Gilbert said. “However, the chance to work at an institution where serving others is embedded in the mission of the university, the athletics department and its student-athletes is an honor.”

Gilbert came to Tech after serving as the Compliance Coordinator and CHAMPS/Life Skills Coordinator at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale. A former gymnast and a graduate of Northern Illinois (with a master’s from Ball State), she’s also worked at the University of Central Florida.

At Tech, she’ll head a three-person team consisting of Danny White, the coordinator of student life and a South Carolina grad who recently got his master’s from Tech, and Becca Scott, Career Services liaison to the Office of Student Life and a Tech grad.

Their charge is to continue the excellence of the Office of Student Life, which was formed in 1994 and has been overseen by former football standouts Derek Carter and Jermaine Holmes, along with Megan Armbruster and Patricia Lovett, throughout the years. All four contributed to the office’s success, but Armbruster’s establishing of the “Hokies with Heart” initiative probably was the most important.

“Hokies with Heart” is the community outreach component of the Office of Student Life and allows organizations to request Tech student-athletes to attend local outreach events. Each team partners with a local community organization (e.g. United Way, Boys and Girls Club, etc.) and volunteers time at these events.

“Danny and Reyna have set an example of what it means to work hard,” said Paul LaPenna, a cross country runner and a Skelton Award recipient (a $5,000 scholarship provided by Bill and Peggy Skelton). “Student Life has also supported community service by encouraging athletes, including myself, to get out there and provide for a community that truly loves our sports programs at Tech.”

Gilbert wants to continue this highly successful component of the Office of Student Life, while also expanding into other areas.

“I would like to increase our focus on the transition student-athletes make into college life at Tech and their evolution into the next phase of their lives, be it graduate school, a career, or professional sports,” she said. “The creation of a specific four-year plan for student-athletes would provide them with programming to meet their needs at each phase of their collegiate career. I believe this would not only assist student-athletes by providing them with a benchmark each year, but would also serve as an added benefit to coaches during the recruiting process.”

Other programs conducted by the Office of Student Life include those associated with personal development (bringing in guest speakers to talk about various topics) and career development (a week in November will be declared ‘Resume Critique Week’).

The Office of Student Life, thus, has successfully helped many student-athletes become well-rounded. That’s a tradition Gilbert and the team hope to continue.