New Employee Spotlight – Raphaella Prange

by Chris Reimer

Maryville welcomes Raphaella Prange to the Big Red M as our new Vice President of Student Life. Raphaella comes to us from Millikin University in Decatur, IL and has over 24 years of experience in higher education. She’s proud to be a first-generation college student and the child of a Latin-American immigrant, and has a proven track record of supporting student success with strategic and innovative programming.

Let’s get to know Raphaella!

Tell us about yourself.
My father immigrated from Nicaragua, and I am a second-generation Latina American. I am the oldest of five daughters and definitely identify as a matriarch, losing both my parents when we were young. I grew up near Miami, Florida until I went to college as a first-generation college student. I intended to be a broadcast journalist. I have always been a storyteller and I aspired to tell stories of the human experience. I believe I do that now in how I advocate for students, helping to narrate their lived experiences on college campuses to ensure their needs are met. I call myself an “educational inclusionist” because I center my work on access and opportunity within higher education. I received my master’s degree in Higher Education Administration from Indiana State University, and began my Student Affairs career at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology in 1998, working in Residence Life. In 1999, I transitioned to a 24 year-long career at Millikin University in Decatur, Illinois where I have served in all aspects of Student Affairs and in the teaching faculty. My family has lived on an urban homestead for the last 15 years where we love to garden, tend to 9 chickens, and several other pets. My husband is a PK-12 educator. Our son, Robert (17), is attending college in the fall, plays baseball and aspires to be a physician for underserved communities. Our daughter, Suzanne (15), is a classically trained dancer and enjoys musical theatre.

What are your goals for your new role?
We have an amazing opportunity to build a new team within Student Life at Maryville. I am so excited to foster a team of talented professionals whose passions exist in creating a sense of belonging and success for all students. I plan to work with our fantastic team to create strategies to improve engagement across all student types: residential, commuter, and online. I would also like to bridge a strong cooperation between Student Life and other areas of the University, with a focus on removing barriers to student retention and persistence. I would also like to become involved in the St. Louis Metro area and within organizations that would have capacity-building impacts for our students.

Why did you want to join the Maryville community?
After reading Dr. Lombardi’s book Pivot, I knew I wanted to work under his leadership. I believe the philosophy of students first as our customers and clients, paired with the groundbreaking use of technology on the Maryville campus is the innovative and progressive approach all institutions of higher education should be taking to stay relevant and produce the return on investment sought by and needed for our students and their families. After my on-campus interview in January, where I felt so welcomed, I knew that Maryville was the challenge and support I needed in my next professional endeavor.

What makes Maryville stand out in the higher ed space?
Maryville is a stand-out in so many ways. From innovative academic programs, to use of technology, the focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion (in a real way!), a successful esports program, corporate partnerships like the Rawlings Sports Business Management Program, the high retention and persistence rates of students, and a very inspiring new Strategic Plan for Maryville 2030 are just a few of the aspects of the Maryville community that make this institution remarkable.

What support systems do students most benefit from?
There is no “one-size fits all approach” to student support. Empathy is not the enemy of rigor. We can appropriately challenge and support students simultaneously. All students deserve access to equitable support systems based on their lived experiences. Holistically, I believe all students can benefit from trauma-informed practices and strengths-based advising models. At the foundation of student support, however, is relationships. Our goal should be to make a human connection with each student, utilizing our entire team of faculty and staff (and alumni!) to find that “one caring adult” who can mentor each student in accordance with their needs and aspirations. Removing barriers of insecurity whether those are related to engagement, finances, housing, nutrition, or medical/mental health needs – all factor into a successful student support strategy.

What are some current trends in student life and student involvement that you’re following?
My research and practice interest for the last ten years has been Trauma-Informed Practices and Pedagogy. I believe the study of how the brain, learning, and resilience is impacted by trauma and toxic stress, especially in the context of collective (pandemic) and cultural trauma is critical in shaping our work with students in and outside the classroom. I am also very interested in generational research related to Gen Z and Gen Alpha to inform current student affairs practice.

What are your hopes for Maryville over the next 5-10 years?
I am confident that Maryville will continue to grow by leaps and bounds over the next 5-10 years. Specifically, I see Maryville leading AI implementation in the student experience and creating access to quality education and engagement across the globe.

What do you love most about St. Louis?
I have spent a lot of time in St. Louis since I got married in 2004. My husband’s family is from the Alton, Illinois area. I love the St. Louis Cardinals – Go Redbirds! I love the zoo, seeing musicals at the Fabulous Fox, and the City Museum. But my very favorite thing is the food! As a foodie, I cannot get enough of the vast opportunities to try food from different cultures and cuisines. Did you know that St. Louis is home to the only Nicaraguan Restaurant in the Midwest? Fritanga on Jefferson is amazing and transports me back to my childhood kitchen and to la comida de mi papa.

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