Xavier welcomes Dr. Burwell, new Dean of Retention

By Mattie Cielpak, Staff Writer

Dr. Melissa Burwell has taken over the dean of retention position at Xavier University. 

The New York and Pennsylvania native previously obtained a degree in Sociology from Gordon College, a Master of Science in Counseling and College Student Personnel from Shippensburg University and a Doctor of Education in Educational Leadership and Learning from the University of St. Thomas. 

“My research interests center on women and leadership in higher education, and equity and student success,” Burwell said.

She became interested in working in the collegiate environment from the time she was a student at Gordon.

“As a college student, I was an RA and writing tutor. I loved working with college students and decided to pursue a career in student affairs after college,” Burwell said. 

Her jobs included residence hall director, youth development and high school dropout prevention, an AmeriCorps program and then coming back to the collegiate setting to work at a college access and scholarship program.

The impact of all these experiences on Burwell shaped her decision to pursue a doctorate. 

“In order to ensure every student thrives, you need to work within, not just alongside, institutions to create change,” Burwell reflected.

Photo courtesy of xavier.edu

Formerly working at Carthage College in Wisconsin as assistant dean of students and director of student success, Burwell was looking for something new when she stumbled upon Xavier. 

“I was interested in being part of an institution committed to working to live out its shared values. The role seemed like a great fit while also a big challenge,” Burwell said.

Burwell’s responsibilities as dean of retention are to work with the enrollment management and student success team to provide the best student experience possible for first-year and sophomore students. 

These retention efforts include ensuring students are successful inside and outside of the classroom and breaking down any barriers that exist. 

Burwell acknowledged that the similarities between the Carthage and Xavier roles outweigh the differences. 

“Both positions focus on ensuring every student is supported to and through their college experience and thrives along the way,” she said. 

Burwell had many responsibilities at Carthage, which included overseeing retention initiatives, managing a team of success coaches, collaborating with faculty to help struggling students, managing and analyzing data to help identify barriers and help students succeed and developing intervention plans to address said barriers.

She realized Xavier was the right fit for a new position during her hiring process. 

“As I got to know Xavier during the search process, I came to appreciate its commitment to students, to excellence and its Catholic identity,” Burwell mentioned. 

However, since coming to campus, Burwell has noticed the aspects of Xavier not identifiable during an interview process, like the student community. 

“While quantitative data like retention and persistence rates are helpful, so, too, are the stories and insights students share about what is working to support their educational experience,” Burwell said.  

“It is an exciting time to be here with a new president and with a new strategic plan which centers student retention and success as a key indicator of our success as an institution,” she concluded.