With almost 30 years of experience at IU under her belt, Melanie Payne was promoted to lead the office of First Year Experiences Programs earlier this month. She hopes to help the overall well-being of first-year students, which includes efforts to promote access to mental health services.
FYE is a campus program that runs New Student Orientation, Welcome Week, Hoosier Experience and Hoosier Link. It also helps first-year and transfer students on their journeys by connecting them to other opportunities and services on campus.
“I believe that when you raise your hand and when you ask for help and when you reach out, the help is here,” Payne said. “I think that’s what I want students to think of when they think of Indiana University and when they think of their first year.”
The future of FYE has three main focuses — the student, the team and the campus. Both Payne and Vice Provost for Enrollment Management David Johnson said one of the primary goals is to increase collaboration with other campus programs and services.
“We’ve been building on just helping the campus talk about the first-year experience and helping to coordinate some activities that support that first year for students,” Payne said. “At the heart of it, that’s what I’d like to continue.”
One of the core reasons for this collaboration is to make students more comfortable with campus. If a student is more comfortable, Payne said, the student will be on the way to confidence and will take steps to explore, to seek out opportunities and to ask for help.
Another focus of FYE in the future will be on mental health and how the campus is trying to help students. The program is diving into how to provide students with more tools and access to help with mental health. The constant goal of the office is to give students access to more and more opportunities.
“I am a part of a system, and I am a part of an office, and if my contribution to moving that forward can help students, then that’s what I hope,” Payne said.
Payne replaced Jack Rhodes, who retired last year. At first, the office looked nationally to replace him.
“When we thought about a position at this level, we would typically conduct a national search,” said Sacha Thieme, assistant vice provost and executive director of admissions. “In that national search we would look for someone who has a strong history in orientation and first-year experience and programmatic development and collaborative relationship building.”
Payne, who was formerly the senior associate director in the Office of FYE and the director of orientation programs, fit those requirements.
“She has more than two decades of experience at IU,” Johnson said. “We were looking for leadership in this space, and so that’s why we didn’t have to look very far.”
In addition, Payne has a national presence in her field. She is the president of the Association for Orientation, Transition and Retention in Higher Education. This national organization is responsible for bringing professionals in the university first-year experience field together to discuss and share ideas.
“It really all came together that we had a national candidate right here on campus,” Thieme said.
Beyond official university policies, Payne said she hopes she can offer guidance to new students.
“Get out of your comfort zone,” Payne said. “Take a risk and get involved in something. Engage yourself and take control of your experience.”