By Alysa Morley
Sep 22, 2021
Dr. Amy French, assistant professor in the Department of Student Affairs and Higher Education (SAHE), has an office full of toys her students have brought her over the years – and some toys even show up in class to accompany her fun, loud personality. She’s eager to joke about her dog, Boss, to her students and colleagues alike. (He is the boss, after all.) Don’t let the fun and games fool you, though. She’s serious about student affairs.
Her early career ambitions started small; she wanted to be a senator, or maybe the President. Dr. French was drawn to politics to make a difference, but after earning degrees in political science and social justice with plans to go to law school, she realized that wasn’t the right fit.
Some might say politics didn’t work out because teaching is in her blood. Dr. French comes from a family with a long history of teaching. Her relatives have taught for more than 150 years combined, and her family encouraged her to follow in their footsteps. For years, Dr. French insisted teaching wasn’t for her.
Now, she has a Ph.D. in Higher Education Leadership from Indiana State, coordinates the SAHE program, and is up for tenure this year.
“My grandmother knew all along that I was meant to teach. I just didn’t see it yet. It took a lot of steps to get me to that point,” Dr. French says.
So, why did she choose student affairs?
Dr. French believes in the power of higher education to change communities for the better. Students became Dr. French’s focus because “people don’t become alumni without being a student first.”
“Strong alumni support comes from good student experiences,” she explains. “I’m most interested in students because they’re who’s coming next. It’s student affairs and the non-academic relationships that become stories and make the college experience worth it.”
Student affairs helps make Indiana State’s campus an accepting place where students can be themselves.
“Part of being in SAHE is championing our students,” says Dr. French. “It’s about who they are and the identities they bring to the table – race, ability, gender, sexuality, religion, culture – and welcoming them in and allowing them to be themselves through the academic process.”
However, the impacts of Dr. French’s work extend far beyond Indiana State. She has been involved in many publications, conferences, and research opportunities nationally, and has led trips abroad where SAHE students apply what they learn in class to real-world situations.
During her last trip, Dr. French and her students explored various campus environments, visited cultural sites, and learned from other student affairs professionals in Ghana.
Her most recent research explores “ways to promote a sense of belonging on college campuses by fostering inclusive campuses for individuals with disabilities.
“It goes beyond thinking about accommodations,” she says. “There’s a lot we can do to be inclusive. It doesn’t have to be through policy or the law. We can just be good people doing good work, and think through things like, ‘how is my office set up, and if someone comes in, do they feel welcome?’”
You don’t have to be a student affairs professional to help improve access and inclusion, Dr. French says. Everyone can take part in improving our campus because “being open and willing to talk about our differences and who we are makes education and how we learn more vibrant.”
Dr. French feels for her students entering the workforce because she knows what it’s like to struggle to find a path. Her current work wasn’t in her five-year or even 10-year plan.
“It’s something I couldn’t have even imagined when I was younger,” she says. “Growing up in western Kentucky, I didn’t even know this was a job.
“There are so many steps that occur along the way, and they’re not easy. A lot of time, work, and setbacks happen, but most people don’t see that. Then our students struggle to understand what success looks like and how to champion their own stories. No one’s path is straight or easy, but if you are being your authentic self and doing good work, you will find the path that’s meant for you”
Reflecting on her journey, Dr. French says, “My career didn’t end up how I thought it would, but it’s way better than I could have imagined!”