New director of multicultural engagement aims to put students first

By: Brenden Schwartz, Staff Writer

Vanessa Rials is the new director of multicultural engagement and campus life. She is taking over for the previous director, Joseph Shepard, who she has worked closely with in the past. Shepard and Rials were receiving their undergrad simultaneously at WSU and Shepard helped Rials put on events using his Student Government status. Shepard said he has goals of making all of the Wichita community a better place and has left Newman to pursue these goals as the new director of Lead for Kansas, a non profit organization that encourages youth to stay local and become leaders in the community.

Rials was born and raised in Lawrence, Kansas and attended Lawrence Highschool. She went to Kansas University until she transferred to Wichita State University and got her bachelors and masters in social work. and Rials previously worked for an organization called Rise Up for Youth, an organization designed to help public high school students in Wichita educationally, emotionally and mentally. There, she wrote and facilitated a curriculum meant to empower and motivate students to graduate and pursue post-secondary education, she said.

“I’m far enough out of college to give advice but close enough to understand the importance of what I wanted when I was a student.”

Rials said she came to Newman because she was eager to put her skills to work at a university level.

Rials said she aims to create an atmosphere where “you can see our students’ voices” and that she believes that students are the heart of Newman and what gives the university purpose. To Rials, it is of utmost importance that students have a voice and are in a space where they feel comfortable sharing that voice so that they can express what they want and need to be successful, she said.

Allowing the freedom and space for individual creativity gives students the ability to grow, she said. This includes bringing together people from all different cultures and backgrounds to create an understanding of diversity and why understanding and having that diversity makes Newman a better place.

“I really see my role as giving you guys an opportunity to bring [student led organizations] together or to really shine and kind of be your behind the scenes support group. And I think that’s part of just listening to the students and supporting them that way.”

Rials said she hopes to accomplish these goals by bringing the students together. She wants to partner with different groups, clubs, and organizations around campus to create events that showcase the students’ passions and create a fun environment for all.  She plans to do so with events such as a Spoken Word Night, Open Mic Night, and even by bringing on local high school students to be a “college kid for a day.” This opportunity would allow high school students to get a feel for what their life could be like at Newman and show them all the opportunities available while also giving present Newman students the opportunity to mentor the next generation.

Rials said she loves to spend time with her family and values strong family connections. She has a passion for music and spends her free time furthering that passion by listening to music or creating it herself by playing the piano and violin, and she said she might even take up the guitar someday. Her appreciation for art extends to all forms and she loves to spend her weekends supporting current or previous students of hers by attending their shows, performances, or events.

PHOTO: Courtesy Photo,