Founded in 1891, Buena Vista University is a private four-year university nestled on the shores of a beautiful 3,000-acre natural lake in Storm Lake, Iowa – a town of diverse populations, interests, and industry. The community is tight knit, rich with Midwest values and driven to flourish. Within this idyllic setting, Buena Vista University is an institution on the move poised to accomplish positive and innovative institutional advances underpinned by a strong vision to enhance regional and national recognition. Of the 1,847 total students enrolled for the 2018-19 academic year, there are 733 undergraduate students at the Storm Lake campus. The online, site, and graduate programs are comprised of 1,114 undergraduate degree completion and graduate students. Over 40 percent of BVU students participate in intercollegiate athletics on 19 NCAA Division III teams. BVU was Carnegie Classified in Community Engagement in 2010 and will retain this classification until 2020. This is the highest honor a university can gain in service and civic engagement.

The Position

Reporting to the President, the Vice President for Student Success serves as the chief retention officer and provides leadership for the Division of Student Success which includes Career and Personal Development; Student Conduct; Diversity, Inclusion and Interfaith; Student Leadership/Activities; Civic Engagement, Retention and Outreach; First and Second Year Experience; Counseling, Health and Wellness; Campus Security; Residential Life; Recreation, and Athletics. The Vice President for Student Success is primarily responsible for leading the university’s Title IX process and campus wide initiatives in student retention, student engagement, and programmatic efforts that foster an inclusive and collaborative environment. The Vice President for Student Success is a key partner with the Vice President for Academic Affairs to promote the intentional integration of students’ academic and co-curricular experiences—experiences expressly designed to enrich student learning, build and maintain strong college and student cohort identities, and advance campus retention and graduation goals. The Vice President for Student Success will also partner closely with the Vice President for Enrollment to ensure campus recruitment and retention models are aligned. The Vice President for Student Success will be a campus-wide thought leader and collaborator around best/next practices that foster a culture of student achievement, cultivate students’ sense of belonging and self-confidence, integrate approaches that will reinforce the co-dependency between academic, social, personal, professional, and spiritual development through a growth mindset. The new Vice President for Student Success will manage an operating budget of $4.4 million and will be charged with strategically reviewing the current organizational structure, staff functions and staffing levels with an understanding that the President will support strategic change and growth with a focus on increased student success.

Qualifications and Characteristics of the Successful Candidate

Candidates must possess a master’s degree (earned doctorate preferred) in college student personnel administration, higher education administration, or a similar field with substantive, progressively responsible leadership experience in student affairs. Experience supervising multiple departments in student success, student development, student affairs, or related areas is preferred. Candidates must possess a clear commitment to and understanding of the mission of a comprehensive university with a liberal arts and professional focus with a substantial residential student population as well as an adult population. Candidates must also possess deep experience and knowledge on proven practices in student retention; demonstrated achievement in implementing practices to retain and graduate diverse student populations; and, knowledge of national trends in strategic recruitment, retention and state/federal rules and regulations. A demonstrated commitment to student success and transformation coupled with a vision for working collaboratively with colleagues across the institution to achieve institutional priorities is required. The ideal candidate will possess strong organizational, assessment, presentation, and interpersonal communication skills, and must demonstrate effective leadership, strategic planning, writing, and intercultural skills.

Additionally, various stakeholders identified a number of characteristics as important attributes of the Vice President for Student Success.

  • Ability to build and maintain productive relationships with the President’s Councilsenior academic leaders, faculty, students, parents, alumni, Board of Trustees, and other constituents important to the success of Buena Vista University.
  • A creative, progressive, energized leader with a strong student-oriented focus.
  • An understanding of tools and approaches to increase student retention.
  • Strong understanding of contemporary student issues and values, and the ability to develop a natural rapport with students and student leaders.
  • An unwavering commitment to diversity, and the ability to develop and maintain inclusive communities at Buena Vista University.
  • Broad knowledge and experience in student life and co-curricular engagement.
  • Strong data analysis skills.
  • Demonstrated ability to facilitate partnerships among academic programs and other divisions of the university.
  • Strong problem-solving skills with an inclusive and collaborative approach to managing change.
  • The ability to remain calm in crisis situations, to act decisively, and to apply sound judgment in determining appropriate action regarding interventions, assistance, and the referral of students to other university staff members.
  • Professional demeanor, good sense of humor, highly organized and disciplined, and the ability to relate easily to a wide range of groups.
  • A good listener who can synthesize information, get others on board, and articulately explain divisional goals and initiatives to individuals outside of the division and institution.
  • Leadership, flexibility, efficiency, attention to detail, and the ability to prioritize tasks and meet deadlines for a wide variety of assignments.
  • Tact, diplomacy, and confidentiality in dealing with members of the Buena Vista University community.
  • Proven ability to recruit and retain high-performing team members with a demonstrated commitment to support staff development and a strong team environment.
  • Outstanding ability to motivate and empower staff to get results.

History of the Position

Dale Scully served as Vice President for Student Affairs starting in 2014 and left Buena Vista University to accept a position as Vice President of Student Life at Fresno Pacific University in the summer of 2018. The Assistant Dean for Student Life at Buena Vista University, Ashley Farmer-Hanson, is currently serving as interim Vice President for Student Success until the position is filled. The name of the division was changed from student affairs to student success to demonstrate a more intentional and comprehensive approach to the success of students.

Likely Opportunities, Priorities, and Challenges of the Position

In transitioning to Buena Vista University, the Vice President for Student Success will encounter a number of opportunities, priorities, and challenges, as shared by University stakeholders.

  • Must be viewed as a highly-regarded expert on issues of student development, evolving trends impacting student life, and the programs and services designed to support student success, and on the diverse student body served by Buena Vista University.
  • As a reoccurring theme, the Vice President for Student Success will be tasked with enhancing student retention and graduation rates through increased student engagement. Accordingly, the Vice President must stay attuned to evolving student needs and interests and support the division’s ability to be innovative and creative in its programming, services, and support to students and student organizations.
  • Develop and support strong town/gown relationships through active participation in the community to build positive lines of communication, shared objectives, and efforts to enhance student success.
  • Ensure ongoing efforts directed at creating an inclusive, friendly, and supportive environment for all students as the University becomes increasingly diverse with regard to socioeconomic, racial, and ethnic backgrounds of US domestic and international students.
  • Create a culture throughout the Division where placing students first is an absolute priority.
  • Serve as a champion for the Division, delivering a clear message that reinforces the value of Student Success staff and the contributions they make each day to support student success and the mission of the institution.
  • Advance Buena Vista University’s brand identity.
  • Building on previous successes in the division, the successful candidate will also evaluate the current mix of student services, initiatives and activities, and make recommendations for enrichment or improvement.
  • Must actively engage students in a holistic manner, be highly visible throughout the campus, and be regarded as a role model for students, exemplifying what it means to be a fully-engaged member of the campus community.

Measures of Success for the Position

At an appropriate interval after joining Buena Vista University, a number of accomplishments will initially define success for the new Vice President for Student Success.

  • The Vice President for Student Success will have reviewed organizational strengths and weaknesses and will have outlined the strategic direction and long-term plan for the Division of Student Success consistent with the University’s mission and goals.
  • It will be important for the Vice President for Student Success to assess the skills and knowledge of the staff, develop a strong sense of teamwork among staff, and build working relationships that emphasize an engaging and collaborative work environment.
  • The Vice President for Student Success will maintain a proactive, highly visible, well-respected, and established leadership presence on and off campus that is credible, collegial, and highly effective.
  • The Division of Student Success will be defined as a strong, highly functioning, well-regarded, and resilient team that works with synergy and shared purpose, readily collaborating across departmental and division lines with a demonstrated commitment to student success.
  • In collaboration with other key university stakeholders, the Vice President for Student Success is tasked with providing leadership for a campus-wide, collaborative effort focused on increasing student retention and persistence to degree completion. This is a key area in which the vice president must demonstrate vision, leadership, and responsibility.

An Overview of the Division of Student Success

The Division of Student Success at Buena Vista University strives to integrate students’ educational experiences into a learning community filled with opportunities, challenges, and services that promote the development of the whole person. The Division of Student Success creates an atmosphere where students can thrive within a learning community prepared to live and work in a global and diverse society.

Involvement in activities outside the classroom influence a student’s personal and professional growth as much as the academic experience does by providing opportunities in leadership, service to others and other skill development. The Division of Student Success staff is devoted to providing the programming and services that support education as a social growth process.

The Division of Student Success is comprised of the following departments dedicated to the success of each and every student: Career and Personal Development, Diversity, Student Conduct, Inclusion and Interfaith, Student Leadership/Activities, Civic Engagement, Retention and Outreach, First and Second Year Experience, Counseling, Health and Wellness, Campus Security, Residential Life, Recreation, and Athletics.

Organizational Structure

Institution & Location

Institutional Background

Buena Vista University (BVU) is a private institution that was founded in 1891. It has a total enrollment of 1,847 students, its setting is rural, and the campus size is 60 acres. It utilizes a 4-1-4-based academic calendar.

Buena Vista College (which became Buena Vista University in 1995) was founded by the Presbyterian Church (USA) in 1891. The college was first granted accreditation by the North Central Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools in 1952. A graduate program in education received accreditation in 1995, initiating a transition from a college to a university.

Over time, the campus has grown from four buildings in a small area to nearly two dozen buildings which cover a handful of blocks along the shores of Storm Lake. The first college building, known as “Old Main,” was opened in 1892 and was the primary building on campus until it was destroyed by fire in 1956. During the 1950s and 1960s, a major expansion program was initiated with construction of three residence halls, a science building, physical education complex, library, campus center, an auditorium, and a classroom-administration building.

The college launched a new era in May 1980, when it received an anonymous $18 million gift. Five years later, the anonymous donor was revealed when the Harold Walter Siebens School of Business/Siebens Forum (HWSSOB/SF) was dedicated in the name of the benefactor. This gift started the creation of a competitive college endowment, which supported physical construction and renovation, as well as further development of regionally-recognized academic programs. It made possible such distinctive programs as the William W. Siebens American Heritage Lecture Series and the Academic & Cultural Events Series (ACES). The HWSSOB/SF is currently undergoing a renovation to create a more student-focused space. Upon completion in December, students will have lounges, more modern classrooms, a state-of-the-art dining hall, a ticker tape trading room for business majors, and a renovated bookstore.

An institutional self-study indicated the need to strengthen the college library and information resources, leading to construction of the Library and Information Technology Center in 1994-95. In 2001, the $9.5 million Lamberti Recreation Center opened, featuring three multipurpose courts and a six-lane, 200-meter indoor track. In 2004, BVU dedicated the state-of-the-art, $70,000-square foot Estelle Siebens Science Center. Four years later, renovations to the old science building were completed and the building was rededicated as the Social Sciences & Art Hall with an attached Center for Ceramics and Sculpture. In 2012, a major renovation of Pierce/White residence halls was completed, including new furniture, upgraded lighting, a multipurpose space, elevator, and a new entrance.

Throughout the years, Buena Vista University has recognized needs and trends and adapted to meet them. In the mid-70s, the institution opened its first satellite location to help serve the needs of non-traditional students who could not attend classes in Storm Lake. Today, there are 16 locations across the state of Iowa as well as an online program for expanded learning opportunities. Graduate students benefit from several online options as well. In 2000, BVU became the nation’s first “wireless community” by providing laptops to all full-time students and faculty on the Storm Lake campus with the ability to connect to the campus-wide wireless network. Since then, BVU has built on civic engagement opportunities to create a greater atmosphere for community and campus service and involvement. Students have learned what it means to be global citizens and travel the world through professor-led academic ventures. Students also will soon benefit from a marching and pep band program, as well as an Institute for Agriculture, Food, and Resource Management, which will feature programs in ag-business and ag-science starting in Fall 2019.

About Storm Lake, IA

Not only is Storm Lake a college town, it also boasts a lake, rich heritage and history, diverse cultures, and opportunities in which college students thrive. The shores of Storm Lake are unbeatable for quiet reflection and focus. But, we’re also the hub in Northwest Iowa. From fun in the sun to ice hockey, and boutiques to pad thai, Storm Lake is the place for adventure and discovery.

For satisfying a late night burrito craving at an authentic restaurant, or digging into barbecue at wing night, this college town has it all. And believe it or not, Iowa’s Best Burger 2017, according to The Iowa Cattlemen’s Association and the Iowa Beef Industry Council, as well as Travel Iowa’s 9th best donut bakery, can be found right here in Storm Lake. Grab a coffee and go shoe shopping, or buy a new batting glove with a teammate. Storm Lake has much to offer.

Storm Lake itself is the fourth largest glacier lake in Iowa, spanning over 3,200 acres and considered the region’s best for walleye fishing. Enjoy music, theater, arts, and athletics at Buena Vista University. Outdoor recreation includes lakeshore parks and campgrounds, biking and walking trails, two marinas, and public access for boating, fishing and swimming.

For more information about Storm Lake, IA, visit the Chamber of Commerce website at


We prepare students for lifelong success through transformational academic, professional and co-curricular programs.


By 2018, BVU will be recognized as a leader in blending a strong liberal arts education with professionally oriented career and life preparation for an increasingly diverse student population by:

  • Providing students with exceptional classroom and experiential learning opportunities to gain the multidisciplinary knowledge and skills to succeed in their professions, careers and service to their communities.
  • Strengthening programs, disciplines and modes of delivery which are vital to preparing globally-engaged and ethical citizens who contribute to the economic, intellectual, and cultural development of our world.

Joshua D. Merchant, Ph.D., President

The Buena Vista University Board of Trustees appointed Joshua D. Merchant, PhD, as the University’s 18th president in February 2017. Dr. Merchant officially began his term on June 26, 2017.

With a strong belief that higher education serves the public good, Dr. Merchant has worked in education for 20 years. Prior to joining BVU, he was the vice president of development and alumni engagement at the University of North Florida and served as the chief operating officer for the UNF Foundation, Inc.  Dr. Merchant’s professional accomplishments include significantly increasing philanthropic support for UNF and successfully spearheading the UNF Foundation’s first comprehensive strategic planning process to bolster philanthropic efforts.

Dr. Merchant also spent a significant time at Albion College, where he served as vice president of institutional advancement and as interim vice president for enrollment management. During his tenure, he provided leadership for fundraising, a comprehensive integrated marketing campaign, and was part of an enrollment strategy that successfully increased net tuition.

Prior to Albion College, Dr. Merchant served at Interlochen Center for the Arts, Central Michigan University, and Michigan State University.

Throughout his career, Dr. Merchant has prioritized having a strong presence within the greater community to build institutional growth, engagement, and success – something he wholeheartedly believes in and has carried over as BVU’s president.

Dr. Merchant, who has farming roots in the Midwest and has spent considerable time in Michigan, earned his bachelor’s degree in speech communications and theatre from Albion College, his master’s degree in agricultural extension education from Michigan State University, and his PhD in educational leadership, research, and technology from Western Michigan University. His ongoing scholarship focuses on venture philanthropy and its impact on shared governance structures in higher education.

He and his wife, Carrie, are the proud parents of two school-age sons, Elijah and Griffin.

The Academic Program

With more than 45 academic programs and majors to choose from, students are able to align passions with an exciting academic path leading to success in college and after graduation. Choosing a major is a big decision, which is why our broad selection covers areas ranging from pre-med to strategic public relations.

The student-faculty ratio at Buena Vista University is 9:1, and the school has 75.9 percent of its classes with fewer than 20 students. The most popular majors at Buena Vista University include: Business, Management, Marketing, and Related Support Services; Education; Biological and Biomedical Sciences; Parks, Recreation, Leisure, and Fitness Studies; and Visual and Performing Arts. The average freshman retention rate, an indicator of student satisfaction, is 73 percent. ( )

The major study areas of Buena Vista University are grouped within five schools:

Harold Walter Siebens School of Business
School of Communication & Arts
School of Education & Exercise Science
School of Science
School of Social Science, Philosophy & Religion

The Student Body

Buena Vista University has a total enrollment of 1,847, serving students on the Storm Lake campus and online, site, and graduate programs. Undergraduate enrollment is 733, with a gender distribution of 49 percent male students and 51 percent female students. At the university, 90 percent of the students live in college-owned, -operated or -affiliated housing and 10 percent of students live off campus. In sports, Buena Vista University is part of the NCAA III. ( )

  • Based on a response rate of nearly 100 percent, 96 percent of the Class of 2017 was employed, in graduate school, or otherwise satisfied with their career status within six months of graduation.
  • In the past 40+ years, more than 16,000 students have received bachelor’s degrees from BVU sites located on community college campuses.
  • The average student-faculty ratio is 9:1. The average class range is 10-19 students.
  • BVU students, faculty, and staff volunteered approximately 56,000 service hours for the city, schools, churches, local organizations, and other locations. Volunteers at Buenafication Day help beautify the campus and provide needed services to off-campus, community sites. This proud tradition continues each year.
  • Over 70 percent of Storm Lake campus graduates and 90 percent of offsite graduates stay in Iowa to work and contribute to their professions and their communities.
  • Last year, 195 students completed internships, not including student teaching, research, or other applied learning opportunities.
  • One hundred percent of full-time Storm Lake campus students who applied for financial assistance last year received it.
  • Each year, BVU provides approximately $14 million in student financial assistance out of its operating budget.
  • More than 45 percent of BVU students participate in intercollegiate athletics on 19 NCAA Division III teams.

Benefits Overview

Buena Vista University offers employees a competitive package of employee benefits. This program is designed to protect and promote their financial, physical and emotional well-being.

Benefits include, but are not limited, to the following:

  • Medical
  • Prescription Drugs and Specialty Drugs
  • Wellness
  • Flexible Spending Accounts
  • Health Savings Accounts
  • Dental and Vision Benefits
  • Employee Assistance Programs
  • Life Insurance Benefits
  • Retirement Plans
  • Educational Tuition Grant
  • Travel Assistance Benefits

For a detailed look at BVU benefits, visit the website at

Application & Nomination

Review of applications will begin immediately and continue until the position is filled. To apply for this position please click on the Apply button, complete the brief application process, and upload your resume and position-specific cover letter. Nominations for this position may be emailed to Quincy Martin III at Applicants needing reasonable accommodation to participate in the application process should contact Spelman Johnson at 413-529-2895.

Visit the Buena Vista University website at

Buena Vista University is an Equal Opportunity/Americans with Disabilities Act/Smoke-Free Employer.