Miriam Roccia, assistant dean of students at UMSL

Miriam Roccia is assistant dean of students at UMSL.
(Photo by August Jennewein)

Her title is assistant dean of students at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, but to many people who are familiar with her face in the Millennium Student Center, Miriam Roccia has another title.

“She is the bomb,” said one student during the recent groundbreaking ceremony for the new $36 million Recreation and Wellness Center.

Roccia is more modest, but her history of being a booster for both students and UMSL cannot be overlooked. As assistant dean of student life, Roccia’s duties include oversight of campus life, including the Office of New Student Programs, Millennium Student Center, the new recreation and wellness center, US Bank, Sodexo Food Service, UMSL Bookstore and the beverage and vending contracts.

“In no other job could I have the impact that I have on our students here,” she said.

She was also an adviser during the successful bid to build a rec center. Roccia maintained her neutrality, but personally saw it as a significant addition to campus life. As important as academics are to attracting students, many students look for universities that offer an array of opportunities to become involved and connected to campus, such as places to have fun and engage with other students, faculty and staff, Roccia said.

During the campaign, she offered support and knowledge as student surveys and signatures were collected and students voted on a referendum to build the center. All the while, she encouraged students to involve as many of their peers as possible in the process, whether they were pro or con. Overwhelming, their feelings were “pro.”

“We know that’s what prospective students are looking at,” she said, while sitting in the MSC on a quiet morning. “They’re looking for those amenities that a rec center provides.”

Roccia earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from Truman State University in Kirksville, Mo., and a master’s degree in public administration from Drake University. She’d planned for a career in municipal government, but became involved in student life as an undergraduate at Truman. First, someone suggested she get into peer academic counseling. The next year, she was suggested as a potential residential adviser. She credits those college experiences with influencing her decision to work in student life as a professional. Prior to working at UMSL, she worked in student life at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls.

In addition to the new rec center, Roccia’s influence can be felt on both UMSL’s campus and elsewhere. At both universities, she helped to create programs for new students. UMSL’s Office of New Student Programs opened in February 2013, and has already created buzz by helping to establish a welcoming and inclusive atmosphere for newcomers.

At the beginning of the fall semester, a student stopped Roccia to tell her that the campus felt different, as though it was a larger university.

“There’s a philosophy on campus and a shift that’s happening in really paying attention to what the students want,” she said.

Bennett Felton has worked closely with Roccia during his involvement in the Student Government Association. She’s known for being outspoken about students’ perspectives and needs, Felton said. On a personal level, Roccia offered Felton help during the early days of his presidency.

“She took time out of her busy, busy schedule to sit down and have lunch with me and make sure that I was OK with everything in student government,” Felton, a senior studying education, said.

Rachel Webb

Rachel Webb