Allie Markland in Utah on the SLE spring break trip to Utah, 2019. Photo courtesy Agatha Julien.
Story by Bridget Gibley, Culture Editor
Photos courtesy Agatha Julien
On Friday, Jan. 31, Aquinas College said goodbye to Allie Markland, the Director of Student Leadership and Engagement. I was able to interview her on her last day working at Aquinas. As we sat in The Moose, passing students stopped to say goodbye. Each time, Allie met them with a smile and a story, a testament to her friendly nature and her far-reaching impact on the students of Aquinas.
Originally from Indiana, Markland completed both undergraduate studies and a Master’s Program at Loyola University of Chicago. Markland went on to work in Residence Life at the Art Institute of Chicago for three years before moving to Grand Rapids, eventually working for Aquinas’ own Residence Life and then directing Student Leadership and Engagement.
While at Aquinas, Markland got involved with the Aquinas community in a plethora of ways. Among other things, she’s been a part of the Women’s Studies Programming Board, served as the Advisor to Student Senate, and participated in board meetings and Commencement activities (she says one of her accomplishments is that, for the past two years, she has been able to high-five every single graduate).
Markland’s infectious energy fit right in. She said, “I’m a pretty natural connector of people, so I think an environment like Aquinas gives so much room for that… I really love that about my time here, it’s a chance to be involved in the community beyond just your work.”
However, Markland cautioned students against taking the culture of engagement at Aquinas too far. She recommended “finding a balance between saying yes to every opportunity and saying yes to the things that you care about or the people you care about.”
During her time at Aquinas, she tried to model this for students. She said that authenticity is important for her, especially in her position with students. And her authenticity about this translates to other experiences as well.
When asked to share some of her favorite memories from Aquinas, Markland launched into a story about the Spring Break leadership development trip two years ago. She and Carson Perry, Assistant Director of Student Leadership and Engagement, took 12 students to Moab, Utah for the week. Markland spoke about the trip’s challenges, as it was her first time sleeping outside (and, she noted, the temperature dropped to 19 degrees the first night).
However, Markland knew that she had to push herself if she was asking her students to do that as well. “It was incredible, being in a totally new experience and watching students show up, all while I was having these same experiences of challenging myself… [I thought,] I can’t chicken out of this stuff, because I have to be here with the students…as a role model.”
She also spoke about the pride she feels being able to watch students grow from freshmen into graduates, seeing them speaking with confidence to President Quinn in Student Senate meetings or starting to get involved on campus. She said, “That’s the kind of thing that I’ll be really proud of when I leave, not just programs we’ve done, but where I’ve been able to see students developing this sense of confidence and really getting as much as they can out of their experience. That’s all any of us can hope for as educators.”
Markland said it’s easy to think about this past month as her senior year, because “everything you do is for the last time, you’re trying to be present and thinking about what’s next.” And just as it is for our seniors, this transition is scary but also exciting.
Her motivations for the departure are yet another way for Markland to be a role model for students. She commented on the fact that she’s always been on an educational track (straight to college, then grad school, then straight to working in higher education for years). She said, “I feel fortunate and privileged to be able to take a break and figure out what I want to be doing. I’m really excited about it.”
She also said that she feels proud of the work she’s done at Aquinas. “A lot of it is also a new sense of confidence in a lot of ways. I’ve really challenged myself as a leader, as a person. It’s not always been easy, so to be able to walk away and know that I really did some great work, gives [me] a lot of confidence as I walk away.”
When asked if she had any parting advice for students, Markland answered, “I would tell people to do the things that you care about. Do the things that you’re passionate about. Be open to the fact that those might be different in your senior year than they were in your freshman year. When you let your passions guide you and steer you to the next thing, you’re never in the position where you’ve made the wrong choice.”
In a 2017 article by The Saint, Markland was asked what advice she would give to college students. She said, “lay off the chocolate pop-tarts and wear your retainer.” In one last moment of authenticity and care for the students of Aquinas, this year, Markland said, “Wear your retainer, but eat as many chocolate pop-tarts as you want.”
Bridget Gibley is a senior at Aquinas studying English, Spanish and Women’s Studies. She thrives on reading, writing, and lots of coffee.