You are currently viewing Profile: Assistant Dean Ryan Upshaw

Profile: Assistant Dean Ryan Upshaw

When he began working at Millsaps in February 2022 as Assistant Dean for Student Life, Diversity and Inclusion, Ryan Upshaw looked forward to learning about the campus community from the rest of the staff, but he suddenly had to prepare himself to undertake additional duties in a new environment when some of the staff left the school. For Dean Upshaw, however, working with students and relying on communication and interpersonal skills is nothing new.

Dean Upshaw is from Moss Point, MS. After graduating from Moss Point High School, he attended the University of Mississippi and at first pursued the pre-med route. However, he soon felt the need to change as he recalled, “I decided to major in psychology because I was interested in the social sciences and interested in people. I always found myself wanting to be in some sort of profession where I could help people.”

Diving into campus life, he became a student ambassador, orientation leader, and member of both the student government and yearbook staff. He credits the campus staff for sparking his interest in administerial positions as well as success as a student. He was chosen as one of ten seniors for the Ole Miss Hall of Fame, an honor bestowed to students who demonstrate outstanding involvement in campus activities and leadership.

“I recently realized that I would be considered a first-generation student,” Dean Upshaw said. “I think it does kind of go to show that you don’t have to have that background that I think everyone expects you to have to have in order to be recognized in that way. You just sort of have to figure out where your passions are and then be able to really work towards that.”

After graduating from Ole Miss with a BA in psychology and MA in higher education, Dean Upshaw worked at Ole Miss for thirteen and a half years, fulfilling various roles for the institution and earning several awards for his dedication. He worked in admissions for about a year and a half, in the honors college for five years, and after that he became the assistant dean for student services in the School of Engineering. Through these positions, he worked in areas such as student recruitment, the admissions process, career services, the Judicial Council, and advising student organizations.

“There were times that he had a line outside of his office of people waiting to speak with him…[the students] really looked up to him and really valued him as a mentor,” said Megan Upchurch Miller, Assistant Dean of Undergraduate Programs at the University of Mississippi’s School of Engineering.

Achintya Prasad, an Ole Miss graduate, stated that “working with Ryan is a window into what it means to be a serving leader, and cultivator of talent…I saw firsthand his personal impact on me during the Summer Trent Lott Leadership Institute…  Ryan kept me going through some of the toughest challenges I faced in college, and will forever have an impact on my future, and the futures of so many others.”

One thing that brought Dean Upshaw to Millsaps is his love of working on a college campus. Just prior to joining the Major community, he worked as Director of Diversity and Outreach at Jackson Preparatory School in Jackson. He said that he “was only there for about a year and a half, and so I had planned to stay a little bit longer, but when this opportunity presented itself to me, I couldn’t really turn it down.”

Once at Millsaps, he had plenty of roles to fill. “With us being a small school, the Office of Student Life kind of handles a lot of the issues that involve student activities, programming, everything. Some of the areas that we oversee that I’m directly involved in are fraternity and sorority life, our student activities and programming, orientation, residence life, our diversity education programs, and student conduct are probably the biggest ones, and I also advise our SBA.” Students can thank the Office of Student Life for helping to plan and coordinate homecoming activities, including the halftime court presentation and the dunk tank.

In addition to his other duties, the assistant dean also serves on the Race, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee. “That group is working very hard to develop some ideas and thoughts on how we can continue to enhance inclusivity here at Millsaps…For me, the words diversity and inclusivity are very broad.” Dean Upshaw wants to ensure that everyone feels like they belong at Millsaps, including LGBTQ+ students, students with physical or mental health issues, students coming from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, and religious groups.

As for the most rewarding and the most challenging part of his job? “Students are the answer to both of those,” he said with a laugh. He wishes a student conduct process was not necessary, but he also sees it as a way for students to learn from mistakes. He also regrets not always having the resources to meet students’ requests for things on campus. However, the reward is well worth the challenges.

“That’s the reason that you do this work. You don’t always get paid a whole lot of money. It isn’t always the most glamorous work. It doesn’t put you in the highest social circles. But, if you have a passion for students and you have a passion for helping people, I encourage folks to look into what it would look like to work in student affairs.”

Despite whatever shortcomings we may face at Millsaps, it is reassuring to know there is someone behind the scenes who is working long hours and drawing from years of experience to provide an engaging, inclusive and supportive environment.