Sarah Hansen named next University of Iowa Vice President for Student Life

Out of four finalists from varying areas of campus, the University of Iowa announced Thursday that Sarah Hansen, manager of strategic programs in the Provost’s Office, will take over as the next Vice President for Student Life.


Ryan Adams

Candidate for the role of Vice President of Student Life Sarah Hansen speaks during a forum at the IMU on Feb. 4, 2020. Hansen graduated from the University of Iowa with a Bachelor of Arts in Education and a Masters in Arts in Sociology.

The University of Iowa announced Thursday that Office of the Provost Manager of Strategic Programs Sarah Hansen has been named the next vice president for Student Life, effective April 1 and pending approval by the state Board of Regents.

Hansen will succeed interim Vice President for Student Life Laura McLeran, who took over the role temporarily after Melissa Shivers departed for the same position at Ohio State University in December 2019. She will receive an annual salary of $290,000.

“Sarah is a true university citizen who has shown time and time again an ability to bring together teams to support the success of our students,” UI President Bruce Harreld said in a statement Thursday. “With her connections across the university, I am certain that the integration of student life across our campus will broaden and deepen.”

As previously reported by The Daily Iowan, Hansen said as a finalist for the position in February that her goals for the position include expanding on learning opportunities, experiences, and exposure for a diverse community of students, faculty, and staff, and building stronger relationships across campus.

Hansen served as an associate vice president in the Office of the Vice President for Student Life from August 2016 to October 2019, and has since worked in the Office of the Provost managing strategic planning on campus and the implementation of the university’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Action Plan, stated the release.

Her extended experience, Hansen said at a public forum in February, makes her well-equipped to reach her goals. Her overall hope is to increase connections between students, faculty, and staff, Hansen said.

She said her main focus will be organizing conversations between students and faculty to build well-rounded relationships, which she believes is the key to students’ success.

“I am thrilled and honored to serve as the vice president for Student Life at the institution I love,” Hansen said in a statement Thursday. “The Division of Student Life plays a significant role in supporting student success by providing meaningful experiences outside the classroom and services that enable students to be included, safe, and healthy.”

Hansen was one of four finalists for the position, from various areas of campus.

In addition to Hansen, final candidates for the position included Tippie College of Business Associate Dean Ken Brown, Academic Support and Retention Associate Director Danielle Martinez, and Political Science Department Chair Brian Lai.

The university began looking for someone to fill the position internally not long after Shivers announced her departure. In a February interview with the DI, UI President Bruce Harreld said he did not want to lose any time in the search for a new vice president for Student Life and wanted to keep it confined to campus.

RELATED: Second UI VP for Student Life finalist Sarah Hansen emphasizes inclusion, relationship-building

UI Student Government President Noel Mills, one of many campus community members on the Vice President for Student Life search committee, said in October that Shivers made strides to increase diversity and inclusion, and that her permanent successor will have “big shoes to fill,” as previously reported by the DI.

“We should commit to keeping her legacy alive by continuing the hard conversations and upholding her vision for campus [and] refusing to settle until everybody feels safe and supported at Iowa,” Mills said, “because that was her dream.”

Mills said in an email to the DI on Thursday that she felt heard by the university while serving on the search committee. She found a sense of stability with Hansen and is excited to see this stability transfer into the Division of Student Life.

“She is a natural leader who takes the concerns of students and uses a strategic framework to find and implement solutions to concerns,” Mills said. “Her experience in the division will help her know what goals need to be met, and she has the campus trust required to achieve those goals. I believe Sarah will be a terrific VPSL because she truly leads with compassion, integrity, and dedication. She clearly cares about students and would move Heaven and Earth to help them.”

Vice President of the Graduate and Professional Student Government Thomas Pak said in an email to the DI that he knows coronavirus will complicate the Vice President for Student Life position in the future.

“This is a difficult time for both the [UI] and the world as a whole,” Pak said. “My constituents express an array of concerns as the situation rapidly evolves. As a medical student, I see and recognize so much health misinformation from outside of healthcare and university officials… We as [a] university, including the VPSL, need to continue providing prompt, accurate, and consistent messaging to our students. Importantly, the VPSL should continue the effort in creating an environment where students feel safe and that their concerns are strongly considered.”

Regardless of these complications, Pak said he knew Hansen was the right choice for the job.

“Sarah’s institutional knowledge will be valuable as VPSL,” he said “There are large scale issues that Sarah will be strongly situated to address. In regard to diversity, equity and inclusion, Sarah was in a DEI development plan group. As VPSL, Sarah can better bring into fruition the DEI plan as she understands the rationale for each section.”

At her public forum, Hansen addressed the #DoesUIowaLoveMe movement from spring 2019 and said that, if selected, she would be proactive in addressing issues of diversity and inclusion and making the campus a more inclusive and diverse setting for students.

“Our community is not equitable and inclusive if students don’t experience it that way,” she said.

Building relationships across all cultures and backgrounds will be one of her top priorities in the position, Hansen said.

“I’m excited to collaborate with [Division of Student Life] staff members to create even more focused partnerships with the Office of the Provost, colleges, and academic success units in support of the UI’s mission,” Hansen said in a statement.

Eleanor Hildebrandt contributed to this report.