Over the last few weeks, the University of Massachusetts Amherst community has seen its daily life upended due to the COVID-19 global pandemic. Almost every student has received emails detailing next steps and resources, but have we stopped to think about who the faces behind those emails are? So, without further ado, it’s time to get to know our new vice chancellor of student affairs & campus life here at UMass Amherst, Brandi Hephner LaBanc.
I first met the vice chancellor when I was doing a photo project for the admissions office. I was walking around Whitmore Administration Building taking pictures of people, and I stumbled upon her office. Without me asking, her staff offered to get the Vice Chancellor so that I could get a picture of her. She happily agreed, and we spent a few minutes talking and taking pictures (she informed me that she too enjoyed photography).
A couple of weeks after that, I contacted Hephner LaBanc for a profile, and she graciously agreed to do an interview with me. She honored the appointment even when she was dealing with the aftermath of the unprecedented transition to an online semester because of the pandemic; that was the first indication I got that Hephner LaBanc was 100 percent dedicated to her students. Hephner LaBanc sported a maroon shawl (suspiciously close to my personal favorite UMass maroon), and what appears to be her signature pixie cut during our Zoom interview. As my excited golden retriever jumped to my lap and interrupted her answer, Hephner LaBanc laughed and told me “it was okay” with a slight southern drawl and asked me her name.
Born in Ohio, Brandi Hephner LaBanc, a first generation college student, attended the University of Akron, where she obtained her bachelor’s degree in accounting. She later got her master’s degree in higher education administration and student personnel at Kent State University, and her Ed.D. at Northern Illinois University in adult and higher education.
She says she regrets that she didn’t know at the time about the tools her university had to offer, but that didn’t stop her from participating on campus life outside of class. A former member of her university’s SGA and participant in Greek life, Hephner LaBanc hopes her students at UMass Amherst put the same emphasis on their campus lives as she did.
“Being involved taught me how to effectively manage my time and advocate for issues that were important to me. My campus leadership experiences were great lessons on how to enact change, build meaningful relationships, and how to ask for help. I received a great degree, but I also grew exponentially as a woman in leadership,” Hephner LaBanc said over email.
Having previously worked as the vice chancellor for student affairs at the University of Mississippi, or Ole Miss as it’s commonly known, Hephner LaBanc was first attracted to UMass Amherst because of the values the university promotes. The values that struck Hephner LaBanc the most were the university's culture of teamwork, how we value humanity, celebrate diversity, and the emphasis that is put into learning from others. The student-centered sense of community at UMass Amherst is Hephner LaBanc’s favorite aspect of the university.
“The more I read and learned, the more I wanted to be a part of the community. This university is a national leader in many ways, but I am most impressed with the strong, student-centered ethos. Of course, this current crisis further illuminated that value—despite the difficult decisions having to be made, the impact to individuals has been at the forefront of every conversation,” Hephner LaBanc said over email.
As for her work, Hephner LaBanc’s goal is for students to have the best possible college experience.
“My motivation each day boils down to seeing students succeed. College is a personal journey for every single student at UMass. The more I can learn students’ stories, their motivations, their barriers, and their goals, the more effective I become. I want students to show up at UMass Amherst, make connections, be supported, thrive, and achieve their goals. Whatever I can do to be a small part of that journey to success, I am game!” Hephner LaBanc said over email.
Hephner LaBanc, like almost every UMass Amherst student and employee, has had to refocus and reshape her semester in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis. However, even in her short time on campus, our Vice Chancellor has learned the UMass campus does not give up.
“We are resilient,” Hephner LaBanc said over Zoom.