Leadership

After decades of serving students, John Snodgrass is ready to retire

John Snodgrass

John Snodgrass

They’ll miss him at commencement. For nearly 10 years, Associate Vice Chancellor for Student Services John Snodgrass has carefully and proudly announced the names of thousands of students as they walk up to receive their diplomas.

It’s one of the many ways he has put students first in his 40-year career as a college and university registrar and as the person overseeing Brandman University’s student records, graduation conferral, military services, career services and much more.

He’s putting that all aside to spend more time with children, grandchildren, his wife (Maria Cesario, associate vice chancellor for Academic Administration), a cabin among the pines in Colorado, travel and possibly resurrecting “a really bad golf game.”

There will also be more time to play the guitar, an instrument that has helped him make training sessions about the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) creatively fun at both college campuses and at conferences for AACRAO and PACRAO – national and regional associations for collegiate registrars and admissions officers. Getting conference participants to create lyrics that address admissions, registration, technology or enrollment services and setting them to well-known tunes is one of his favorite training methods.

A natural fit

Although he once dreamed of a career in baseball that morphed into a stint teaching and coaching at the high school level, Snodgrass said he soon decided that wasn’t a good match. When he got the opportunity to move to a community college in Oregon to be a financial aid advisor in 1974, he happily made the switch. “I loved the college setting. It was a joyful experience.”

That began numerous opportunities for starting student-oriented programs first in Oregon and then at Chapman University in Orange in 2000 where, as registrar, he took on a department dealing with the chaos of a new computer software system and later the challenge of transforming Brandman University from its previous status as Chapman University College within Chapman University.

That last challenge also introduced him to Cesario when she was the acting chancellor for Chapman University College and they both served on the student conduct committee. Working with her is first on his list of what he’s found rewarding about his time at Chapman and Brandman.

In 2009, at the urging of Executive Vice Chancellor for Enrollment and Student Affairs Saskia Knight, he made the switch to Brandman University, giving him the opportunity to once again create programs that serve students from scratch.

What makes Brandman special

Like any new position, the move to Brandman wasn’t without its challenges. The biggest from a student services standpoint, he said, is the distributed nature of the system that serves adult learners.

“We’re not the first thing in their lives. They have jobs and families so their connection with the school isn’t like a bricks and mortar college. And yet, they still need those critical services,” he said.

“Finding ways to communicate with students has been and remains the biggest challenge. You can’t just put up flyers in a dorm and say stop by. But it’s also a chance to be creative.”

Being creative, he said, has always been a lot of fun. And while not everyone always appreciates what he also calls Brandman’s creative “entrepreneurial” approach, he credits that and the university leadership with making it possible to make changes much more quickly than at traditional institutions with the usual college-aged students.

He also appreciates the students. “They’re here because they want to improve their lives. They’re very sincere about that. To be able to provide or lead services that assist them in meeting those goals is very rewarding.”

Where he doesn’t rely on a creative approach is pronouncing students’ names at commencement. “It’s gratifying both to students and their families when their names are said correctly. We have a lot of unique names – Eastern Europe, Asia, Pacific Island. When they get to commencement, it all comes together. And I practice. It’s kind of fun. I have families rush up and say ‘thank you so much.’”

That same “thank you” would undoubtedly be echoed by those students receiving transcripts, diplomas, career information and much more thanks to his years of serving students.  Or as Executive Vice Chancellor Saskia Knight said in announcing his retirement on Feb. 26: “John, thank you so much for all you have done for both Brandman University and Chapman University.”

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