BY MARY SMITH
Entering Dunham College, one of OU’s new residential colleges, you’re greeted by artwork of varying subjects that line the halls and furniture that seems unsure of itself, fresh and hardly use to interactions with people. It’s beautiful, a little mismatching and reminiscent of Harry Potter’s Hogwarts, but beautiful all the same.
Zac Stevens, who’s only been in his senior assistant fellowship at Dunham since March, eats by himself at the far end of a dining hall surely large enough for all four Hogwart’s houses. Waiting on his omelette order he lights up with a smile upon approach and, with a little conversation, his youthful spirit becomes apparent and impossible to ignore.
This spirit, along with his intentionality in his interactions, ability to make others feel appreciated and the ease with which he can build community among any group are characteristics he is commonly known by. They’re what made him a memorable associate director of Student Life’s orientation and transfer programs and what helped him grow Camp Crimson for 11 years.
Stevens found himself looking for a more fulfilling job after several years in the workforce and, remembering how much he enjoyed his time as a resident assistant at OU, he went searching his Alma Mater for a position that better suited him. Upon further inspection he decided that pursuing a master’s degree in higher education and landed a graduate assistant position at the Union Programming Board with high school friend Kristen Partridge.
It was through UPB’s event at Camp Crimson known as Retro Night that Stevens discovered Camp and fell in love with it. He volunteered to help with whatever they needed behind the scenes and a year after getting his master’s he began working at Student Life and was able to have an official hand in the programs.
“It was neat to work with a program that had so much potential and energy,” Stevens said. “I really look fondly back on that time.”
Looking back on his more than a decade with Student Life, Stevens notes how vital of a time it was to his personal and professional development. Stevens and his coworkers would take the strength-finding exercises that Student Life would implement in student organizations and through this he discovered his strength was adaptability.
“My first job had very clean routines and systems that were already in place and I didn’t like that,” he said. “But in Student Life, every day was different and we had to make up systems as we went so it suited my personality much better.”
Before he learned about this fellowship position at Dunham Stevens simply thought that he would do Camp Crimson forever, however, having Bridgitte Castorino take a full time position in Student Life and getting to take a step back during the Camp Crimson sessions of Summer 2016, his mind started to change.
“By the end of the summer I realized that I didn’t miss certain things [about camp] that I thought I would have,” Stevens said. “If I had been offered this position before summer 2016 I probably wouldn’t have considered it that seriously.”
Instead, he had peace of mind that Castorino could handle Camp while he focused more on developing other parts of transfer and orientation programs that he’d been wanting to for awhile. However, the Dunham fellowship position was thrown his way last fall and after some consideration he took it, to the surprise of many, including himself.
“I’d been working with camp for much longer than anyone else and for the longest time I thought that I would always do camp but I started to reexamine what I could do here,” Stevens said. “It’s not often that you get an opportunity like this to start something that’s brand new and it wasn’t an opportunity I could pass up, but it was simultaneously surprising to me.”
Adaptability is a good thing to have in a position like his that hasn’t ever existed before and he’s said that it has helped him handle each day’s new tasks. His track record as an intentional leader and helping other programs flourish is proof enough that he’s the right person for this position, according to friends.
Senior Associate Director of Student Life and long time friend of Stevens, Quy Nguyen, knew long before Stevens did that he was under consideration for this new position and thought he was the perfect candidate.
“In a lot of the programs he worked with, especially Camp Crimson, he really established this incredible culture and community and it is why I believe he is perfect for his role in Dunham,” Nguyen said. “He is also able to build relationships with various departments to ensure that everyone is heard and feels like they are part of the success of the program.”
When it comes to reaching a goal, Stevens knows that each individual matters and can have an impact.
“He is great at inspiring a shared vision and not just thinking about the short term goals but looking at the long term and how every small step today will contribute to the greater good in the future,” Nguyen said.
Fine arts, technology and culture senior Alix Yaw has a unique relationship with Stevens. Since she was a freshman Stevens has mentored and encouraged Yaw through changing her major sophomore year to pursuing her passions in the fine arts and working on Camp Crimson staff as the photographer this past summer, she said.
Originally her Gateway Intro to Mass Media professor, Stevens’ guidance has helped her develop personally and as a leader with their semester visits.
“Personally I wouldn’t be half the leader I am without his encouragement during my transition to majors and keeping me on track and accountable,” Yaw said.
When it was announced that Stevens would be leaving Student Life for this new position many students were sad, but Yaw was excited because she would get to see more of him since she worked in Dunham as a resident mentor. Now, instead of their semester visits she and Stevens get to talk several times a day.
“He has the ability to connect students so well and that’s what he did at Camp Crimson and orientation stuff,” Yaw said. “Now he’s able to fuel that into the residential colleges that’s an environment that is not only academically focused but social focused.”
She believes that if were not for Stevens the community aspect of these new residential colleges would be lost without his direction and experience. With the college being on the receiving end of his devoted attention, Yaw is confident that Stevens will be able to help this community grow to the best that it can be.
“Loving people where they’re at and getting to know who they really are is a leadership quality of his that often goes unnoticed,” she said.
His role will allow him to watch a community unfold and traditions come to life with as much or as little assistance from him that the students require.
“We really want this community to be strong we really want people to want to live here,” Stevens said. “Whatever it is we want to be able to provide enough different things that people can find their thing.”
Stevens is excited and looks forward to seeing what these students will do because he knows that these resident colleges are brimming with potential
This isn’t Stevens’ first rodeo with helping to develop something full of potential but the exciting challenge lies in this project’s youth. Luckily for Dunham College, this man has the youthful optimism and determination needed to step up to the plate.